Up until this week I'd always wanted Phillip Hughes to fail. It was nothing personal. As an aggressive Australian batsman he was an enemy in this blinkered English cricket fan's eyes. Those famous twin centuries against the likes of Morkel and Steyn were an indicator of his frightening potential. If he could do that to them, what would he do to us?
Though he subsequently never showed his best against England those early markers - aged just 20 - suggested the future would be his. Indeed, at the start of this week he was still the future of Australian batting, set to replace injured captain Michael Clarke in the first test against India on 4 December. After the tragic events of the last few days, his future is past.
Like millions of cricket fans I'm feeling both shocked and bereft, forever replaying in my mind those images of the last ball he would ever face. The attempted pull, the swivel, the hands on knees, the sudden collapse. Tribal loyalties were instantly cast aside: as new first filtered through of the critical condition he was in, I wanted the 25-year-old to come through like never before.
Confusion, bewilderment... I felt sickened when I woke up on Thursday to read that he hadn't. An elite sportsman about to enter his prime, a much loved son, brother and teammate gone, seemingly in an instant, with that instant captured on film and relayed around the world. My thoughts and prayers go to his family and loved ones, some of whom were actually watching from the stands at the Sydney Cricket Ground; to Sean Abbott too, that most unfortunate bowler to whom no blame can be attached. This was a tragically unlucky set of circumstances, the likelihood of their happening infinitesimally small the moment Abbott let go of the ball. And yet somehow they did.
Phillip Hughes' death is a tragedy on so many levels, not least the cutting down of a talent on the cusp of truly flourishing. But more, it's times like this that remind those of us with a tendency to get caught up in its ebbs and flows that sport is simply a game, no more no less, played by human beings of infinitely worth more than whatever scores they muster.
I've noted a couple things these shocking past few days. The shared sense of loss amid the cricket community, which has reacted with great dignity and humanity, exemplified by the collective arm around Abbott and the #putyourbatsout hashtag currently trending on Twitter. People care, want to do something, and have made what can be an unforgiving bear-pit an altogether more life-affirming place these last couple of days.
Related, but in addition, is the universal sense by all who encountered him that Hughes was simply a great guy; humble, hard working, uncomplaining when dropped, non-sledging, determined to make the most of the game he loved and excelled at.
It leaves with me with two hopes: one, that the animosity that has crept onto the cricket field in recent years (particularly but not exclusively in the Ashes contests) is toned down significantly and the game played in a more grace-filled, humane manner. Be competitive of course, but remember the context.
And two, that having his life cut so short gives all those affected an opportunity to reassess what really matters in theirs. We have limited time and I know I for one want to live more mindfully and thankfully, less judgementally and regretfully, make very effort to be the person I was intended to be.
He was 63 not out when it ended, but sheer volume of runs can never now be Phillip Hughes' legacy. A more compassionate future just might.Suggest a correction