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Phil Hughes: There but for the grace of God go I... that's the unwritten sentiment

By Ian Callender

Cricket stood still yesterday in remembrance of Phil Hughes. The second day of the Test match in Sharjah between Pakistan and New Zealand was abandoned before the scheduled start as news filtered through from St Vincent's Hospital in Sydney that the 25 year-old Australian batsman had lost his fight for life.

The three Sheffield Shield games in progress when Hughes was hit on Tuesday were abandoned after the first day, as soon as the seriousness of the injury became apparent. No-one had the stomach to play cricket. Suddenly it didn't matter.

The Ireland cricket squad were among the first to hear the tragic news just before 4.45 GMT yesterday morning. They are in Dubai (four hours ahead of home), preparing for two games against New Zealand 'A' and for the rest of morning, Twitter and the rest of social media went into meltdown.

Devastating, sad and heartbreaking were the common words in every message, each and every cricketer able to say "There but for the grace of God go I".

Ireland captain William Porterfield said: "No way! Can't believe what's just happened. Thoughts and prayers go out to family, friends and team mates of Phil Hughes."

From fellow opening batsman Paul Stirling, who like Porterfield played against Hughes in county cricket: "Sickening news everyone was hoping wouldn't come. Devastating. Thoughts are with all family and friends. RIP Phil Hughes."

Thoughts were also with Sean Abbott, the even younger bowler - just 22 - who sent down the last delivery that Hughes would ever face. He is, of course, entirely blameless. The short, fast ball has been part of cricket ever since England's infamous Bodyline tour to Australia in 1932-33 but whether Abbott will be able to come back and, particularly, bowl another bouncer again, must be in doubt.

As recently as the mid-1970s, batsmen continued to face 90mph bowlers without helmets. Hughes was wearing a helmet but he was struck just below it, on the back of the neck.

The manufacturers of the helmet were quick to point out this was an old-style one and it had been updated.

But batsmen don't like to change their equipment; they are invariably comfortable with what they have. The more pertinent question today is: Are players just too comfortable wearing helmets?

How often do we now see batsmen, who have misjudged a shot, literally waiting for the ball to hit them on the helmet. Unable to get out of the way, they are confident the helmet will protect them from serious injury, as it invariably will.

But 40 years ago, batsmen relied on their technique to get them out of trouble and that must still be the case, even wearing protective headgear. As the tragic events at the SCG have shown, a ball that misses the helmet can have fatal consequences.

And it is not just batsmen. The fielders at short leg and silly point (close to the bat on the leg and off side) find themselves in exactly the same position. When they see a 160g leather ball coming at them, their initial reaction is to put their hands up to protect themselves. How many times have they been hit? Much too many.

My first thoughts when I heard of Phil Hughes' death were for the wife and children of Raman Lamba, the former Ireland and North Down batsman, who was killed when hit by a ball in 1998 fielding at short leg in a game in Bangladesh. He was not wearing a helmet. Hughes was. But the result, tragically, was the same.

There must never be complacency on a cricket field.

Belfast Telegraph

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