The Phillip Hughes inquest became something it shouldn’t have
Date: October 15, 2016 / Posted by Glenn Mitchell
It should have been simply about safety levels in cricket. Unfortunately, it descended into an inquest about Phillip Hughes. As a result, there has been angst, anger and unnecessary comments aired.
Hughes’ death resulted from a freak accident. That was confirmed yesterday when long-time Australian team physio Alex Kountouris was called to give evidence.
Kountouris, who based his PhD on injuries in cricket, stated there has only been one other known case of a batsman being killed by a vertebral artery being severed – the injury that Hughes suffered. It occurred in Melbourne in 1993.
Unfortunately, the questioning than deviated into other areas.
Kountouris was asked whether in the preparation of his report he had been made aware of concerns that were raised by the Hughes family in regard to the period of play leading to the fateful delivery.
His response was an emphatic, “no”.
That drew an audible response from Hughes’ father, Greg who said, “lying, lying”.
It was not the first time that the concerns of the Hughes family with the way the game was being played were aired in the Coroner’s Court. They were first raised earlier in the hearing when New South Wales paceman Doug Bollinger was quizzed about his comments on the field that day.
Hughes’ brother, Jason had informed investigators that he had been told, that Bollinger had sledged Hughes and his South Australian batting partner, Tom Cooper, saying “I’m going to kill you”.
None of the players called to provide evidence – including Cooper – nor the umpires could substantiate the allegation. Bollinger himself said, “I know in my own heart I didn’t say that”.
Hughes’ father tabled a written submission to the inquiry. He said that after the lunch break on the day in question there was a significant increase in the number of short balls that were delivered, most notably at his son.
“The umpires did not call them ‘no balls’ under the Sheffield Shield cricket laws. Those laws are different to the MCC rules. By those balls not getting pulled up, of course this kept the bowlers continuing to target my son in an ungentlemanly way.”
Former international umpire Simon Taufel, now a consultant for umpiring to Cricket Australia appearing as an expert witness, explained that under the playing conditions for the Sheffield Shield, the basic rule for a batsman of Hughes’s ability was a limit of two bouncers an over. These deliveries are assessed as to whether or not they go above the batsman’s shoulder.
The Hughes’ legal counsel alleged that Hughes faced nine consecutive short balls from Sean Abbott, including three that could have been considered bouncers in the over prior to the one in which he struck Hughes. The umpire ruled only one of the short balls to be a bouncer and Taufel supported the umpire’s assessment.
Taufel stated that of the 23 bouncers bowled that day, 20 were directed at Hughes, but not all of them were over the shoulder and the cluster in any particular over did not warrant sanction from the umpires.
Taufel testified he thought the bowling on the day was fair and didn’t breach regulations with respect to “dangerous or unfair bowling”.
Greg Hughes said in his submission, “Sledging is part of the game,” but “(the alleged comments) were more abusive and intimidating than sledging … and the use of illegal deliveries in my eyes lead to a very unsafe workplace.”
Sadly, the nature of the inquiry has focused very much on the way play unfolded that day.
It is understandable that the family is still grieving and at pains with Phillip’s death but nothing that unfolded that day can be seen as something that precipitated his death.
NSW Coroner Michael Barnes said as much at the outset of proceedings. He said the purpose of the hearing was “not to lay blame. (Hughes) death was a terrible accident, but it does not mean cricket cannot be made safer”.
The game could perhaps be made safer but universally that could only occur if a tried and tested new form of helmet could be developed that would alleviate the injury Hughes sustained. Presently, tests carried out on modified helmets have not proven them to be conclusively safer.
Aside from that, the game itself cannot be made safer without the banning of short-pitched bowling which is something no cricketer or administrator would ever wish to see happen.
Phillip Hughes, as a professional cricketer, was operating in a workplace. However, thousands of cricketers play the game on suburban grounds each week during the summer months without the presence of doctors or physios, people that are present at all first-class grounds in Australia.
Since the Hughes incident defibrillators have been installed at all first-class grounds. They are not in place at minor venues around the country.
At grade cricket grounds down through the years young and inexperienced batsmen have been forced to endure the wrath of fast bowlers of the ilk of Ray Lindwall, Jeff Thomson, Brett Lee and Mitchell Johnson.
At any time, a serious injury could occur. Bruises are commonplace. Broken bones less so. Fatalities, however, are extremely rare.
On 25 November 2014, one such tragedy occurred. It was a freak accident where a young man, playing the game he loved, was struck by a delivery that on other occasions he would have either hit or avoided.
Hughes, as an international opening batsman, was better equipped than most cricketers to have survived that delivery. He had done so thousands of times before in matches and in practice.
There is no blame to be apportioned towards anyone. Phillip Hughes’ death was a tragic accident.
It will always remain so.
First published on The Roar – theroar.com.au – on 14 October 2016, soliciting 104 comments