Eternal 63* – Phillip Hughes

December 18, 2021

This isn’t the piece I wanted to write. I had another.

I wanted to tell you it was in 2007 when I saw this kid hopping, buzing and flying around the crease and he first took my eye.

I wanted to say he looked like a pixie taking on giants hurling missiles at him.

I wanted to show you a piece I wrote excitedly as I flew out to South Africa this year, convinced that Hughes would be back in the team.

I wanted you to know how disappointed I was that he never did play in that series.

I wanted you hear all the arguments I had with other writers about him and his weakness against the short ball, the wide ball, the full ball, or whatever it was that day.

I wanted you to know when I was wrong, and doubted he could overcome all the setbacks.

I wanted one day for him to make enough runs that no one ever inferred he had a problem with the short ball again. That he changed his personal narrative.

I wanted to help dispel that myth in the mean time.

I wanted him to laugh at all of us who had laughed at ‘Caught Guptil, Bowled Martin’ as he went around the world making hundreds.

I wanted him to go back to Shield cricket, learn his craft, and come back and be the legend he was supposed to be.

I wanted him to be left alone, not be hyped up, and for him to never be compared to a guy who retired in 1948.

I wanted him to keep making runs against Dale Steyn, to prove to everyone that he wasn’t a First Class bully.

I wanted him to play a hundred Tests, score triple centuries and do that thing he does with his nose when the camera was in close up.

I wanted to know what happened, so I watched the footage. Now I need to know that one day the images I’ve seen will leave my head.

I wanted him to know how brave I thought he was for calling out racism on the field.

I wanted to see him do more replacement wicketkeeping with that massive smile on his face.

I wanted him to actually play in all five Ashes Tests in one series.

I wanted the selectors to trust him the way I now did.

I wanted him to find his position in the line up, and stay there for a cricketing lifetime.

I wanted him to treat the offside like it was his personal property.

I wanted him to back away and carve, I wanted him to slap spinners and I wanted him to cut like the ball like it deserved it.

I wanted him to bat.

I wanted his 63* to be 100*. I know it means nothing, I really do. But this is all so unfinished. A 63* not out is a start, not and end. It isn’t the end of anything. It’s on the way to something bigger. Not an abyss. He had so far to go, in life and cricket, and a pointless cricket milestone might mean nothing in 50 years, but it meant something to him, and too much of this has ended too early. I want the scorers to change it. I want them to give him those 37 runs. I want someone to tell him that we all miss him already. And that we’ll all try look after the bowler. That we’ll look into new helmet designs. That we’ll not treat young players so haphazardly. That as long as cricket is known, so should the name of Phil Hughes. Phillip.

I wanted more than anything for Phillip Joel Hughes to make it. I don’t know why. I haven’t met him. But I just wanted this kid with the handmade technique and the courage to face balls he couldn’t handle to be an Australian legend.

I wanted to write something other than this, I wanted to honour him, I wanted to show how much notice I had been taking of him, how much I was on his side. How I felt it was unfair when he wasn’t selected when he should have been, how it was stupid that he always ended up in our out by the third Ashes Test, that I remember being so upset when Pepler Sandri got him out in a tour match, and that I should never have given up on him.

On the 3rd of December 2007 I saw a pixie stand up to giants. Now we have the unfinished symphony of Philip Hughes. Just a hole in the Australian batting card that doesn’t feel right now like it can ever be filled.

We all just want this piece in the present tense. We want him back at the crease, where he belonged. Not 25 out, but 63 not out. For eternity.