The death of Australian cricketer Phillip Hughes was likely “inevitable” after he was struck by a ball, an inquest heard Monday as it raised concerns about on-field sledging and short, fast deliveries.
Hughes, who played 26 Tests, died from bleeding on the brain in November 2014 after being hit on the neck by a rising ball while batting in a domestic match at the Sydney Cricket Ground.
“Quite clearly the death was a terrible accident,” Coroner Michael Barnes said at the opening of the five-day inquest. “But that does not mean that cricket cannot be made safer.”
The death of the 25-year-old, who had risen through the ranks to play for his country, stunned Australia and the world cricket community, sparking an outpouring of grief.
In her opening address, counsel assisting the coroner Kristina Stern said Hughes had been excited about playing that day, with his mother and sister in the stands, as he worked to regain a place on the national team.
He had opened the batting for South Australia in the domestic Sheffield Shield match against New South Wales and was playing well.
But he tried to hook a delivery from Sean Abbott which hit him in the neck, causing him to step to the side before collapsing to the ground face first.
Footage of the blow and Hughes’ collapse was played in court, with some of his family leaving the room.
Fellow cricketers and medical staff raced to help but Stern noted that the first person to call for an ambulance was unaware of the severity of the injury and that it took about an hour to get Hughes to hospital.
But she said none of that seemed to have had an effect on his death which “appears to have been inevitable from the point of impact”.
Nor did there appear to be any defect in the helmet he was wearing, given that the area in which he was hit was unprotected, she said.
‘I didn’t say that’
At hospital, Hughes underwent scans and surgery but died two days later on November 27, 2014.
Stern said that concerns had been raised about the number of short balls delivered by fast bowlers to Hughes that day but the players involved did not believe he had been unfairly targeted.
There were also concerns about whether players had engaged in sledging -- insulting or verbally baiting him -- during play.
Under questioning, bowler Doug Bollinger did not recall telling Hughes or his batting partner that, “I’m going to kill you”, as suggested by counsel for Hughes’ family Greg Melick.
“I know in my heart I didn’t say that,” Bollinger said, The Australian newspaper reported.
Former Australia wicketkeeper Brad Haddin, who was captaining New South Wales that day, said while he did not see where the ball hit Hughes, the event was “something I’ve never witnessed before in my life”.
“It was the noise. The groan. The way he fell straight down, motionless without trying to break the fall,” Haddin told the inquest, The Australian said.
Coroner Barnes is examining the manner and cause of Hughes’ death and also has jurisdiction to make recommendations, particularly in the interest of public health and safety. The findings may come on Friday, but could take weeks.
An independent review into the death, ordered by Cricket Australia, has already recommended that helmets be compulsory for batsmen and fielders near the wicket.
A spokesman for the Hughes family, his former manager James Henderson, admitted that it would be a “very, very, very difficult week” for the relatives.
“They’re hoping that perhaps there will be (something) positive come out of Phillip’s death as we go through this,” he said.