November 25, 2014: New South Wales are playing South Australia at the SCG. South Australia is 2/136, with Phil Hughes (63 not out) closing on the hundred that should earn him a Test recall against India.
Then, on the third ball of Sean Abbott’s 10th over, it happens.
Cricinfo’s ball-by-ball commentary is usually full of description and analysis from their live scorers. It’s a fun way to keep up with the cricket. The text commentary for that game is basic description. The final ball of Hughes’ life is written as:
48.3 Abbott to Hughes, no run.
The match was immediately abandoned, along with the other Shield games, as we waited to see if Hughes would pull through.
He died on November 27, three days short of his 26th birthday.
While this year’s Adelaide Test has been hyped as the inaugural Day-Night Test, the first day is the anniversary of Hughes’ death.
So how has the cricket world reacted since the tragedy?
The outpouring of grief from cricketers nation-wide, the majority who’d never met Hughes, was heartwarming. Sydney’s Paul Taylor – a former grade cricketer – recognised Hughes’ passing with a simple act: putting his cricket bat and his Mosman cap by his front door and took a photo for his Twitter account. The humble gesture started a social media wave: #putoutyourbats became the symbol for ordinary Aussies to remember Hughes. When Tony Abbott was dumped as PM this year, the hashtag was parodied as #PutOutYourOnions.
The numbers 408 (Hughes’ Test cap number) and 63 also played a part. The Saturday after Hughes’ death, many junior cricketers retired at 63 to honour him. A commemorative plaque was placed at the SCG in time for the fourth Test against India.
The first Test was meant to start at the Gabba in early December, but was shifted to just before Christmas, with Adelaide (Hughes’ adopted home) opening the four-Test series from December 9.
The Adelaide Test was a time of celebration and healing. David Warner, who played in Hughes’ final match, signalled his intent with 145 off 163 balls. When Warner reached 63, the crowd gave a standing ovation, with Warner looking up at Hughes and raising his bat. When Steve Smith (145 not out) reached his hundred, he walked to the big “408” painted on the ground and raised his bat. Michael Clarke – who gave a brave and touching speech at the funeral – made 128 as Australia declared at 7/517.
The biggest test came in the 30th over of India’s innings. Mitchell Johnson bowled a bouncer which hit Indian captain Virat Kohli. The Australian players made sure Kohli was alright. Johnson – who had terrorised the Poms the previous summer – was visibly distressed.
A run-in between Warner and fast bowler Varun Aaron in the second innings, after Warner (enroute to another hundred) was bowled off a no-ball, threatened to undo the goodwill.
Nathan Lyon had been bowling during the Shield match against South Australia so it was appropriate that Lyon won the game for Australia on the final day. Chasing 364, Kohli (141) and Murali Vijay (99) were batting India towards an unlikely victory. At 2/242, Lyon (1/116) began his 25th over. Lyon trapped Vijay LBW and got Rahane five balls later. Kohli kept fighting but Lyon got the better of India’s vulnerable tail, finishing with 7/152 off 34. 1 overs. India lost 8/73 to fall by 48 runs.
Australia won the series 2-0 under Steve Smith, with Clarke’s hamstring injury ruling him out after Adelaide. Considering the emotional turmoil Clarke had suffered, the rest helped, refreshing him for the World Cup win in March.
Sean Abbott was heavily affected by Hughes’ death. In the immediate aftermath, some thought Abbott would never play cricket again. In a testament to the young man’s mental courage, he came back strongly. While Australia was playing in Adelaide, Abbott returned for NSW against Queensland at the SCG. He took 2/53 in the first innings and 6/14 off seven overs as the Bulls – needing 179 to make NSW bat again – collapsed for 99. Abbott continued his healing for the Sydney Sixers, taking nine wickets in 10 games at 30.44. He finished the Shield season with 23 wickets at 27.21. He played for Australia A in India and continues to play for NSW in domestic cricket.
One of the biggest changes after Hughes’ death was the helmets. Masuri started including a “stemguard” – made of foam and a rubber and attached to the back of a helmet, while not impeding a batsman’s head movement. Initially trialled in early 2015, the Stemguard helmets are now available for everyone.