A tribute to Phillip Hughes
© Associated Press


Life goes on

But it's not quite the same, as cricket's profound grief at the death of Phillip Hughes showed

Rahul Bhattacharya

On the morning Phillip Hughes' death was announced I met a gynaecologist, who was distraught after having told a couple of a miscarriage. "I give good news so often," he said, "I don't know how to deal with bad news." So it is with sportswriters and broadcasters, who enrol as conveyors of something essentially vital, life-affirming, where bad news is usually trivially bad. Tragedies in sport are tragedies in the dramatic sense: within the stage created for them. The death of Phillip Hughes made a mockery of the dramatic artifice. There's a famous scene in the classic Hindi film Anand, where dialogue from a play within the movie is reprised powerfully at the end. "We are all puppets on a stage, whose strings are tied to the fingers of the man upstairs. When, how, who will be lifted up nobody can tell." But Anand the film was itself a stage, whereas Phillip Hughes is dead at 25.

The death of Hughes stayed lodged inside me, as it did for millions of others, a grief one was not even fully aware of. For several days it dulled my mood or amplified my anxieties, sometimes made me tear up when I didn't know I was thinking about it. If this was us, who had never known Hughes and only followed his career in a fuzzy way, it would be hard to understand what it meant to his team-mates and opponents and companions, to say nothing of his family and beloved. Yet everybody understood. The bats beautifully put out, the matches cancelled, the personal milestones foregone for PH milestones, the messages and tributes from around the world, said as much.

We were grieving for Phillip Hughes and maybe something more too. Maybe we were grieving for the fallibility of our sport, our constant misestimation and misappropriation of it, we who spend silly amounts of our time on earth contemplating its strange comforts and betrayals. And its capacity to recover, engage, enthral, inspire. As much as Michael Clarke's in Macksville, the Test match in Adelaide was a brilliant eulogy.

We were grieving for Phillip Hughes and maybe something more too. Maybe we were grieving for the fallibility of our sport

I write this about a fortnight after Hughes and it is difficult to introduce the issue in other terms. Two of our regulars, Simon Barnes and the photo feature, address Hughes' passing in different ways, but the echoes can be heard even in pieces that were commissioned long before Hughes was hit.

Our cover story is Sidharth Monga's immersion into Afghan cricket and the team's incredible ascent to the World Cup; he reports from in and around Kabul, where death can collide with cricket as easily as it can with anything else. Our Talking Cricket is a crackling conversation on fast bowling, full of wit, between a dream pair - Michael Holding and Wasim Akram. Yet as they speak of sensing a batsman's fear, the mind pauses to wonder about the bowler's fear. Gideon Haigh, in the first of what we hope are several long essays for the magazine, quotes Harold Larwood on the blow he inflicted upon Bert Oldfield: "Critics and spectators had been prophesying that bodyline would kill someone sooner or later. It seemed that dark moment had arrived." Abhishek Purohit's profile of the impressive and industrious Ajinkya Rahane begins with a crack on the helmet and concerned elders converging around a felled kid. Sharda Ugra's study on the slow assimilation of immigrants in Australian cricket demonstrates frictions, but also the sense of community so apparent during the national grieving for Hughes. The theme for this month's Jury's Out is: the biggest unfulfilled talent.

This is what the Indian bowling great Jhulan Goswami tells Niyantha Shekar: "And I enjoyed. I truly enjoyed. That is the beauty of my life." And that perhaps is the best way to think of a talented young man who lived a great deal on a cricket field and died almost on it.

Rahul Bhattacharya is the author of the cricket tour book Pundits from Pakistan and the novel The Sly Company of People Who Care