The Hughes legacy

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A lot has happened since Phil Hughes’ tragic accident at the SCG in November 2014. Australia beat India at home, won the World Cup, beat the West Indies, and lost the Ashes and beat England in the ODI series.

Eoin Morgan’s injury in the final ODI showed while time heals, Hughes’ memory will never be forgotten.

Morgan ducked a Mitchell Starc bouncer and took it flush on the helmet. The Australians were quick to rush to his aid. Starc was visibly shaken by the ball and took time to compose himself.

Remember the Adelaide Test when Mitch Johnson hit Virat Kohli? It was the first major incident after Hughes’ death and Johnson and the Aussies were understandably shaken. The previous summer Johnson was staring down and sledging the Poms as he tore through them physically and mentally, scaring them with his electric pace. We all recall Michael Clarke’s “get ready for a f%$^&$# broken arm” sledge at the Gabba. How times have changed.

The Hughes incident will stay in the memories of Australian players forever. While Clarke was exemplary after Hughes’ death, standing up and doing Australia proud despite his tremendous personal pain, it took a toll on him and hastened his retirement six months later.

Hughes’ death affected ordinary Australians too, with black armbands, the ‘put out your bats’ social media tribute and regular reference to the numbers 63 (Hughes’ score when he was hit at the SCG) and 408 (his Test player number). One junior batsman even retired at 37, saying he had finished Hughes’ ton for him. A beautiful gesture.

One legacy from Hughes’ death has been modified helmets, with new neck protection. Helmets have come a long way from Tony Greig’s ridiculous biker helmet in the seventies. They’re a necessary part of the game and need to evolve with it.

If there’s one positive to come from Hughes’ legacy, it’s the eradication of the ‘ugly Aussie’ tag. When Australia were dominating world cricket from the mid-nineties to the early 2000s, they played the game hard and ruthless. Steve Waugh, for all his virtues as a captain and batsman, wasn’t above a bit of ‘mental disintegration’ to weed out weaker opponents. Australia were so dominant and bullish is was almost depressing. Australia battered teams into submission, not afraid to twist the knife.

Now Australia have perspective. They’re no longer the belligerent, unbeatable force. During the home summer against India, the Australians were focused on honouring Hughes’ memory. When Steve Smith scored his Adelaide ton, he walked to the big 408  and looked to the heavens. It was a fantastic gesture and showed the true nature of the gentleman’s game.

Yes elite cricket is a high-pressure game driven by results, but the new Australian attitude has show there’s room for compassion and respect. Hopefully Hughes’ memory remains in the hearts and minds of Australian cricketers for generations to come.

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