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1st test v India not priority for Aussies yet

November 28, 2014

SYDNEY (AP) — As tributes were springing up around the country to commemorate Phillip Hughes, the Australian cricketers were being given time to mourn a teammate who died playing the game they all love.

The test squad gathered with Hughes’ family and friends in Sydney overnight, yet the topic of next week’s first test against India — for which the 25-year-old batsman was pushing for selection — wasn’t a major topic of conversation.

“We haven’t broached the subject with the players yet — we will in time,” Cricket Australia chief executive James Sutherland told a news conference Friday, referring to the series which is due to start Thursday in Brisbane. “But, to be honest, they’ve got other things on their mind.

“They’re grieving and they’ve lost someone that’s incredibly close to them. It’s really important to give people time.”

So far, the reflections of friends and family of Hughes, who died two days after he was hit on the head by a ball during a game between New South Wales and South Australia, have been about the country boy who made good.

“There was some great stories being told and a quite a lot of laughter about the cheeky little boy who came down from Macksville and had the highest ambitions for himself and his cricket game,” Sutherland said.

Hughes was 63 not out when he was struck by the ball on Tuesday, and that number has become symbolic in the tributes.

At Cricket Australia headquarters in Melbourne, 63 bats were placed in windows. Players from clubs around the country were to wear black armbands and observe 63 seconds of silence ahead of weekend matches, some of them with 63 painted on to the pitch.

Junior batsmen in some modified competitions who usually must retire after reaching a score of 50 will be allowed to play on until they’ve scored 63. People around Australia were leaving cricket bats at their front doors, or windows or gates as a mark of respect on Friday.

At the Sydney Cricket Ground, in addition to flowers, flags and cricket balls being left near a front office building, a cricket bat was stuck in a gate near where the players usually enter.

New South Wales premier Mike Baird announced a state memorial service would be held at the SCG, after the government arranged a date with the family.

In Sharjah, United Arab Emirates, Pakistan and New Zealand resumed the test match Friday after a one-day suspension in honor of Hughes.

The players and officials wore black armbands and lined up to observe a minute of silence. As a further mark of respect, players from both teams put their caps on the handles of their bats and placed them alongside barriers near the boundary, and the New Zealanders penned initials ‘PH’ on their shirts below the Silver Fern.

The Australian players in Sydney continued private commemorations.

Test players Brad Haddin, David Warner, Shane Watson and Nathan Lyon were all in the field for New South Wales when their former national and provincial teammate Hughes, batting for South Australia, collapsed after mis-timing a pull shot and being struck behind the left ear on the neck. Test captain Michael Clarke spent most of the 48 hours after the accident at the hospital supporting Hughes and his family.

Cricket Australia performance manager Pat Howard said for the Australian squad, cricket was a “day-by-day” proposition.

“We need to be in a position when players can make strong choices. That’s not now,” Howard said. “We’re going to focus on people first, then the cricket.”

Howard said the Hughes family would be involved in the decision, and funeral plans will influence whether the first test is delayed or abandoned.

A two-day tour match between India and a Cricket Australia invitation XI has already been canceled. Sutherland thanked the touring India players, saying their “understanding and empathy has been outstanding.”

“To many people, (the first test) doesn’t seem too far away,” Sutherland said. “But in other ways, it’s a million miles away. We’ll get there when we can.”

Flags at Lord’s in London, the spiritual home of cricket, were flown at half-mast, and Sutherland said he had received letters or emails from every test-playing country with their condolences.

Sutherland said the gathering the players and friends overnight at the SCG was filled with emotion.

“It was a sad and quiet occasion,” he said, “but it was a memorable one.”

Sutherland said he had conversations with Greg Hughes about whether his son, a 26-test veteran, would have wanted the team to play on.

“I can remember just in the last few hours, conversations with Phillip’s father telling me just how much he and the family love cricket and Phillip loved cricket more than anyone,” Sutherland said. “And he would want nothing more than for the game to continue. But, as I said before, the game will continue at test level when we’re ready.”

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