What a moving and emotional tribute Michael Clarke provided at today’s funeral for poor Phil Hughes. Describing his visit to the SCG on the night of Hughes’ death, he said, ‘I knelt down and touched the grass. I swear he was with me.’
He continued, ‘Philip’s spirit, which is now part of our game forever, will act as a custodian of the sport we all love. We must listen to it. We must cherish it. We must learn from it.’
Finally, quoting one of Hughes’ phrases, ‘We must dig in and get through to tea,’ he added, ‘And we must play on.’
This is the third time in the past century that there has been an outpouring of grief for a young Australian cricketer cut down in his prime, all of them nationally loved figures and all of them New South Welshmen. First was Victor Trumper, a batting genius who died from Bright’s disease in 1915 at the age of 37. 20,000 mourners lined the route to the cemetery in the biggest funeral Sydney had ever seen.
A closer parallel to the tragedy of Phil Hughes is the wonderfully talented Archie Jackson who died aged 23 from tuberculosis. Brought up in poverty and always frail in health, Jackson played his first test in the same series that Bradman began his career. Some considered Jackson an even better prospect than the Don.
In his first test against England he scored a brilliant 164 before collapsing exhausted. At that time, aged 19, he was the youngest Australian to score a century on debut. Eighty one years later 20 year old Phil Hughes scored a century in each innings of his second test. Both were dead five years after making their debuts. During his fighting 73 in 1930 on a bad wicket, having taken a battering from the great Harold Larwood, Jackson walked up to the famous bowler mid-over and said, ‘Well, Harold, it’s only a game but what a grand one we’re having today. I hope you’re enjoying our battle.’
Apart from their state of origin, their youth and their talent, what links all three of these tragic young men is the uninhibited way they played their cricket, the pleasure they brought to those who watched, their humility and the love they inspired in a nation. At the bottom of Jackson’s gravestone are the words, ‘He played the game.’ Today Michael Clarke said, ‘ We must play on.’ And we must, never forgetting the debt we owe to men such as these, who played the game the way it was meant to be played.