Phillip Hughes, who died on Thursday aged 25, will forever be remembered as one...
Phillip Hughes, who died on Thursday aged 25, will forever be remembered as one of Australian cricket’s free spirits.
A pugnacious left-hander brimming with self-confidence, his life was tragically cut short when he was hit on the head by a ball and never regained consciousness.
The violent manner of his death has shaken the cricket community, and the world of sport, to its core.
Hughes had been in an out of the Australian national team for the past five years but had been pushing for re-selection. As a batsman he had his flaws, but those imperfections seemed to make him even more popular.
When he was struck down on Tuesday, batting for South Australia against New South Wales, he was 63 not out and seemingly on track for a place in the national team to play India next week.
The Australian public loved his fighting spirit and boisterous nature, a kid from the bush who made it to the top but never changed as a person.
Hughes made 26 test and 25 one-day international appearances for Australia, but at just 25 there seemed plenty of time to make more as he battled to overcome his weaknesses.
His ability to score runs has never been questioned but his unorthodox batting technique, especially against short-pitched bowling, was an issue.
Hughes took the cricketing world by storm when he made his test debut in 2009, scoring a mountain of runs despite often looking uncomfortable at the crease, stepping away from short-pitched deliveries and slashing the ball over backward point.
Like many Australian cricketers, Hughes was raised in rural New South Wales. The Australian bush can be a harsh and often remote environment with limited opportunities for children, but is one that has produced a long line of tough, single-minded players.
Hughes grew up on a banana plantation in Macksville, a town of 3,000 in the state’s subtropical north, halfway between Sydney and the Queensland capital Brisbane.
He honed his skills through hours of monotonous practice.
During the day, he would relentlessly hit balls in his backyard. At night, he would perfect his unique strokeplay by playing shots in front of a full-length mirror.
By the age of 12 he had run out of junior players to challenge him so was forced to play against adults, who gave him his first real test of courage with a barrage of bouncers.
He made his first-class debut at 18 and finished the season by becoming the youngest player to score a century in the final of Australia’s domestic Sheffield Shield competition.
RISE AND FALL
It was not just his timing at the crease that was perfect.
A vacancy suddenly opened up in the Australian team after Matt Hayden retired and Hughes was waiting in the wings to earn a place in the test side for the tour of South Africa in 2009.
Riddled with nerves, he was dismissed for a fourth-ball duck after an ugly swipe in his first test innings, but he quickly rebounded and showed he was made of sterner stuff.
Short for an opener, he made an assured 75 in the second innings then scored hundreds in each innings of his second test, becoming the youngest man to achieve the feat at test level.
But his meteoric rise was matched by his sudden fall.
He was dropped from the team during the Ashes series that same year and although he made it back several times since, he has never managed to cement his spot in the team, despite his widespread popularity.
From his 26 tests, he scored 1,535 runs at an average of 32.65, with three centuries. He has also scored two ODI hundreds.
Those statistics mean little right now. The cricket world is in mourning for a young man whose loss will be felt for years.