Phillip Joel Hughes played for Australia, New South Wales, South Australia, Hampshire, Middlesex, and Worcestershire in cricket’s top two tiers. Extrapolating out playing squads and coaching staff in each of those teams, a conservative estimate of at least 120 cricketers would have played with Hughes for a reasonable length of time to an extent that they could be considered to know him well. I cannot. During my media roles I never interviewed him, so this is not a reflection piece which will contain any new insight or nice story from myself about the forever not out left-hander. Rather, it is a reflection on how I viewed him through the prism most cricket fans did – television, radio and Cricinfo live commentary text.
Hughes was a cricketer I admired because he was a cricketer focused on core values, one who came through the key pathways of the game. A member of three county teams during his career, he made his name as an international in test cricketer. He was not parachuted into a stand-alone T20 fixture on a random weeknight, leaving me to have to look up online to remind myself if he played for Victoria or Western Australia. Hughes was a product of why I watched cricket, for the ebb and flow of longer formats which could include ten highs and ten lows and that was just over the course of one day of play for either side.
This is not a slight on players who make their name in shorter formats, but to say that I feel his death is more significant because he made his name on cricket’s biggest stage, so had ‘earned’ his accolades without the slightest hint of feeling (as least from afar) that the game owed him.
Hughes became the punchline in the summer of 2011/12 when he was ‘Caught Guptill, Bowled Martin’ on four occasions, leading to one of the times he would be dropped from the Australian test side. The situations over the course of the series against the Kiwis saw much hilarity with my friends in New Zealand, as we sent text messages back and forth to share in our enthusiasm about the ease of dismissing an Australia batsman, a rare occurrence. It also became the point I used to goad my Australian friends on social media about, knowing full well it wouldn’t last and that Hughes was merely suffering a blip in what was going to be an international career which would see him, at a bare minimum, become a solid citizen of the Australia test side and play well over 50 tests.
From his test debut in 2009 to his one-day international bow in 2013, Hughes thrilled with his unorthodox technique at international level as he had done in record fashion at state level.
It became a regular theme upon his test recalls that his ‘basic flaws’ were apparently holding him back. However as Nick Compton, his one-time Middlesex teammate, wrote in the Independent in 2009 Hughes’ batting guru Neil D’Costa told him “Phil remains an athlete at all times.” D’Costa continued, “A player who follows technique and its finer intricacies can very easily become mechanical. I remind him that this is sport and it requires athletic ability.”
Phillip Joel Hughes of Macksville, New South Wales, used all of that athletic ability. 26 tests, 25 one-day internationals and one fair dinkum humble cricketer.