Aussie cricketers take time out after Hughes dies
BRISBANE, Australia (AP) — Tragedy brings reflection, and the death of Phillip Hughes from a short-pitched ball during a cricket match in Sydney makes the following example strikingly strident.
Promotional literature for an Australian men’s magazine posed this question this month: “Ever wondered what’s going through Mitchell Johnson’s mind as he turns at the top of his mark and prepares to scare the life out of another helpless batsman?”
With a fearsome mix of pace and bounce, Johnson terrified some England batsmen during Australia’s 5-0 sweep of the Ashes series in the last southern summer. It roused the Aussie crowds, and the domestic media harked back to when Dennis Lillee and Jeff Thomson tormented batsmen in the 1970s.
The menacing and mustachioed Johnson, this year’s world cricketer of the year, told the December issue of Men’s Health he likes to think of a song when he enters his run up because it helps block out other thoughts. He nominated “Happy” by Pharrell Williams, as a particular song of choice.
After Hughes’ death, where to now, particularly for bowlers like Johnson?
The Australians are due to start a four-test series against India next Thursday in Brisbane, where Johnson has plenty of experience in scaring batsmen, and where he set Australia on course for its last Ashes series win.
On Friday, a day after Hughes died from what doctors described as a catastrophic injury from being hit behind the left ear by a cricket ball, the Australians weren’t sure if they’d play or delay the first test.
Johnson, who has been bothered at times by distractions that have caused him to be wayward with his bowling, hasn’t spoken publicly since Hughes died, but posted a couple of tweets, including one with a photo — featuring Hughes and Johnson sitting at opposite ends of the front row — saying: “Team photo in the UAE. Lost for words.”
Rodney Hogg was a fast bowler for Australia in the late 1970s and early 80s who, the Courier-Mail newspaper reported, kept a dossier on the batsmen he struck with the ball.
He told the newspaper the episode involving Hughes changed his way of thinking.
“We took it for granted that you could hit someone on the head when you bowled short. Then this happens and it changes everything,” Hogg was quoted as saying. “There will be a lot of cricket played over Australia this weekend, and I just wonder which bowler is going to bowl the first bouncer?
“I’m not for one minute suggesting banning the bouncer, but that is the type of effect this has had.”
In the immediate aftermath of Hughes being hit at the SCG, there was no serious call for the bouncer to be banned, and commentators, the Hughes family, and players all over the world offered support and encouragement for Sean Abbott, the 22-year-old New South Wales bowler who delivered the steepling ball that hit the 26-test veteran.
The International Cricket Council has adjusted its laws over the last century to reduce the number of short-pitch balls per over, aimed at curbing fast bowlers using it purely to intimidate batsmen.
Cricket Australia plans to review safety protocols for players. There’s no suggestion they’ll be seeking any regulatory changes on short-pitch bowling, which has been a feature of Australian bowling attacks for decades.
“Statistics say it is clearly a freak incident, but one freak incident is one freak incident too many, so that of course puts us in a position of looking into that,” Cricket Australia chief executive James Sutherland said.
Kevin Pietersen, who scored more runs for England than any other batsman, dedicated a column in The Telegraph newspaper to Hughes and to Abbott.
“This is not the time to have a debate about banning bouncers or introducing new safety measures,” Pietersen wrote. “It is time to let his family and friends have space for the healing process and grief.
“The man who really needs our support at the moment is Sean Abbott. This is a sad and horrible time, but we need to encourage him to stay strong, and have a good career for Australia. It is what Phillip Hughes would have wanted.”
Hughes, batting for South Australia, mistimed a pull shot at Abbott and was struck behind the left ear, causing a massive bleed in the brain. He could have ducked, but he took the scoring approach.
Test players Brad Haddin, David Warner, Shane Watson and Nathan Lyon were all in the field for New South Wales when Hughes was hit, stumbled, and collapsed.
Sutherland said the players needed time to grieve, and now wasn’t the time to be talking about whether or not to play a test. He said he’d spoken to Hughes’ father, Greg Hughes, who told him that his son would want the game to go on. And so Cricket Australia will defer to the Hughes family regarding funeral and memorial arrangements before deciding whether or not to start the series against India on schedule.
Former test captain Mark Taylor, now a Cricket Australia director, said the test could be a fitting tribute.
“It would be great for the test match to go ahead so people could come out and share the mourning,” Taylor told the Nine network. “There’s a lot to be discussed over the next three or four days before a decision will probably be made next week.”