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COMMENT: The Phil Hughes inquiry will cause nothing but pain

The Roar logo The Roar 11/10/2016 Daniel Jeffrey

The inquest into Phillip Hughes’ death is a necessary evil. Necessary because, under New South Wales law, an inquest must be held to examine any sudden, violent or unexpected death. Evil because no good will come of it.

The inquest’s purpose is to determine the cause and manner of Hughes’ death, including whether or not anything could have been done to save the young man’s life.

For any cricket fan who followed the tragedy when it occurred, the answer to that seems obvious: no.

There isn’t a piece of headgear which could have protected Hughes while still allowing him the range of movement required to bat. A quicker response from emergency services would have been futile.

No doubt the Hughes family is seeking some kind of closure from these proceedings. There is even less doubt they deserve some.

But it is hard to see where that will come from.

Would an admission from a New South Wales Blues player that Hughes was the target of short-pitched bowling provide any?

Accounts from the inquest state the Hughes family were unimpressed with NSW skipper Brad Haddin’s assertation that there wasn’t a plan to persist with short bowling to Hughes, so maybe that’s what they were seeking.

It has also been reported the family believed Doug Bollinger directed an unsavoury sledge towards Hughes and his batting partner, Tom Cooper, one which has been rendered far more callous and inappropriate by what happened later that day.

“I am going to kill you,” is the alleged sledge.

The late Phillip Hughes and his father on the Adelaide Oval big screen during a tribute during last year's Test against the Black Caps. © Cameron Spencer/Getty Images The late Phillip Hughes and his father on the Adelaide Oval big screen during a tribute during last year's Test against the Black Caps. One can understand if Hughes’ family are looking for something out of the ordinary to point to as the cause of Phillip’s death; they have had a horrendous situation thrust upon them and are well within their rights to seek answers. It’s unlikely anything abnormal actually exists, though.

Bollinger has denied making the sledge, and Cooper said he was confident it never happened.

The fact of the matter is, despite its moniker as the ‘gentleman’s game,’ cricket can be a brutal and ferocious contest.

Hughes was neither the first nor the last batsman to be struck by a bouncer, nor was he the first or last to be sledged. The risk of being hit by the ball and the verbal jousting and intimidation which is directed towards batsmen is part of playing the game.

Was Hughes unduly targetted with bouncers? Simon Taufel – surely the finest cricket umpire in recent memory – analysed the day’s play for the inquest and found that, of 23 bouncers delivered in that session and a bit of cricket, 20 were bowled to Hughes. That’s obviously a disproportionate ratio, but nothing out of the ordinary.

Keep in mind that, less than 12 months before Hughes died, Mitchell Johnson had been lauded as a national hero for his brutally fast and ferocious short-pitched bowling which decimated England during the Ashes.

It was dangerous, but nothing more than a form of softening up batsmen to ripen their wicket for the taking.

Bowling fast and short was good cricket. It was Australian cricket.

What happened to Phil Hughes was a freak occurrence, an abhorrent accident, but nothing more sinister than that.

That point must be kept in the forefront of everyone’s minds during this week.

It will come as no solace to Hughes’ family, whose wounds have no doubt been torn open once again by the inquest. They are the ones who want and deserve answers from these proceedings more than anyone else.

Unfortunately, they may well be left with the most unsatisfactory of explanations: it was an accident.

A different finding might provide more closure, but finding fault in the way that game of cricket was played would be to open up a new world of hurt for the Blues players involved in the game, many of whom were teammates of Hughes when he made his first-class debut.

Both Cricket Australia CEO James Sutherland and Hughes’ manager, James Henderson, said they hoped for something positive to emerge from this five-day inquest.

The only positive note is we will finally get to move on from this tragedy, and have it removed from the public eye for good.

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