Phil Hughes : 63 not out forever

That cricket can be a cruel game is well known. But that it can be threatening to life and can bring to halt a young man’s ripe career in a tragic way was perhaps inconceivable. 25th November 2014 will always remain etched as one of the darkest days in cricket history. It was the day when Australian cricketer Philips Hughes was struck on the back of his head by a bouncer in a domestic match. Hughes collapsed on the field and never recovered from the blow; breathing his last a couple of days later. Hughes was 25. The death shook the sporting world completely. There was a massive emotional outpouring of support from every corner of the world for Hughes’s family and friends. It was hard to accept for everyone that a talented young man’s life had been taken away in such a cruel way. Hughes could have had a very promising and long career ahead of him. While that can never happen now, let us look back at some of the highlights of his cricketing career.

Early cricketing life

Born on November 30, 1988 in Macksville, New South Wales, Hughes made his domestic debut on January 9, 2006 for New South Wales Under -17s in a match against Tasmania Under-17s at Hurstville Oval, Sydney. The match was for the Commonwealth Bank (CB) Under-17 Championship 2005-06. Incidentally, he was captaining his side in the match and went on to score 51 runs of 86 balls in a winning cause. After this match, Hughes went on to play five more Under -17 games and scored four fifties in them; 257 runs at a fine average of 42.83. He still remains the only batsman to have scored four half-centuries in the Commonwealth Bank (CB) Under-17 Championship. Soon after, he got the opportunity to play for the domestic Under-19 side in the CB Under-19 Championship.

Hughes made a mark here as well by scoring heavily; accumulating 324 runs from seven innings at an average of 54.00. The opener scored a century and a half-century in the tournament; with his highest being 167 against Western Australia Under-19s. This incidentally was also the highest score of the tournament. With the impressive performances under his belt, he was then selected to play for the Australian Under-19 team against a visiting Pakistani Under-19 side in April 2007. Hughes had an outstanding tournament and had scores of 101, 101, 48 not out, 63 and 74 in the five match series. Clearly, Philip Hughes’ name had arrived in the Australian cricketing circle in style. Not long after this, he made his first-class debut for New South Wales (NSW) in the Pura Cup on November 20, 2007; scoring 51. He was 18 then and went on to score his maiden first-class century (116) a few matches later in the final versus Victoria. At the end of the season, Hughes had made a century and six fifties. In the total of seven matches that he played for his team, he scored 559 runs from 12 innings with a very impressive average of 62.11.

A little later, Hughes also made his List-A debut when he played in the Ford Ranger Cup for NSW in the same season against Victoria at the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG). Like in the previous instances, he crossed the half-century mark again in his debut match; scoring a fine 68.

Defining domestic run

Hughes’ second domestic season can be called as his career defining one. Playing seven matches in the Shield, he went on to amass 891 runs at a whopping average of 74; with four centuries and three half-centuries. He had shown now that he was ready for the rigors of Test cricket as was displayed with his high scores of 198 and 151 in the tournament. Clearly, he wasn’t one to just score runs when he is in, but score some heavy runs. From being a good prospect, Hughes was now becoming one of the most exciting young talents in Australian cricket. The selectors could no longer ignore him as the national squad at that time required an opener’s slot to be filled in and he fit the bill.

Making ground in t20

After a successful season, Hughes soon got a chance to try his skills in the shortest format of the game. He made his T20 debut on December 26, 2008 in Brisbane playing for NSW against the Queensland team in the KFC Twenty20 Bash. Known to be comfortable with the longer version of the game, Hughes proved otherwise and made his ground here as well by scoring an excellent 80 off 60 balls and taking his team to a five-wicket win. Thus, as was his tradition, Hughes had scored another halfcentury plus score in a debut match. With this innings, he had also shown the selectors his wide range of skills and thus made it impossible for them to ignore him for an international run anymore.

International debut

Hughes’ dream for playing for his country was soon realized when he made his international debut against South Africa in Johannesburg on February 26, 2009, when Australia toured there for a three-match Test series. Unfortunately though, his first innings turned out to be a forgettable one as he was dismissed for a duck in the first over he faced of Dale Steyn. Not one to give in so easily, Hughes made amends in the second innings and scored 75 as Australia thumped the hosts by 162 runs. The second Test at Durban turned out to be a landmark for Philip Hughes as he scored centuries in both the innings of this match (115 and 160). He was 20 years and 96 days old at the time and in the process became the youngest batsman to score two centuries in an international Test match. This feat made him achieve many records as he also became the fourth-youngest Australian to score a Test hundred.

Glorious english county season

As like many cricketers before him, Hughes too wanted to try out the English county season to better hone his batting skills. He got his chance when he played for Middlesex in April 2009. Here too, in his first match itself, Hughes scored a spending 118 and followed it up with an unbeaten 65 in the second innings. He had a remarkable season and scored 574 runs at a stunning average of 143.50; with two more centuries and a highest score of 195. However, in the next two seasons that he played here for Hampshire and Worcestershire, Hughes’ performances dipped a little and he was looking forward to a new season next year to improve on them. Sadly though, that was never to be.

Fall in test form and ODI debut

After the excellent start to his Test career, Hughes’ form began to dwindle a little. In the 2010/11 Ashes, he managed just 97 runs in three innings and was thus dropped for the last two Tests. He was however recalled soon for a Test series against Sri Lanka where he managed to retain his place with a century (126) in the last innings of the series at Colombo. In his next assignment against the South Africans, Hughes managed only 117 runs in the two Test matches he played. In December 2011, in a Test series against New Zealand, Hughes fell to Chris Martin four consecutive times; edging to slips for paltry scores. He was hence subsequently dropped.

The selectors however had not yet given up on him and decided to include him in the One-Day squad for an ODI series against the visiting Sri Lankans. As was by now his norm, Hughes yet again made a 50 plus contribution on debut. In his very first ODI match on January 11, 2013 at Adelaide, he went on to score 112 to take his team to victory. And in the final match of the series, he played an excellent unbeaten knock of 138 at Hobart for another Australian victory. Hughes had thus affirmed the selectors’ faith in him and was retained in the Test squad for Australia’s tour to India later that year where he incidentally struggled a lot with just one notable score of 69 in the 4-match Test series.

Career in numbers

Philip Hughes went on to score some fine international knocks after that ODI series, but nothing really significant came from his bat. Nevertheless, he had had a very promising career up until his death. Let us have a look at his career in numbers.

Style of play

Philip Hughes was not the most attractive batsmen you would have seen in the cricket field but he was definitely effective. The left-handed opener was more of a tactful grafter and would get most of his runs through nudges, glances and cuts. His strike-rate of 75 in ODIs may not seem impressive, but it was effective. He got the job done for the captain and the team by holding one end up as the opener and seeing off the shine and movement off the new ball. If wickets were falling quickly at the other end, Hughes’ calming presence was what the team would need. He had a supposed weakness against the short ball but with his twin centuries in South Africa in his debut series, he slapped that notion out of the window. He did struggle to cope with the spin and bounce of Indian pitches and admitted to work hard towards ironing this flaw out. Philip Hughes was indeed a precious talent and would have served Australia long and hard with zestful passion if life had not dealt a cruel blow to him. The loss was more of the cricketing world than just Australia’s. May his soul always rest in peace.

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