Reflections on the summer of 2014/15
The tragic death of Phillip Hughes on November 27th, 2014, was a devastating start to the summer of 2014/15. The twenty-five year old was struck by a bouncer and collapsed during a Sheffield Shield match at my beloved Sydney Cricket Ground. Phillip Hughes failed to regain consciousness and passed away in hospital three days later. As a mother of two cricket obsessed young boys, this horrific fatal accident left me pondering some of life’s big questions.
How do you explain the inexplicable? That sometimes life makes little sense. How do you reconcile the fact that dissecting the vertebral artery as a result of being hit by a cricket ball at the base of the neck is so rare it’s virtually unheard of? People just don’t die playing cricket. And yet it happened to this prodigiously talented boy from the country who fulfilled his dream of wearing the Baggy Green cap and representing Australia. That he died playing a game that doesn’t pose the huge risks of head injuries like some football codes leaves me stumbling for words.
My boys were five and seven when Phillip Hughes died. I grappled with how to talk to them about what happened without making them anxious about playing the game we all love. My youngest had just started his first season of Saturday morning cricket. He was so enthusiastic about playing and practicing and honing his skills. Amusingly, over the summer he filled his little head with thousands of cricketing statistics, and then spent hours regurgitating the information back. As children of the digital age, my boys love watching old footage on you tube of the greats of the past like Dennis Lillee and Jeff Thomson.
My love for cricket began as a child when a friend of my dad’s took me to the Sydney Cricket Ground on a few occasions. It was there, in the Members Stand of the SCG, that my lifelong enthusiasm for the game of cricket was born. I didn’t come from a cricketing family, nor did I ever play the game. But during some challenging years as a teenager and through my twenties, cricket was in many ways my constant companion. It was a quirky passion, especially for a young second generation Australian girl from an immigrant background, but for some magical reason it ran deep in my psyche. It gave me a wonderful place to direct my attention and escape to while the foundations of my family crumbled around me. The older I got the more I grew to love the history of the game. I spent summer after summer feeding my obsession, watching hours of cricket on television and going to games in Sydney and interstate whenever I could. I obsessively read cricket books, old and new, to soak up as much knowledge as possible.
I began to dream about traveling to support Australia in her cricketing quests abroad. A dream incredibly I’ve managed in part to fulfil by watching test matches in the West Indies, Sri Lanka and England. Hopefully life will provide more opportunities to tick India, South Africa and New Zealand off the list.
Following the heart-breaking start to the 2014/15 Australian summer of cricket, eventually things returned to a revised state of normal. Australia pummelled the touring Indian side in the test matches. Domestic Big Bash T20 games on TV practically every night throughout January provided compelling entertainment for those who’ve embraced the very short form of the game. As a school holiday treat, my little boys and I often snuggled in bed and fell asleep watching the Big Bash.
It was all a prelude to the 2015 World Cup of Cricket which began on February 14th. Australia and New Zealand co-hosted what turned out to be an enthralling six week tournament. Many of the matches played by some of the minnows of the cricketing world like Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Ireland and Scotland were hard fought and exciting. The abysmal contributions by the English team, the land where cricket was invented, left English supporters scratching their heads. New Zealand played brilliant competitive cricket right up to the final. South Africa lost in the semi-finals for the third time in World Cup history. Pakistan and India played a match that was said to have a television audience of a billion people.
And Australia simply got better and better. The tournament culminated on the 29th of March when 90,013 fans – the biggest crowd ever gathered to watch a game of cricket – packed into the Melbourne Cricket Ground to watch a final contested by the two host nations. New Zealand were overwhelmed by the Aussies and the magnitude of the Melbourne Cricket Ground on the day. In his post-match interview, Michael Clarke, the Australian captain touchingly dedicated his teams’ win to his fallen mate and ‘little brother’ Phillip Hughes. It was a reminder of the highs and lows in life to which none of us are immune.
A sad postscript to the 2014/15 season, saw the world awake to the news on the 10th of April, 2015 that Richie Benaud, a much loved icon of Australian cricket, had passed away at the age of 84. For six decades Richie Benaud occupied an enduring role in the Australian sporting psyche. He was by all accounts a cunning leg-spin bowler, a very good batsman and a brilliant gully fieldsman who worked hard on all facets of his game to realise his full potential as a player. In 1958 he was appointed captain of the Australian cricket team when the incumbent captain Ian Craig contracted hepatitis. Under his 28 test reign, Australia never lost a series.
His remarkable career in the media began in 1956 on the now defunct Sydney Sun newspaper where he worked briefly in the accounts department, before becoming a police roundsman. For those of us too young to remember Richie Benaud the player, he became the face of the ground-breaking Channel Nine World Series Cricket coverage when Kerry Packer shook the game to its core in the 1977. And he’d been on our screens ever since. He was equally revered in England where he worked as a cricket commentator for the BBC for forty two years.
Richie Benaud’s iconic voice and marvellous insights are now relegated to the annals of cricket broadcasting history. He was one of the true legends of Australian cricket. His commentary will be forever missed by those of us who love the game.
By Tamara J. Lowe