I remember first act in Durban.
I remember it because me and at least one of my fellow Sportress colleagues were drinking, a lot, in the back bar of the Dickson Tradies in Canberra. We were watching Phil Hughes gloriously send Steyn, Kallis, Ntini and Morkel to all parts of the ground. For the second innings in a row.
I remember laughing every time he slashed the ball over point or cover. The purity of that shot was breathtaking – no coach would ever let you think this was a shot you should play. Yet here was this twenty year-old kid slashing, driving and cutting his way to another test century against an attack with claims to be the best in the world.
We were laughing because the South Africans were as confused as we were. They kept bowling to his strength because when normal batsmen slashed in the air over cover it usually didn’t make it over cover. Every short ball punched wide of third man drew frustrated looks from the South Africans and more laughter from us. Here was the young guy, like us, showing the old blokes how to go about things. The boy living the dream.
I remember the second act in Trent Bridge too; I watched it exhausted from a hotel after spending a week traveling to 4 different states for work. Most people remember this because a handsome young kid scored 98 on debut from number 11. I remember it because that kid was guided through a man who had seen it all, patiently working the ball around watching the kid at the other end slash and pull the ball to all parts of the ground with the purity and verve that he himself had displayed five years earlier. Hughes would be dropped a couple of tests later, victim of Australia’s oft-confusing approach to selection.
I like to think that we here at the Sportress adopted Hughes as our patron saint when we started this site because he represents the enthusiasm we all have for life, as well as the frustration that real life can bring. The confidence and paranoia that we all battle with are permanently sewn into his face. His unlimited potential seemingly restricted by factors beyond his control.
It seemed that Phil was finally about to catch a break from the selectors recently. He had been anointed, and with Clarke about to miss the first test, Hughes was putting together an innings that surely would have seen him elevated to the starting XI. It turns out he had already been selected.
That opportunity was ripped away from him horrifically.
His passing has been difficult for anyone who cares about cricket. We have lost a genuinely good human being. We lost someone who – naively – I had just assumed would pull through. I wasn’t the only one who needed to go sit by himself because the world suddenly got dusty.
The way those of us not associated with Hughes feel must pale in comparison to the grief his poor family is going through. To have a son, a brother, a friend torn away in such circumstances – the heart aches for them. We here at the Sportress can only consider what has happened as a tragedy. Rest in peace Phillip.
The third act will have to be our memories of you.