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Family

Life, Love, and Cricket

November 26, 2018 by

two cricket players

Almost every summer evening, I watch my sons play cricket with their father. (There, I’ve said it. All my American friends, will you please still love me? Yes. We. Play. Cricket. All the time.) Backyard cricket means a ball, a bat, and some guys in the fading light destroying the tensions of the day with a fast bowl or a little wrist spin, a great hit or a stunning catch.

For me, cricket has become something that instantly connects me to other Australians as a strangely unifying force against the relentless and random powers of drought, fire, and floods. Cricket is also a gentle point of connection between our boys and their dad – even as their teenage frames learn to bowl faster and react quicker than he can. More so, it is a connecting point beyond our family, a daily ritual played out in so many backyards across Australia that is not to be taken for granted. It is love and laughter, dirt and competition, it is friendship and coaching, and teamwork and more laundry.

Because cricket is Australia’s national game, November 25 has become a day of reflection and remembrance. On that date two years ago, Phillip Hughes, one of Australia’s brightest young stars, was fatally injured by a cricket ball during a match.

Our son Mason chose to use “Hughesy’s” life as the inspiration for a speech he wrote for a recent Lions Club Youth of the Year Competition. I liked the speech so much that I asked Mason for permission to share it, which he granted. I’m choosing to publish it now, as November 27 is the anniversary of Phillip’s death.


Loving Can Hurt – by Mason Voll

A cricket ball is a wonder of cork, leather, and stitching, designed to be thrown, spun, hit, and caught. It exists to challenge, and to frustrate; to inspire dreams, and crush them; to cause giddy elation, and utter dejection. It is at the heart of a sport and culture loved by billions of people the world over. Ultimately, its purpose is to bring joy.

Yet at the Sydney Cricket Ground, on November 25, 2014, a cricket ball killed a man.

The ball that killed Phil Hughes left Sean Abbott’s right hand at about 135 kilometres per hour. Standing at the batting crease, Phil had less than half a second to decide whether to play at it or not.

Phil was turning to duck the ball when it struck him at the base of the skull, just below his helmet. A cricket ball is hard as a rock, and weighs about 160 grams. The impact force, experts say, is similar to being hit by a bullet. It was enough to tear the main artery to Phillip’s brain, causing a subarachnoid hemorrhage. Hughes collapsed to the ground, and lost consciousness. He never regained it, and would die in hospital two days later.

On that fateful November day, when the banana grower’s boy from Macksville was killed, Australia stopped.

I will never forget watching my dad cry as the news of Phil’s death reached us and the rest of the nation. I remember how my two brothers and I joined thousands of others in putting out a cricket bat on our front porch, as a tribute. I remember, too, how for a time we were fearful of playing the game we love, because one of our heroes had been struck down.

Sean the bowler and Phil the batsman were two young men – still boys at heart – playing the game they adored. Neither could have imagined how something they loved so much could betray them so deeply. The game cost Phil his life, and it forever altered Sean’s.

I’ve thought about that a lot: how it is, that the things or people we love most in life hold the potential to cause us the greatest hurt.

I loved my grandmother. She was so full of life, humour, and common-sense advice. When she lost her battle with cancer at the age of seventy-six, I cried for hours. And when my best friend from childhood moved overseas, I almost drowned in my own tears.

Each of us knows the feeling of love turning to pain. No one who has loved has not also been hurt in some way.

The great Christian writer and thinker C. S. Lewis, who lost the love of his life too young, said it like this: “The pain I feel now is the happiness I had before. That’s the deal.”

We cannot hide from love, or from hurt. They are two interlocking parts of human nature, and to be alive is to experience both.

It’s an Aussie cliché to offer consolation at times of grief by noting that the departed “went doing what they loved best.” And yet, as with most clichés, this one has a ring of truth about it.

We cannot hide from love, or from hurt. They are two interlocking parts of human nature, and to be alive is to experience both.

We can’t be sure, of course, but I have a feeling that if Phillip Hughes had known that day would be his last, he would not have wanted to go any other way. He was out there in the middle, in the middle of the game he loved. He went with his pads on and a bat in his hands. He went surrounded by his mates. He went down, but he will forever be “63 not out.”

Most of the time, we don’t get to see too many steps ahead on the path of life. I believe that’s a good thing. If we knew what lies in store for us, we might be paralysed into inaction – overwhelmed by a tidal wave of conflicting emotions we couldn’t possibly cope with all at once.

The famous country music artist Garth Brooks put it this way:

I’m glad I didn’t know
The way it all would end, the way it all would go
Our lives are better left to chance
I could have missed the pain
But I’d have had to miss the dance.

Phillip and Sean loved cricket. I loved my grandmother, and my friend. And all of us paid a price for our love. “Loving can hurt.” Ed Sheeran sings that. But his song goes on: “Loving can hurt sometimes, but it’s the only thing [that] makes us feel alive.”

And so, to feel alive, we keep going. We keep loving, accepting the pain as part of the deal. As Michael Clarke, Phillip’s captain and his best mate said at Hughesy’s funeral, “We must dig in…we must dig in and get through to tea. And we must play on.”

The sidelines might be safe, but winners aren’t found there. Michael Clarke, the man better known as “Pup,” understood that. Which is why he ended his eulogy for his teammate and friend with these words, “Rest in peace, my little brother, I’ll see you out in the middle.”

In the end, when our moment comes, isn’t that where we all want to be found? – out in the middle, playing for keeps, loving every minute of it. Down, but not out.

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About the author

Norann Voll portrait

Norann Voll

Norann Voll lived in New York’s Hudson Valley until moving to the Danthonia Bruderhof in New South Wales, Australia in 2002...

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