Almanac Cricket: No one should have expected the Hughes inquisition

Few Australians, let alone cricket fans, haven’t bared witness to the Phil Hughes tragedy.


It’s plain to see what happened in public view on camera and played ad nauseam over the ensuing days.


A freak accident, one that simply couldn’t have been avoided with the helmet technology at hand, the rules of cricket or common tactics to which players universally accept when they step onto the pitch.


The medics did all they could but the fatal damage was already done.


Kristina Stern SC said as much in her opening address.


Why, two years later, players are being put through the wringer is incomprehensible.


When the video was about to be played Phil’s father Greg and sister Megan rushed from the courtroom crying.


Reliving the nightmare is not helping the family.  Nor Phil’s many friends and former teammates.


There is no culprit to be locked away, no matter what was alleged to have been said or how many bouncers were bowled at Hughes that day.


Picking over the horrible wound serves no purpose.  There are no answers for Phil’s family.  Never will be, sadly.


Not surprisingly this terrible inquest has lurched from one bad area to the next.


Cricket Australia has already attempted to mitigate the already minute chances of the same thing happening again.  Even a complete ban on bouncers, which would compromise the future of the game, would not entirely eliminate the possibility of a player being fatally struck on the head by a hard ball travelling at great speed.


As Robbo elaborated on in his excellent It’s not Cricket piece, the implications of this flawed exercise will not lead us to a better place.


When Peter Brock was killed instantly 10 years ago common sense and respect for the deceased dictated that the footage available of the car crashing into a tree was never shown or released.  Nor was there a pointless witch hunt conducted in the quest to ascertain whether all reasonable safety measures were adhered to.   It was clear it was a racing accident from which there was no blame to be apportioned or significant lessons to be learned.


As there is no need to engage in a costly plebiscite on gay marriage that will impact on the mental health of those inherently affected by the discourse.  An assembly of intelligent humans in a room can or should usually arrive at the just conclusion.


Pity they didn’t do so here.

About Jeff Dowsing

Washed up former Inside Sport and Sunday Age Sport freelancer. Now just giving my stuff away to good homes. Not to worry, still have my health and day job. Published & unpublished works fester on my blog Write Line Fever.


  1. Nice wrap-up Jeff. It is indeed horrific and telling that the Hughes family felt thatt this was the best way to make some sense of the tragedy.

  2. I can understand the family wanting some sort of investigation Robbo but surely they were advised against pursuing this road? And the direction it’s headed demonstrates the legal eagles have no feel or expertise in the sport.

    It probably took Abbott a good year or two to get through to the other side and now he’s been put in the dock like he’s on trial. Aside from other friendships that are being strained by the line of questioning.

  3. JD,
    It really does seem wrong, doesn’t it?
    I don’t know the stated purpose of the inquest.
    I presume the inquest will aim to reach findings, make recommendations, etc, with the motive of reducing the chances of such a death occurring again.
    The public nature of confrontational questioning is a real shame. If the questioning must be done, why not do it in private, and publicise the findings?
    Strength to all.

  4. I think if there had been a pattern of recent events of the same or similar magnitude then such an inquest would be justifiable Dave. My understanding is there has been one other known case where a park cricketer died when struck in the same spot practicing in the nets, and that happened some years ago. Considering the number of balls bowled at batsmen in all levels of cricket the odds are infinitesimally small. Whilst with the benefit of hindsight Bollinger’s alleged sledge was ill advised, for him among other players to be implicated as if they had an agenda is grossly unfair. The focus should have been on the equipment and the rules, not the actions of players who were playing within them.

  5. DBalassone says

    It’s all very sad, reliving this, isn’t it? What can be achieved here? Having said that, whose to say, we wouldn’t be doing exactly the same thing if we were in the family’s position. I can’t imagine their grief.
    Bolly’s alleged comments and the possibly short-ball tactics are part and parcel of the game. Desmond Haynes once closed his eyes and prayed from short-leg while Garner was walking back to his mark, ‘Dear Lord, I pray that the next ball will strike Allan Border on the head and kill him’.

  6. Wowsers Damo, that’s one hell of a sledge by Dessie, even by old school standards. Haven’t heard that story before.

    I’d be interested to know how the family were counselled and whether they knew the implications of what they were entering into. I’d have thought that despite their grief they’d have a pretty thorough understanding of the game. Or perhaps the inquest has gone down an unanticipated pathway. Though their lawyer has also pushed it in that direction.

  7. JD I have found this to be unsavoury and in all honesty deeply disturbing I feel so sorry for Bollinger,Abbott etc and the forgotten person in Tom Cooper who was batting at the other end lived with
    Phil Hughes and had also suffered a fractured skull the last thing he needed was to go thru it again
    The only possible positive out of this is re may be ambulance time.The only thing which should be told to the wider public is Michael Clarke who was,INCREDIBLE his leadership and help to EVERY ONE including,East Torrens players at the time and since is remarkable,RESPECT is a understatement

  8. Good point Rulebook re Michael Clarke. The level of hate directed at him over the years is rather baffling to me. Might not be ‘one of the boys’ but has always come across a pretty decent human being.

  9. This process does not make an edifying spectacle for cricket. The grief of the family can not be overstated but seriously what is the purpose of trawliing up on field comments,sledging , as if there was an intent Hughes was targeted to be seriously hurt/killed.

    I don’t have a good deal of knowledge re OH&S legislation in these two states, NSW & SA, but does the SACA have a requirement as per that states OH^S legislation to provide the appropriate PPE, in terms of what sort of helmets are provided? Ditto with the NSWCA. The SCG is a workplace, and cricket is a sport where serious injuries occur, like Chatfield, Contractor, Alderman, etc, yet it took an ambulance 30 minutes to get there and just as long to get Hughes to hospital. Questions here.

    All very sad, and to hear alleged comments attributed to players, as well as talking about cricket not being played in a gentlemanly manner are not helpful. If anything comes out of this sad episode it should be about the role of the various cricketing bodies reducing the risks to the players.


  10. Great article Jeff. Did you see that Cricket Australia hid a directive in page 61 of their playing policy this year?

    At the commencement of the 2019-2020 cricket
    season, all community cricketers (whether junior
    or senior) will be required to wear BS7928:2013
    compliant helmets at all times when batting, wicket
    keeping up to the stumps and fielding in close.
    More guidance will be provided in due course.

    How ridiculous that they will not let adults make their own decision about wearing a helmet or not. This will cause uproar once it becomes more widely public. 40 year olds who have batted and kept without a helmet all their life will be forced to wear one. What a joke

  11. Thanks Ridgey & Glen!

    There’s no doubt helmets have reduced serious head injuries over the years but as is often said they have also served to become an unreliable safety net for batsmen who struggle playing short pitched bowling. I’m assuming the directive is a legally inspired one and I am empathetic in this case to the role of administrators. When I was young the boy who lived across the road from me was killed playing cricket when fielding in close. I believe that incident led to junior cricket at least making helmets mandatory. Personally I avoided wearing them but that was my choice and I consented to the risk. Perhaps that is unfair to the bowler should something drastic happen…

    The thing with Hughes is he was wearing a helmet and it still wasn’t enough. The attached guards that have since been added to many helmets are said by some experts to be of no use preventing the same freak outcome. There’s limits to what you can do to prevent every conceivable accident.

  12. “Send lawyers, guns and money – the shit has hit the fan”. Warren Zevon knew what he was talking about. The application of the 20:20 Retrospectoscope by lawyers has rarely done anyone (other than lawyers) any good. When society or politicians don’t know how to respond to a complex or difficult situation, our default is to handball it to this supposed independent truth seeker of the law. As if factual truth was ever clear or helpful.
    I checked and there have been 133 Royal Commissions since Federation – 24 since 1980. I ran my (jaundiced) eye down the list of those 24 that I have some lived awareness of, and reckon about 20% produced any useful ongoing societal change. The cost of RC’s; coronial enquiries and the courts is immense. And the opportunity cost of $’s diverted to face saving recommendations is even worse.
    Evan Whitton used to write a lot about the scandalous waste and perverse outcomes of our adversarial legal system, and advocate a more inquisitorial European system. He always made sense to me, but I never expected to see it. Too many of the powerful and lawmakers are themselves lawyers.
    “People of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public, or in some contrivance to raise prices.” Adam Smith – 1776 – Surrey; RIght Arm Quick.

  13. Luke Reynolds says

    Jeff, I’m absolutely in disbelief that this is being played out in public, and have no idea what can possibly be achieved. Very much feel for Abbott, Cooper, Bollinger, Warner and others who have been dragged into this.

    Interesting reading Ridgeys point on helmets. In the country cricket I play, I reckon in Division 1 it would be a 50/50 split between those who do and don’t wear them. A compulsory helmet rule wouldn’t be popular I’d think.

  14. PB can you expand on the European legal system? I’m not familiar with it, or its differences with our English .inherited legal system.

    One can only hope the findings of this go beyond the disputed allegations that have seemed the primary focus of reporting. If a safer system can be put in place by the responsible authorities we might have gleamed some small outcome from this horrible workplace tragedy. Noi don’t mean outlawing bouncers, but i do mean access to ambulances and similar actions that clearly failed here.

    speaking on the sad topic of death in the workplace, this weekend,,5/10. marks the anniversary of one of our worst workplace tragedies, the collapse of the West Gate bridge. 35 men died that day, 18 were seriously injured. No one should ever die in their workplace.


  15. It’s worth reading Andrew Webster’s piece this morning in which he makes a few interesting points.

    The NSW State Coroner instigated the inquest, not Hughes’ family.

    As you and others have said Glen!, if an inquest had to be held, then the non responsiveness of the ambulance should have been the focus/boundary line.

    A wide chasm has developed between the Hughes family and the cricket community (including CA) as they feel aggrieved by the short pitched bowling tactics employed.

    Notwithstanding, much of that painful ground will be disregarded by the coroner in the findings anyway.

  16. Ta Jeff,perusing the Age the last few days coverage of this sad event is more than morbid, it appears to compound and exacerbate the trauma the family are experiencing.

    Reading about family members commenting on members of the ACA being liars, toe ongoing emphasis on unproven allegations, talking about not playing in a gentlemanly manner, the fixation withe issue of bounces, it is not addressing he real issue , that i sthe ability to respond to a critical incident of this nature.

    Sadly this process appears to be causing more damage , than bringing any closure to this sad episode. Seriously to iist in , and contribute to this hearing, a knowledge of cricket, it’s laws and culture, is required,.
    Add to this a grasp relevant legal concepts and the health factors, however it seems those participating in this process have some of the above attributes but none have all three. A sad situation, not being made any better.


  17. Dave Brown says

    I’m a bit out of step – perfectly understandable to me to have an inquest in these circumstances and usual, I would have thought, to probe a variety of issues. The Hughes family clearly have an opinion on the events of that day and a question is what next for them if the findings are different to their beliefs. Of course, given the role of the media post-incident is a topic of consideration it is not surprising, if disappointing, that they are breathlessly reporting on it this week.

    Transript of a 2010 interview with Evan Whitton about what is wrong with the adversarial “legal’ system and why a European “justice” system serves the community interests better.
    Probably only tangentially relevant to the scandalous current Hughes coronial inquiry, but it does go to the root cause of why our English/US/Australian legal system is so flawed and corrupted by self interest.
    As for the Hughes inquiry as it lurches from one tragedy to the next – surely an investigatory magistrate as in Europe driven by justice and the community interest not legal process would have long ago said “move along now, nothing to see here.”

  19. Michael Viljoen says

    My understanding is that a coronial enquiry is mandatory for every unusual death, and Phil Hughes’ tragic death falls into that category. It’s the law. It’s standard procedure.

    If I lost a family member through unusual circumstances, I would expect that all the normal procedures be duly followed: all those involved being open to objective enquiry; the difficult questions being asked, no matter how painful (for me and for them). It’s necessary for proper closure.

    Peter, no matter what the court system, the difficult questions will and must be asked. Was there any undue animosity between the competing teams? Were the rules and customs of the game being followed in a controlled and sportsmanlike manner? It seems that these questions were inevitably asked, and the relevant onfield participants were required to respond. The system is not at fault.

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