Shock losses never leave us


Time will not dissipate the universal sense of disbelief at the tragic passing of Phil Hughes.

In years to come we will reflect on an at-times brilliant cricket career, and by all accounts a brilliant young man, and still we will shake our heads and say ‘I can’t believe that actually happened’.

The school children at the SCG, who remained at the ground watching whilst Hughes teetered on the brink behind a makeshift curtain at the boundary fence, will have Tuesday afternoon seared as deep into their memory as his on-field comrades. It was an unscheduled lesson that unlike most, they will never forget.

In death, famous artists and celebrities elicit an inordinate level of sadness, no matter how faded their star, or how tarnished their reputation.

The pressures and surreal lifestyles facing elite athletes aren’t dissimilar, as is the feeling that in some parallel universe we ‘know’ them. Few personify the essence of life as vividly as our indestructible heroes. It’s easy to forget they’re mere flesh and blood. The sense of shock the sudden passing of a young and vibrant Ayrton Senna, Darren Millane or Phil Hughes generates is in some ways more acute than an Amy Winehouse, Whitney Houston or Michael Jackson, for whom bingo and sing-song at Happy Valley old folks’ home were never a likely proposition.

Though prepared for the worst, when I first sighted the words ‘Phillip Hughes has died’ a chill literally enveloped my whole body.

Speculation over whether the First Test between Australia and India will proceed illustrates just how much Hughes’ passing has rocked the cricketing world and beyond. It may sound silly but the fact that even my kids’ Milo cricket has been cancelled is as instructive.

In recent years Australian sport seems to have worn a black shroud. Troy Broadbridge, Amy Gillett, Peter Brock, Sonny Fai, Jim Stynes, Bret Bailey and Robbie Flower come to mind. What exacerbates the enormity of the most recent edition to this sad list is the public nature of what was such a freak occurrence in multiple respects. Never to my knowledge has a cricketer of any standing, let alone one of Hughes’ ability, died directly due to an incident occurring in a first class match.

Years ago Richie Benaud typically hit the mark when he bemoaned using the word ‘tragedy’ in cricket commentary, considering the scoreboard’s relative significance to life’s bigger concerns. Granted, in-competition sports fatalities are particularly rare, even in notoriously hazardous capers like boxing, horse and motor racing. The popular (misquoted) line by US football coach Henry Sanders; ‘sport is not a matter of life and death, it’s more important than that’, has never seemed so absurd.

RIP Phil.



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. Just noticed your bio at the bottom of the piece, Jeff. Some days the crack seems narrower, and the darkness more oppressive.
    Events like this make me muse on why death seems so much worse than other tragedies. I have personally experienced lingering tragedies like Alzheimers; Parkinsons; mesothelioma; alcoholic dementia among family and friends in recent years.
    I have seen boxing, car and horse racing deaths – but somehow they seemed much an accepted and understood risk of the profession. I am old enough to have seen on TV the Neil Sachse injury at the Western Oval that left him a paraplegic; and had thought him the greatest rebounding defender in the SANFL of my youth. This was my greatest sports tragedy until Phil Hughes.
    Death calls “last drinks”; “last bets”; “the gates have opened and they’re off”. The line is drawn in the ledger and it’s settling time. There is no third or fourth act. No more shots at redemption.
    In my experience, humans have an endless capacity for distraction and avoidance. “Something” will turn up tomorrow. “Miracles happen”. Optimism keeps us going, however misguided it may be to avoid the awful truth.
    But death is settling time, and often the debits and credits we are totalling in the ledger are our own, not those of the person that has passed.
    That’s why we hate it and avoid the subject above all others.
    Thanks for your timely reflection, Jeff.

  2. G’day Jeff,

    What a tragedy it is. I don’t know about Hughes, but he is too young to have to end his life, especially due to the incident of his loving cricket.

    It’s hard for me to find words what I can say to Phil… His death is very sad…

    RIP Phil Hughes


  3. Thanks Jeff.

  4. Callum O'Connor says

    Yes, a lesson for those who should be too young to have to confront it.

  5. Yvette Wroby says

    Thankyou Jeff,

    I find comfort in your words and your ideas. Just after he was hit, and in the hours after, I was thinking, as you have above, about the “knowing” of the famous other, and how we the public assume a sense of personal connection to someone who does not know us. This has become less so because we are now witnesses to the event that caused Phil’s terrible passing as well as part of the story. I have no cricket bat to put outside, at school I was scared of the hard ball and useless at eye-hand co-ordination, but I love listening to cricket in the summers and watching the game on TV. I have children Phil’s age, and all I can do is send stregnth across the cosmos to the family and friends and teammates and Cricket world as a whole and bless you all for looking after each other so well, and by doing so, give me solace as well.

    All the best to all and be well and healthy


  6. Luke Reynolds says

    Thanks Jeff. I still can’t believe it has happened.

  7. Thanks Jeff.
    I pulled on the whites yesterday for the first time this season.
    My wife simply said “You must play…for Phil Hughes.”

    The pre-game minute’s silence, with the teams standing silently
    on either side of the pitch, was respectful, sad and touching.
    There were a number of juniors involved in the game – for both
    teams – and I reckon they will not forget that simple tribute. I know
    that I won’t

  8. Thanks Smokie. Yeah, I noticed you’d made a comeback – and kept wicket for 36 overs. Fine effort, hope your knees are doing what they’re told today!

    I know someone else who’d torn their quad yet played on the weekend (batted #11) for the same reason.

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