SYDNEY: Australia’s cricket board will launch an “immediate” review into player safety in the wake of Phillip Hughes’ death, as the global cricket community mourned on Friday and the fate of next week’s first test against India remained in limbo.
Flags flew at half-mast at cricket grounds and players left bats outside their doors in tribute to batsman Hughes, whose death in hospital on Thursday at the age of 25 shook the sport to its core and prompted a global outpouring of sympathy.
Cricket Australia boss James Sutherland said the board would work with manufacturers and regulators to look into safety standards and seek improvements after Hughes was killed by a ball in a domestic match, despite wearing a helmet.
“Statistics say it is clearly a freak incident, but one freak incident is one freak incident too many, so that of course puts us in a position of looking into that,” Sutherland told reporters outside the Sydney Cricket Ground on Friday.
Sutherland spoke outside the ground where Hughes was batting on Tuesday when he was struck in the neck by a rising ball that burst an artery and flooded blood into his brain.
Past and present players, family and friends gathered at the SCG late on Thursday for an impromptu wake, some walking onto the field to embrace and console each other.
Team mates from across the world mourned Hughes, who played for two of Australia’s state teams and three county sides in England.
Hughes was set to replace injured captain Michael Clarke in the Australia team for the first test against India next week, according to selector Mark Waugh, though debate has raged as to whether the match should go ahead at all.
Sutherland declined to confirm the Dec. 4-8 match in Brisbane, saying Hughes’ team mates needed time to grieve.
“I know for many people, seven days doesn’t seem too far away but in other ways it is a million miles away. We will get there when we can,” he said.
“I’ve got to say that (the Indian cricket board’s) understanding and empathy has been absolutely outstanding.”
Hughes’ death dominated Australia’s major newspapers, with somber eulogies for the boy raised on a banana plantation whose life ended three days before his 26th birthday.
“Nation shares the agony of an innings cut short,” The Australian’s front-page headline read above a picture of Hughes gazing above with an Australian flag in the background.
“Australian captain Michael Clarke spoke for the family when he said ‘cricket was Phillip’s life’ but the terrible reality is that cricket ended that life,” prominent cricket writer Gideon Haigh said in the newspaper.
“Few had ever considered they were risking their lives when they walked out to bat or risking others’ lives when they dropped the ball short.”
A social media tribute with the hashtag #putoutyourbats saw cricketers post pictures on Twitter of their bats outside their doors.
Support also rang out for Sean Abbott, the 22-year-old all-rounder whose rising delivery struck Hughes.
Hughes’ family and captain Clarke spent time with Abbott during the week and Sutherland said he was “holding up” well.
“I had a chat to him last night and I was incredibly impressed by the way he was holding himself and his maturity,” Sutherland added.
“What we will do and the relevant experts will do will be to provide Sean with all of the support he needs to work through this.”
Former Australia captain Mark Taylor told local media that Abbott, who celebrated his international debut in Twenty20 and one-day matches last month had “no questions” to answer.
“But I’m sure he’ll be feeling some guilt today and probably will be for a long time,” Taylor said.
“I really hope Sean can get over it and we one day see Sean back playing for NSW and maybe Australia.”
Government flags were at half-mast across Australia and at the SCG where floral tributes were placed outside the entrance to the ground.
Flags were also lowered at the Melbourne Cricket Ground and at the hallowed Lord’s ground in London, where Hughes played county cricket.
Local clubs were painting 408 into the turf of their grounds, the number on Hughes’ national ‘baggy green’ cap signifying his status as the country’s 408th test player, while black armbands would be worn and a minute’s silence observed before cricket games on the weekend, Sutherland said.
Junior cricketers would also retire their innings at 63, instead of the usual 50, to commemorate Hughes’ final score.
The tragedy touched the country’s other top sports, with the national Wallabies rugby team to wear black armbands in Saturday’s match against England in London.
Australia’s top-flight soccer league also said players would observe a minute’s silence. (Reuters)