Phil Hughes tragedy brings back Phil Simmons' memories of fight for life
The death of Phil Hughes has brought back memories of a near tragedy which involved Ireland's cricket coach.
Phil Simmons recalled his lucky escape as he shared in the international outpouring of grief and loss for Australia Test batsman Hughes at the age of just 25.
The death also resonates with local cricket fans, as 16 years ago Raman Lamba died after being struck on the head while fielding. Lamba's widow Kim last night said the memories of her husband's accident had come flooding back after hearing about Hughes.
Former Ireland professional Lamba had played for four clubs in Northern Ireland - North Down, Woodvale, Cliftonville and Ardmore.
Simmons yesterday described Hughes as "one of the brightest sons" of cricket as his team plan to observe a minute's silence before the game against New Zealand A on Saturday.
For Simmons, who went on to play 26 Test matches for the West Indies - exactly the same number as Hughes, by tragic coincidence - the terrible tragedy has brought back vivid memories of his own fight for life when he was hit on the head by a short ball in a tour game for the Windies against Gloucestershire at Bristol.
Simmons, unlike Hughes, was not wearing a helmet when he was hit by a ball from England bowler David Lawrence. His heart stopped and he needed emergency surgery to remove a clot on his brain. In another coincidence, Simmons was 25 years old at the time. Recalling the incident from Dubai, where he is with the Ireland squad preparing for two games this weekend in the team's build-up to the World Cup finals in Australia early next year, Simmons said his injury was as "serious as you can get". He added: "I was written off as never to play again and put in a long-term unit for head injuries.
"I never saw the ball come out of his hand so pulled away. I was never unconscious at the ground. I went in a car to the hospital and only then did I become unconscious and the doctors decided emergency surgery was required.
"I thank God that I was so close to Frenchay Hospital in Bristol because it is one of the leading hospitals in Europe for head injuries."
Incredibly, Simmons was out of hospital inside eight days and playing cricket again four months later, but he knows he was unbelievably lucky and is devastated that Hughes didn't make it.
"My wife called me on Tuesday as soon as it happened," added Simmons.
"Phil is the same age as I was with the same name.
"I really thought there was an omen there somewhere. Today it's just heartbreaking. Cricket has lost one of its brightest sons."
Simmons' thoughts immediately turned to the bowler who delivered the ball which hit Hughes. He knows from personal experience how difficult it will be for young Sean Abbott (22) to return to the cricket field. "My wife told me when I was in the hospital bed, Syd (Lawrence's nickname) came to visit. He was holding my hand with tears running down his cheek.
"A bowler is never to blame. It's just one of those unfortunate things that happens once in every long while," said the West Indian.
Kim Lamba said she had been praying for Phillip's recovery, and thinking of his family.
Kim's husband Raman had been fielding close in during a league game in Bangladesh when he was struck. "I could not get Phillip's mere 25 young years out of my head," she said.
"Since Tuesday, I could only pray Phillip would pull through and that the medical expertise of 2014 could save him.
"Yesterday morning I woke up to the deeply sad news of Phillip's passing, and with a severe pain in the pit of my stomach as many memories of the same hours, directly after Raman lost his fight for life, came flooding back to me.
"May God bless Phillip Hughes and may he be laid to rest in peace and be remembered globally for his talent, successes and love for the game."