Hughes's death united cricket

2014-12-19 15:59
A portrait of Phillip Hughes, who died from his injuries, is pictured on the scoreboard at the Sharjah cricket stadium. (Aamir Qureshi, AFP)

Cape Town - Cricket confronted tragedy in 2014 with the death of Phillip Hughes after the Australia batsman was hit by a bouncer in a domestic first-class match.

Several batsmen had previously been killed in similar incidents, albeit at lower levels of the game, and two days after Hughes' death Israeli umpire Hillel Oscar died after a ball ricocheted off the stumps.

But the fact Hughes, 25, had scored three Test hundreds and was wearing a helmet, although the ball hit him on an unprotected area of the skull, contributed to a huge sense of shock throughout the cricket world.

Australia captain Michael Clarke, in a moving eulogy at Hughes' funeral, recalled walking out to the pitch at the Sydney Cricket Ground - where his friend died - for the first time following his former team-mate's passing.

"I swear he was with me... Telling me we just needed to dig in," Clarke said, before adding: "We must play on."

Following a short delay to Australia's ongoing Test series at home to India, that is what happened with no great reduction in bouncer use.

Indeed New South Wales quick Sean Abbott, who received much sympathy after delivering the ball that killed Hughes, bowled a bouncer in his first over following the fatal accident on his way to a remarkable haul of six for 14 against Queensland at the SCG.

Clarke made a hundred in the first Test win over India but was sidelined soon afterwards with a career-threatening hamstring injury.

That fast bowling is central to much cricket success was emphasised when Australia's Mitchell Johnson won the International Cricket Council player of the year award.

Left-arm quick Johnson led Australia's attack during a 5-0 Ashes sweep of England in 2013/14 and then starred in a 2-1 series win over South Africa while collecting 59 Test wickets from August 2013 to September 2014.

The end of the South Africa-Australia series saw the retirement of Proteas captain Graeme Smith.

Thrust into the leadership aged just 22, Smith captained in a world record 109 Tests, while overseeing notable series wins in both Australia and England as well as scoring more than 9,000 Test runs, including 27 hundreds.

That the non-white Hashim Amla, a practising Muslim, became Smith's successor as South Africa captain was significant in a country still grappling with post-apartheid 'transformation'.

The ongoing problem of cricket corruption was highlighted when former New Zealand batsman Lou Vincent was banned for life in July after being found guilty of match-fixing in English one-day county matches.

Meanwhile Narayanaswami Srinivasan headed up the ICC, controversially revamped in favour of the 'Big Three' of India, Australia and England, despite India's Supreme Court suspending him as president of the Indian board following corruption allegations stemming from last year's Indian Premier League.

However, Srinivasan was exonerated of match-fixing by the court in November.

West Indies, long plagued by poor results, suffered a new low when a players' revolt over pay saw October's tour of India cut short, a move that risked financial ruin for Caribbean cricket.

On the field, captain Brendon McCullum became the first New Zealand batsman to score a Test triple hundred with 302 against India in Wellington in February.

Pakistan skipper Misbah-ul-Haq defied a reputation for slow scoring and his 40 years of age with a 56-ball century against Australia in Abu Dhabi in November that equalled West Indies great Vivian Richards' record for the fastest Test hundred.

Misbah's innings helped seal a 2-0 series win, Pakistan's first over Australia in 20 years.

This victory was all the more creditable as Pakistan, who have not played a major match on their own soil since an armed attack on Sri Lanka's team bus in Lahore in 2009, were without star spinner Saeed Ajmal, one of several bowlers suspended in 2014 as the ICC cracked down on illegal actions.

Rohit Sharma's 264 against Sri Lanka in Kolkata last month obliterated compatriot Virender Sehwag's 219 as thd highest individual one-day international score.

Sharma's 173-ball innings featured 33 fours and nine sixes.

However, this could not disguise the one-day world champions ongoing poor Test record away from home, with India losing series in both New Zealand and England.

Victory over India was a rare highlight for England, who spent much of 2014 dealing with the fall-out from batsman Kevin Pietersen's sacking and the bitter recriminations in his autobiography.

Amid the controversy, England captain Alastair Cook ended the year having failed to score an international century in his last 59 attempts spanning both Tests and one-dayers.

Sri Lanka, however, enjoyed a successful 2014 that included winning both the World Twenty20 and their first Test series in England as they began a long farewell to batting stars Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene set to culminate at next year's World Cup in Australia and New Zealand.

Zimbabwe upset the odds in Harare in August when they beat Australia in a one-day international, just their second victory in meetings between the countries since the Africans' equally stunning success in the inaugural clash at the 1983 World Cup in England.

But come the year's end, Zimbabwe had been whitewashed in both Test and one-day series away to fellow minnows Bangladesh, with home left-arm spinner Taijul Islam becoming the first cricketer to claim a hat-trick on his ODI debut.

Read more on:    australia  |  phillip hughes  |  cricket

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