The funeral for cricketer Phillip Hughes turned into a celebration of his life on Wednesday despite the grief and sorrow still evident from his death.
Australia captain Michael Clarke and the rest of the test squad were joined by former and current players from around the world, and friends and relatives from Phillip Hughes’ hometown of 2,500 people on the northern coast of New South Wales state, 575 kilometers (350 miles north of Sydney).
Clarke was a pallbearer and spoke at the funeral service held at the Macksville Recreation Centre and which opened to the song ”Forever Young” by Youth Group.
The service closed with Elton John’s ”Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me,” the same song the famous entertainer and avid cricket fan performed at a concert last weekend in Germany in tribute to Hughes.
Hughes died last Thursday, aged 25, two days after being hit near the ear by a ball while batting for South Australia against his former state side New South Wales at the Sydney Cricket Ground.
In steaming temperatures of nearly 30 Celsius (85F) early arrivals to the service, including Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott, fanned themselves with papers.
At the front of the hall, near the altar for the Roman Catholic service, was Hughes’ oak brown casket. Flowers, a cricket bat, and his baggy green test cap were nearby.
Leading the service, which included a video tribute, Father Michael Alcock remembered the batsman as a ”shining light.”
”In his short time he walked as a child of the light, not in an ostentatious way but in a natural, unassuming and passionate way,” the priest said.
Jason Hughes, Phillip’s older brother, said his sibling was ”destined to be a rock star.”
”I couldn’t have asked for a better little brother,” Hughes said as his parents Greg and Virginia wept in the front row of the congregation.
Clarke, who has described Hughes as the brother he never had, broke down frequently last weekend at the SCG when he first commented on his close friend’s death.
On Wednesday, he took several deep breaths before he began making his tribute at the funeral, saying Hughes would ”definitely call me a sook right now.”
”He left a mark on our game that needs no embellishment,” Clarke said, adding the kind of encouragement he thought Hughes might use for the occasion. ”We must dig in … we must play on.”
”Rest in peace my little brother,” Clarke said. ”See you out in the middle.”
India’s stand-in captain Virat Kohli, team director Ravi Shastri and former Australian wicketkeeper Adam Gilchrist walked together for a while as part of a large group that followed the casket out of the hall and on the long procession. Shane Warne, Glenn McGrath, Brian Lara and Richard Hadlee were among the greats of the game paying their respects at the service,
Sean Abbott, the 22-year-old who bowled the delivery which fatally injured Hughes, was at the funeral. He was consoled by members of Hughes’ family – Clarke has already said Abbott cannot not be held responsible.
The family had asked for Hughes’ hearse to go through the town’s streets to give locals a chance to take part in the service. The kilometer-long procession ended in the center of town, where the hearse took Hughes’ coffin to a private service, and Australia’s cricketers plus family and friends were to hold a wake.
The funeral was telecast live around Australia and on video screens at the Adelaide Oval, where the rescheduled first test with India will start next Tuesday, and the SCG, where a row of 63 bats were propped up against pickets, each with an inscription of a special moment of Hughes’ career.
Owners of shops and businesses in Macksville shut down to attend the funeral, and schoolchildren were let out of their classes early Wednesday to watch or attend the service.
Hughes’ cousin Nino Ramunno spoke at length during the eulogy about Hughes’ youth in Macksville as a keen, budding cricketer, explaining how he made his start – scoring 25 as a tailender in his first innings – after being convinced to fill in for an absent player in his older brother’s under-10 team.
Ramunno ended his remarks with a saying he said he received from a family friend, in reference to Hughes: ”He who lives in the hearts of so many, never dies.”