Farewell to Phillip
MACKSVILLE – The funeral for cricketer Phillip Hughes yesterday turned into a celebration of his life despite the grief and sorrow still evident from his death.
Australia captain Michael Clarke and the rest of the Test squad were joined by former and current players from around the world, and friends and relatives from Hughes’ hometown of 2 500 people on the northern coast of New South Wales state, 575 kilometres (350 miles north of Sydney).
Clarke was a pallbearer and spoke at the funeral service held at the Macksville Recreation Centre and which opened to the song Forever Young by Youth Group.
The service closed with Elton John’s Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me, the same song the famous entertainer and avid cricket fan performed at a concert last weekend in Germany in tribute to Hughes.
Hughes died last Thursday, aged 25, two days after being hit near the ear by a ball while batting for South Australia against his former state side New South Wales at the Sydney Cricket Ground.
In steaming temperatures of nearly 30 Celsius (85F) early arrivals to the service, including Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott, fanned themselves with papers.
At the front of the hall, near the altar for the Roman Catholic service, was Hughes’ oak brown casket. Flowers, a cricket bat, and his baggy green Test cap were nearby.
Clarke, who has described Hughes as the brother he never had, broke down frequently last weekend at the SCG when he first commented on his close friend’s death.
He took several deep breaths before he began making his tribute at the funeral, saying Hughes would “definitely call me a sook right now”.
“He left a mark on our game that needs no embellishment,” Clarke said, adding the kind of encouragement he thought Hughes might use for the occasion.
“Phillip’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,” he said, struggling to contain his emotions.
“We must cherish it. We must learn from it. We must dig in and get through to tea. And we must play on. Rest in peace, my little brother,” Clarke said. “See you out in the middle.”
India’s stand-in captain Virat Kohli, team director Ravi Shastri and former Australian wicketkeeper Adam Gilchrist walked together for a while as part of a large group that followed the casket out of the hall and on the long procession. Brian Lara, who represented the West Indies, Shane Warne, Glenn McGrath and Richard Hadlee were among the greats of the game paying their respects at the service.
Sean Abbott, the 22-year-old who bowled the delivery which fatally injured Hughes, was at the funeral. He was consoled by members of Hughes’ family – Clarke has already said Abbott cannot not be held responsible.
The funeral was telecast live around Australia and on video screens at the Adelaide Oval, where the rescheduled first Test with India will start next Tuesday, and the SCG, where a row of 63 bats were propped up against pickets, each with an inscription of a special moment of Hughes’ career.
Owners of shops and businesses in Macksville shut down to attend the funeral, and schoolchildren were let out of their classes early Wednesday to watch or attend the service. (AP)