Cricket fans gathered across Australia on Wednesday to mourn the death of batsman Phillip Hughes, a show of support described by Michael Clarke as the “spirit of cricket that binds us all together” in a eulogy to his close friend.
While Clarke was speaking at the funeral in Hughes’s hometown of Macksville, thousands of fans braved the heat at the Sydney Cricket Ground (SCG), the Adelaide Oval, the Gabba and the WACA to express their grief.
Despite blanket live coverage of the funeral on local television and international news networks like the BBC and CNN, many of those present at Australia’s iconic cricket venues had travelled hundreds of kilometres to remember Hughes.
“As a fan of cricket, I felt obligated,” said Ken Johnson from St George, who spoke to the SCG, just metres from where Hughes suffered the fatal blow to the head from a bouncer during a state match last Tuesday.
At the SCG, the many cricket bats and floral tributes that had been laid outside the gates since Hughes died last Thursday had been brought into the ground and arranged on the wicket.
There was also an installation of 63 bats across the field, each one with the description of a milestone from the batsman’s career, in a reference to the tally, 63 not out, that was on the SCG scoreboard when he was injured.
In a country where sportsmen and women are idolised, Hughes had already secured his hero status with his exploits in 26 tests for the national team.
It was, though, his fighting attitude — encapsulated by his desire to reclaim his spot in the Australia test team after being dropped several times — that meant he was remembered so fondly by many of the hundreds of mourners at the SGC.
“A lot of people when they go down give it away but he just kept on coming back. I just loved his style, his ability to bat was unbelievable,” said Simon Southwell, who travelled with his family from Canberra to Sydney.
Some 3,000 fans also turned out at the Adelaide Oval, where Hughes had played his state cricket with South Australia since moving from New South Wales two years ago.
The tributes that have flooded in from around the world over the last week continued on Wednesday, making the mourning a truly international affair.
“Taken from the game, his family and loved ones at the age of just 25, left a mark on our game that needs no embellishment,” tearful captain Michael Clarke told the funeral. “I don’t know about you but I keep looking for him.”
Hughes, who had played 26 Tests and was on the cusp of a recall, died from bleeding on the brain last Thursday after being hit on the base of the skull by a rising ball at the Sydney Cricket Ground.
His tragic death stunned Australia, where cricket is considered the national game, and prompted a rescheduling of the upcoming India Test series, while fans around the world placed cricket bats outside their front doors as a mark of respect.
Clarke said he walked to the middle of the SCG on Thursday night: “Those same blades of grass beneath my feet where he and I and so many of his mates have built partnerships, taken chances and lived out the dreams we painted in our heads as boys.
“I stood there at the wicket, I knelt down and touched the grass, I swear he was with me… Telling me we just needed to dig in and get through to tea,” he added.
Clarke said the tributes offered from sports stars and fans across the globe had sustained him, from a little girl holding a candle in tribute, to masters of the game such as Sachin Tendulkar, Shane Warne and Brian Lara expressing sorrow.
“This is what makes our game the greatest game in the world. We must dig in and get through to tea. And we must play on,” he added.
“Heart-rending funeral in Australia. Phil Hughes, we will miss you. Your game & exuberance won you fans all over! RIP,” Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted.