At the back of my parents’ attic, in a box marked “Ed,” is my first year 5 assignment, an A3 poster titled “All About Me.” In the middle of the page my eleven-year old self had written, by way of introduction and in handwriting not all that different from today’s, a line repeated by millions of Australian children.
When I grow up, I want to play cricket for Australia.
As a kid, like so many other Australians, I lived for the game. When it wasn’t a match it was a net session, or a hit in the backyard, or in the kitchen, or in the bedroom with a little autograph bat signed by the New South Wales team. If it wasn’t a game it was catching practice, or training, or sitting around with the old man discussing tactics and field placements, or helping my grandpa roll the pitch and paint the lines for Christmas Eve. At other times, of course, it was lying in bed listening to Jim Maxwell and Henry Blofeld and Peter Roebuck and Harsha Bhogle, or sitting and reading until memorised that little blue bible, The Laws of Cricket.
There were thousands of us, and he was one of us. Every player who has ever gone on to play for Australia, any player who has gone on to play Sheffield Shield, was one of us. The game is so complex, so rich, so imbued with history, that you can’t just play it. You have to live it. Phil Hughes lived it, as so many of us have lived it. He was better than us, he was braver, he was more determined, and he was the one who made it, and was going to make it again.
His death hits me hard because he remained, till his very last day, one of us. As good as he was, he remained defined by how good he could become.
That eleven year old kid wouldn’t have cared for celebrity girlfriends, fancy cars and a free ride from the selectors. He would have wanted be brilliant, to be unique, to be strong, to be loved by his teammates, to be respected by his opponents, and to score runs for fun. He would have wanted to be Phil Hughes.