There have been condolences from the Queen, a mid-concert song dedication by Elton John, a Vatican Mass in his honour. Flags have flown at half-mast at cricket grounds from Sydney to London. Parliament was silent for one blessed minute.
The game’s greats have paid tribute. Sachin Tendulkar. Viv Richards. Ian Botham. Baggy Greens past and present. The greats of other games too. Rafael Nadal. David Beckham. Rory McIlroy. Every Australian ever associated with sport.
And there have been bats. So many bats. All over the world, bats. Sydney dad Paul Taylor’s simple gesture has been embraced by fans, households, clubs, corporations and politicians.
The Socceroos and Wallabies brought cricket bats to their recent internationals. Former world snooker champion Neil Robertson played the UK Championships with a bat placed next to his chair.
Google added a cricket bat to its landing page. Not possessing the accessories of the sport, Billy Bragg put a guitar outside his door.
In perhaps the most touching tribute of all, we saw junior cricket teams, future Baggy Greens no doubt among them, lined up in solemn contemplation before their weekend fixtures.
And yesterday, there was the funeral. The remembrances of his blood and cricket families. The stricken parents. Michael Clarke’s heartbroken entreaty: “We must dig in and get through to tea”, highlighting in a few words how difficult it will be for many to get past this. The lonely procession of thousands through the streets of Macksville.Embed from Getty Images
Hughes is not the only young Australian athlete to have died in the sporting arena. Two years ago, West Australian hockey player Lizzie Watkins was killed during a match, also hit in the head by a ball. Cyclist Amy Gillett was struck by a car while training almost 10 years ago. The Australian Surf Life Saving Championships have claimed three young lives. Young jockeys Caitlin Forrest and Carly-Mae Pye died in race falls within days of each other just six weeks ago.
But Hughes’ passing has hit a particular nerve. His manager says he’d be bemused by the fuss. As for the rest of us, we can only guess what it is about this man that has triggered our collective grief in such a way.
There are obviously a combination of factors. His character. His youth. His promise. Such promise. In his absence, we have constructed the story of what he might have been.
Add to the mixture the freak nature of his injury. And the fact that he was chasing a dream entertained by many a young lad across the land. He was an everyman, not yet a star beyond our reach and understanding.Embed from Getty Images
When I heard of his death last Thursday, I sobbed for a good few minutes. I couldn’t understand the extent of my reaction. I felt a little stupid, to be honest.
Then I heard a man describing how he’d heard the news on the car radio and wiped away tears, his eyes connecting with the driver in the next lane who was doing exactly the same thing.
This has been one of the few positives of the past week. It has brought out our kinder, gentler sides. People have made no attempt to hide their grief. Nor should they. Grown men have cried freely, in a society that does not readily embrace such displays except after the grand final siren.
Bowler Ryan Harris has admitted he may not be ready to play the first Test against India in Adelaide next week. Cricket Australia is considering picking an expanded squad to accommodate any last-minute withdrawals. No one is being forced to play. For this is so much bigger than a cricket match.
And there has been a world of kindness to the bowler, Sean Abbott, right down to Channel Nine’s decision not to show him on-camera during yesterday’s funeral service. He was allowed to mourn in peace, hopefully another step in his own healing.
Last night, as Hughes’ family, friends, teammates and Macksville locals retired to the pub, the heavens opened in Sydney where Hughes fell. It was as if the gods themselves sought to wash away the events of the past week.
They can’t be washed away, of course, though time will dim their effect for most of us.
But let’s try to hold on to the kindness that this awful week has brought out in so many of us. That can be our lasting tribute to the 408th Australian to wear the Baggy Green.