Following the tragic death of Australian batsman Phillip Hughes, tributes and memories have been pouring in for a man who was both well-loved and respected on and off the cricket field.
The sadness has carried over into the domestic game in England, with Hughes having had spells with three counties over the course of his career.
Flowers have been left outside the Grace Gate at Lord’s, where he plied his trade for Middlesex during the 2009 campaign, as well as playing in both Ashes matches for Australia at the ground in 2009 and 2013.
He may have only been at the Home of Cricket for one season, but after making at least 50 in each of his five first-class innings, that was enough to capture the hearts and minds of many, including ESPNCricinfo writer Vithushan Ehantharajah.
The reporter recalls a trip to Scotland to watch Hughes play, only to be left disappointed by the opener being dismissed early on.
“[I] Remember racing to get to The Grange when Middlesex played Scotland in a YB40 match a few years back just to watch Phillip Hughes bat. I wasn’t the only one. But by the time I turned up, he was already out and I was a bit gutted.
“Walking around the outfield later, I saw him queuing up for an ice cream (mental, given it was Edinburgh in May). There was a kid behind him. The kid tugged at his dad’s shirt and said, “Is that Hughes?” At that point, Hughes turned around and shook the kid’s hand. “I came to watch you bat,” said the kid. Hughes then, with all the sincerity in the world, apologised for getting out. It was far too sweet.”
Hampshire was the next stop on Hughes’ county tour in 2010, a ground on which many of his compatriots had appeared at previously.
Hampshire Cricket Chairman, Rod Bransgrove: “I cannot begin to comprehend the loss of a talented, ebullient and lovely lad. In the Australia dressing room after the It20 at the Ageas Bowl in 2013, Hughesy said to me that after Warne, Katich, Watson and Clarke he felt like Hampshire’s forgotten Aussie. I told him then, and I say it again now, you will never be forgotten Hughesy – you are part of our family. Rest in peace buddy.”
Phillip then spent a year at New Road, and whilst his first-class figures for Worcestershire were far from disappointing, it was his List-A average of 85 that caught the attention. The opener made two centuries in ten innings in the format, with Deep Extra Cover’s Luke Adams at Old Trafford to witness his 104 against Lancashire.
“The first and only time I had the pleasure of watching Phillip Hughes play was on a particularly significant day for myself, as it was the first time I visited the press facilities at Old Trafford, and I can recall even now the immensely unique style in which Hughes played.
“He and Vikram Solanki hit centuries in a game which Lancashire went on to win, but the game was and will always be remembered for me as the match where I saw a truly talented batsman doing what he did best.
“When something as tragic as this happens it transcends sport and makes everyone think a little harder about life. What makes it particularly sad for me is the age. He had so much more to give, and not just to cricket – 25 is too young. RIP, Phil.”
What stood Hughes apart from most, however, was his enjoyment of the game he loved, even when things weren’t necessarily going his way, as county fan Sarah explains.
“I never saw him get a big score, but the way he went about playing, you could tell he was enjoying every second of it.
“It was the game before the 2012 T20 quarter-finals – the same tournament in which he was the top-scorer. He got 40-odd against Somerset in a game Worcestershire lost, and he was smiling throughout. Seemed like a top bloke.”
And a top bloke he was. A customary glance at social media tells you that the respects for Hughes have gone far beyond the three counties he turned out for.
Players, officials and Clubs themselves from all around the country, as well as the world, have been giving their messages to a player, and a man, held in the highest regard in the cricket family.
The sport will be a sadder place in his absence.