Australian cricket player dies

Published 3:01 pm Saturday, November 29, 2014

SYDNEY — Australian cricketer Phillip Hughes died in a Sydney hospital on Thursday from a “catastrophic” injury to his head, two days after being struck by a delivery during a domestic first-class match. He was 25.

An emotional Australia captain Michael Clarke, trying to compose himself several times, read a brief statement on behalf of Hughes’ parents, brother and sister at a packed news conference at St. Vincent’s Hospital that was broadcast live around Australia.

“We’re devastated by the loss of our much-loved son and brother Phillip. Cricket was Phillip’s life, and we as a family shared that love of the game with him,” Clarke read, before thanking the medical staff and holding back tears as left the room.

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Dr. Tony Grabs, a surgeon and director of trauma services at St. Vincent’s, said Hughes had died from a rare injury — there have been only 100 documented cases of vertebral artery dissection — which resulted in severe bleeding on the cricketer’s brain.

After a CAT scan of the head, Grabs said, “He had extensive surgery to remove some of the skull from around his brain to help allow the brain to expand so it wasn’t compressed.”

Australian team doctor Peter Brukner said Hughes did not make very much improvement over the 48 hours and “unfortunately, as a consequence of the injury, he died.”

Cricket Australia chief executive James Sutherland said Hughes was immensely talented and dearly loved: “Without doubt, he was a rising star whose best cricket was still ahead of him.”

“The word tragedy gets used too often in sport, but this freak accident is real life tragedy,” Sutherland said. “Just days short of his 26th birthday, Phillip has been taken away from us too soon. He will forever be remembered as one of the elite few to have worn the baggy green cap, cap number 408.”

Hughes’ mother and sister were at the match when he was he was hurt, and kept vigil at the hospital. Clarke, a close friend, was among dozens of former and current teammates and stars of the game who visited the hospital to offer their support.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott described Hughes as a “young man living out his dream,” adding “It’s a very sad day for cricket and a heartbreaking day for his family.”

“For a young life to be cut short playing our national game seems a shocking aberration,” he said.

Messages of support poured in from all around the world after Hughes stumbled, leaned over and then collapsed after being hit behind the left ear when he mis-timed a shot to a short-pitch delivery while batting for South Australia against New South Wales in a Sheffield Shield match.

Deaths are rare in cricket, although Hughes is the second player in two years to sustain a fatal blow.

Darryn Randall, who was 32 and a former first-class player in South Africa, was killed after being struck on the side of the head during a Border Cricket Board Premier League match in the Eastern Cape last year.

In 1998, former India test player Raman Lamba died after being struck on the head while fielding during a domestic match in Bangladesh. Nottinghamshire’s George Summers died after being hit on the head while batting at Lord’s in 1870, and Abdul Aziz died after he was hit over the heart in a 1959 Pakistan first-class match.

Images of Hughes collapsing at the SCG were broadcast almost instantly across Australia on Tuesday, and satellite TV trucks and dozens of news crews started reporting regular updates on his condition from outside the hospital.

At the Australian Open golf tournament not far from St. Vincent’s hospital, a large gallery following Adam Scott were heard to gasp as word of Hughes’ death filtered through the crowd. Some wiped tears from their eyes.

Hughes played 26 test matches for Australia after making his debut 2009, but despite a sparkling start to his international career, he was not able to earn a regular spot in the starting lineup.

After making an assured 75 in his first test innings against South Africa at Johannesburg, he posted centuries in each innings of his second test and, at 20, became one of the youngest players ever to do that in test cricket. But he struggled on the subsequent tour of England and was in and out of the Australian team four more times. He was on the verge of another test recall, with an assured 63, when he was fatally struck.

The injury sparked debate about short-pitch bowling in the game.

Bouncers, where a fast bowler aims to push the batsman back toward the stumps with a ball that lands halfway down the pitch and rears up above chest or head height, are still a regular and acceptable part of the game.

The International Cricket Council revised its laws on short-pitch bowling in the early 1990s, putting restrictions on the number of short-pitch balls allowed per over to stamp out bowlers merely using the delivery to intimidate batsmen.

Hughes was wearing a helmet when he attempted to hook a short-pitch ball from New South Wales fast bowler Sean Abbott. Sutherland said Abbott was being counselled, had visited Hughes in the hospital and had been consoled by Clarke and members of Hughes’ family.