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Tuesday, July 05, 2022

SCG: Sydney Cricket Grief

The pain of Phil Hughes’s death is still palpable at the venue where he fell, never to rise again.

Written by Bharat Sundaresan | Sydney |
Updated: January 3, 2015 1:10:56 am
scg, syndey, australia cricket A bronze bust of Phil Hughes will be unveiled near the member’s pavilion at the SCG before the fourth Test. (Source: Express Photo by Bharat Sundaresan)

I saw him enter the ground that day….” And then his voice tails off. His eyes roll backwards and he looks longingly, almost ruefully, at the heavens. He shakes his head. Then shakes it one more time.

“All he wanted to do was play a game of cricket. But he’s gone,” the security guard at the Sydney Cricket Ground (SCG) tells you. “He’s gone for forever.”

It’s exactly five weeks ago since Phillip Hughes drove into the SCG for a Sheffield Shield encounter between South Australia and New South Wales. He too must have driven along Driver Avenue and alongside the incredibly vast expanse of the Centennial Parklands — which in totality is around 360 hectares and houses some 15,000 trees — and the Kippax Lake before taking a right-turn towards the historic venue. But he was to never see the eclectic sights and sounds around the SCG ever again.

The SCG is also referred to as the Old Lady on occasions. Justifiably so. For it’s one of the few venues Down Under which has still retained the old-world charm. The stands here, for starters, are still named after doyens of the cricketing world who flourished with bat and ball almost a century ago. Be it Don Bradman, Monty Noble, Victor Trumper or Ian Chappell’s favourite, Bill O’Reilly. Not to forget the legendary Ladies Stand, which was built in 1896. It is also still one among the few that have retained its aesthetic charm from yore in the wave of redevelopments that have been undertaken on all major sports venues across Australia.

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The sloping Dutch hip roofs only add to the archaic feel of the SCG, while the brown and green theme goes with the stadium’s surrounds. The Kippax Lake, into which Doug Walters once mythically hit a six, lies right outside with a sculpture of a female athlete located right in its centre.

But for the last month or so, the SCG and its surrounds have been engulfed with grief and remembrances. It’s understandable. Not always does a sports arena have to deal with the trauma of witnessing one of its own getting killed on its terrain. It’s not just the security guard who’s finding it tough to get over the loss and move on. An entire nation has been doing the same since November 27. Spare a thought for Michael Clarke & Co then, who’ve somehow not only moved on from having lost their beloved colleague, but also managed to win a Test series against India with one match still to go.

Come Tuesday, they will be back here at the SCG. Even those — Brad Haddin, David Warner, Nathan Lyon and captain Steve Smith — who were at the ground when Hughes suffered the fatal blow to his head from a Sean Abbott bouncer. Ideally, today would have been the eve of the Test. But these are by no means ideal times.

‘How will they…?’

And the build-up to the annual New Year’s Test has been riddled with, “how will they?” queries regarding the home team. How will they go up to bat at the Randwick End? How will an Australian fast bowler deliver a bouncer from the Paddington End?

At least, there’s one element of the ground that they don’t have to worry about. Pitch 7, where Hughes was hit, was retired a few days after his unfortunate death. “I’m shocked by what’s happened. My staff are shocked. We won’t be using that particular pitch for a long time,” chief curator Tom Parker had said on the day of Hughes’ funeral, when thousands poured into the SCG to bid adieu.

News pours in that Hughes’ life is being celebrated not just in his native land but as far away as Nepal. The Cricket Association of Nepal wants to place a bat belonging to the late Australian Test batsman on top of Mt Everest. The security guard smiles when you tell him about it.

“It just shows you that if you smile, the world smiles with you. If you are a good man, like Phil was, the whole world will celebrate your life, borders and boundaries will be swept away,” he says.

Not surprisingly, the SCG too plans to commemorate the life and times of Hughes, who was a New South Welshman for all practical purposes. On Monday, the eve of the fourth and final Test, the Sydney Cricket and Sports Ground Trust will unveil a bronze plaque with a bust of Hughes right outside the Members’ Pavilion outside the home dressing-room. If this wasn’t going to be an emotional return for Smith & Co already, seeing their ‘little mate’ in the form of a fallen hero will certainly test their nerves. It will inspire them too, just like it did in Adelaide Oval, and has throughout the series.

The plaque will detail Hughes’s career at the SCG, including his first first-class games and Test on Australian soil. There will also be a 63-bat memoir put up in the upper tier of the member’s stand, with each one depicting an image of a significant event in Hughes’ career.
“I think the Australian players will take solace from the fact that the NSW Sheffield Shield (team) and the (Sydney) Sixers team returned to the SCG earlier in December. I suppose playing at the SCG is another step in honouring Phillip’s memory. Time is a healer, but no doubt there will be some challenging moments,” Australian Cricketers Association CEO Alastair Nicholson had said.

Over the last few days, a number of players from the Baggy Green brigade have spoken about being unsure about how they will deal with this ultimate challenge.

“Playing in Brisbane and Melbourne we got away from it a little bit. But when we get back to the SCG, training there and going out to the game it might bring a few feelings back,” said young pacer Josh Hazlewood. Warner has already called this the toughest match of his career, while Haddin after seeming completely lost for words said, “So there should be a bit about him. He was a big part of all our lives. I don’t really know what to say.”

In four days’ time, the SCG too will be lost for words as it rolls its eyes back, and looks towards the heavens, reminiscing about the puny left-hander who would hammer the boundary boards near the point region on both sides of the ground with the most fearsome cut-shot you could imagine.

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