One to cherish.

Little champ. Mate. Gutsy and unorthodox. Great.

We all know who we’re talking about. The young Aussie that Justin Langer wrote so beautifully about – the fella his wife fell in love with. The fella who lived with them and who they wanted in to their own. Hughesy.
Hughesy the bloke that most of us have never even seen play, live and have never met… but now know. And we know he is/was a special bloke – we can tell. The reactions tell us.

I want to try to say something about this because I think there is something wonderful and actually profound borne here, amongst this diabolical hurting and the flailing around for an appropriate, legitimate answer.

For one thing, my hope is there’s some real solace for Phillip Hughes’s own loved ones in the scope and quality of the response to his death. (And here I want you to think a little about what I mean by ‘quality’, please.)

It’s not entirely ludicrous to suggest that this cruel event has brought out an invincibly massive, invincibly good response, as people all over have either opened up their hearts or graciously accepted in and supported or respected the grief of close friends and family.

The epic sadness does not, can not deny the essential positivity in the timbre of the rebound – our rebound. There’s been no sense of schmaltziness; no slapped-on deference or faux commiseration. And here I’m not just thinking of Australian skipper Michael Clarke, who has publicly fought with tears to try to express his obvious and criminal loss of a surrogate younger brother. ‘Do your job’ he said to himself when steeling up to make the necessary statement, visibly heartbroken.

Given that the Australian national cricket team has practically (re-)owned world cricket by setting out to be the most macho group of players in the game this may throw up ironies that in another moment we might describe as ‘choice’; no need for such cynicism now. We could all see that Clarke’s utter determination to man up was completely about doing a good job of marking his own and his team’s depth of affection for their buddy. Pathetic to fail to say ‘we loved you mate’ well. So do your job.

There’s obviously been something magic about this bloke Hughes – and I’m not just talking talent, right? (You get that? You get that too?) I’ve seen the vids, read and listened to the columns and the stories. I believe folks loved him and I like that this is recognised; it helps all of us; it helps with everything. Everything that’s left when Hughesy’s gone.

Okay we have to be careful here because on the one hand it does seem like the surge of genuine feeling around this young man is flooding so invigoratingly and influentially around that we may set up some hierarchy of grief around this. (How would it have been if some other, equally high-profile player had been killed? Or some guy in the park? Dare I think of how the reaction might differ? Just don’t let me go there.)

Phillip, we know, inspired such a powerful and consistent regard – bugger it, let’s call it love – that I joined the communal welling up on more than one occasion. For me, waking up to the #putyourbatsout tribute on twitter, seeing the (Adam) Gilchrist family of bats proudly-tragically displayed was enough to set me off. If that’s weirdly sentimental then so be it. In my kitchen in Pembrokeshire at 6.50am, with just the dog for company, I was hardly playing to the crowd.

It felt sad, hugely sad, and I respected the heartfelt nature and sure the ingenuity of that now viral symbol. Am I the only one both fascinated and cheered by the sensation that because I believe the love for Hughsey is real – and this can only mean that in some abstracted way he ‘deserves it(?) – things are better?

Navel-gazing or not, cricketer or not, it’s difficult to avoid the personal here, eh? However prudent that might seem. But I don’t think it’s either the fact that I have bowled quickly and hit people myself or been hit (just once, significantly, from memory) that draws me in to the sentimental. I didn’t recoil from recognition when viewing that bouncer so much as accept it as part of the narrative. Inevitably the fall and then those awful two days of battling or easing away scoured at the innards of all of us, pre-cursing that ultimate, terrible confirmation. Been said a zillion times in the last 72 hours but we can barely compute a fatality – a death – in sport. It shouldn’t, it doesn’t happen.

Fact is, it did and sure whilst the public nature of this tragedy sets it apart, makes it particular and visible and arguably more poignant than (ahem) the average, run-of-the-mill death, I do see stuff that all of us could meaningfully store.

The fact of the striking down of a young man in front of a crowd (including his family) makes this big, makes it shocking; the sense of robbery – that Phillip Hughes had something magnificent he was yet to express, to share with us – appalls; but the local/communal/worldwide outpouring of love for a young man who was clearly a fabulous bloke… we can and should cherish.

Postscript.

Ok so some bloke from Oz tweets appreciation for my post; I thank him. He tells me he’s going to the funeral in Macksville tomorrow. In typically corny Vinny-fashion I tell him though I’m 12,000 miles away… I’ll kinda be there too.  At which point @Damage_87 (for it was he) tells me he’ll be delighted to sign the Book of Remembrance on my behalf.

In this way a) the world got better

                     b) love triumphed (actually) again

                     c) Phillip Hughes was remembered.

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Wildflowers.

Cricket fans of Ingerland, recalibrate your heart to the joys of orchid or vetch-watching and give a warming phenomenon a chance. For one of the loveliest things about the natural world is the seemingly illogical blooming of wildflowers on wasteland. Thus you residents of Croydon or of Barry – or Dublin, Jo’burg or Harare, come to think of it – in your bland estates, need only import a 50 tonnes dollop of subsoil (not topsoil) and hurl it round the gaff before the tiddly gems appear, free of competition from nettle or from ryegrass. Hopefully. Hopefully this works.

The worldly wise may counsel for strategies plural, however, amidst the trauma of ahem… overwhelming events Down Under.

Therefore I wholeheartedly offer both Wildflower Innoculation Therapy and, as a Plan B, in this clunkingly deflating instance, for the restoration of national pride, the following; the defiant public bellowing of ‘Darkling Thrush’ by former Gloucestershire quickie, Thomas Hardy, featuring mainly a psychotically trilling bird – a bird trilling against the cruel universe, a bird whose pain we might know.

Because we’re smashed, smashed and bewildered too, right? And something has to be done or said, or screamed hysterically to the heavens.

Gor blimey. Just re-listened to Sir Geoffrey on Five Live; really hurting. Whatever you think of the bloke his umbilical link to the game visibly/audibly remains intact, his views carry both the weight of genuine experience and well… love actually. The man cares as well as spouts. He felt the final day’s Ashes Capitulation was possibly the worst he’d ever seen from an England side, unsurprisingly, making this Pink Day a kind of remarkable low point.

So what’s to do? Who has to carry the can or step aside or go back to their county and re-earn the right? In a case so extreme – one where a side of ours is so unrelentingly battered by a worthy but hardly majestic opponent – it’s not just that weird vengeance thing that cries out for change. Even the steadiest of us can barely contain our rage and disappointment. What’s to do? Here’s a few scattered thoughts from another scrambled brain…

We’ll agree on very little, no doubt, my friends (and that’s fine – great fun, even) except that the most immediate and arguably most central issues are those over captain and coach(es). This team have failed so utterly against a decent rather than exceptional side that falling upon swords by the alleged ‘leadership group’ – zoiks, they probably do describe themselves that way! – has to be/to have been considered. One way or t’other, material changes in coaching and playing staff are unavoidable.

Head Coach Flowers has been one of the world’s best for several years but for him to preside over a tour where energy, brightness and morale as well as decision-making of all sorts has been so consistently, dispiritingly poor or vulnerable suggests some fundamental reboot is necessary. Hard to know how much his personal mojo has deserted him and how much is down to players failing to execute; in either case the dearth of motivation and professional focus is a huge grubby mark against the Flowers record. If he survives, he is lucky – but I could live with that.

Batting Coach Graham Gooch fits even more snugly into the stolid, anti-inspirational mould than his ultimate boss. For me this means he goes. Players have evidently stopped listening; he goes.

Cook has had such a lousy tour and is so patently not a Test skipper that the only thing that can keep him in place is the lack of a viable replacement. He is a bland man and a historically tremendous batsman who must clearly stay in the side to re-groove his run-making habit at the top of the order. Folks might follow him in that order and indeed the record books but crucially they ain’t truly gonna follow him. He lacks charisma, he lacks a captain’s wit, he lacks spunk (actually.) What’s to follow?

There is no-one in this group with the class, invention or implacable will to step in and replace  Cook; hilariously, Broad is probably the closest we have to the spirited ideal. But given that Pietersen and Bell – other crypto-contenders? – are too cheesy and too chalky respectably, who is there and where is he at?

This surely is what most fans are wondering , if indeed they are sufficiently engaged after this horror show to think or talk England Cricket? Should there be a county skipper out there who is strongish and spiky and can bat middle order he may well be in contention. May that conversation continue, eh?

In terms of who stays in the side on merit, we’re looking at Stokes and um… Stokes, I suppose. The stats say Pietersen has done okay and the pro pundits all seem to idolise his talent but I do wonder where we would be if he had been dropped (permanently?) for his arrogance and subversion late in the Strauss era?

We could not possibly be any worse off right now and it could be somebody like Root might perchance have exploited that KP void whilst a happier, better expressed Swann might still be twirling away. (And yes, I probably am making a case for a KP-less England being a chirpier, more holistically-sound unit. Less eggshells to walk on, more team-aware/state-of-game-aware batting too, quite likely, as players actually listen to the gaffer rather than ‘play their own way’.)

Pietersen’s work in Australia has been mixed. One or two mildly shocking outbreaks of grit and application in the usual matrix of ‘confident’ expression; by which I mean the reach for dominance. Mostly again, in my view, he was a prize rather casually gifted – look at the dismissals and who got him out. Team spirit is really big in team sport – just look at the Aussies now they’ve sorted theirs. KP remains an island in solitary, slightly fading pomp.

Carberry is a fascinating one. I wondered aloud re-Ashes about his scratchiness but hoped his apparent coolness/rootedness as a bloke might see him through. Arguably, it did but it may be deemed a too significant failure that he made all those starts and never went on. Expect him to be victim of the inevitable and justifiable culling and ‘rejuvenation’.

Bell had a tour he will wish to forget. He crumbled, something a technically robust and generally temperamentally sound and experienced international must not do. He will barely believe some of his dismissals happened to him.

Root was a big disappointment but looks likely to benefit from the longer-term view; Ballance may get another shot at it; Bairstow may too but his keeping and batting were ordinary and Prior will surely return?

The bowlers were forever playing catch-up but they were rarely up to it. They wilted, generally, in a way that surprised and disappointed me more than the batting debacle. Selection, strategy and execution were equally as shambolic. God knows these guys have enough information about where and how to bowl at particular players – the famous ‘plans’ – and what is likely to happen under the various conditions across the Oz continent. I know I’m not alone in suspecting that this may even be part of the problem – bamboozlement and overcoaching. Too many ideas, too little focus and no execution. Certainly our bowlers lacked what we might call, with some hesitation, mental strength.

At junior levels we think of 2 or three things only to guide a player through. Could it be that the 42 objectives coursing through the brains of our bowling attack only served to increase the level of befuddlement?

If there was a word that encapsulated England in these Ashes it was ‘scrambled’. Bowlers too; they lacked threat then became directionless – often literally. They were humiliated every bit as much as the batsmen. OK, the injury to Broad didn’t help, but the feeling arose very early and then persisted that we didn’t know either our best bowling attack or how to take on the Australian batting.

Look we have to credit the Aussies for a pretty complete performance throughout. But even or especially at elite level, the non-negotiables – playing with spirit, bowling line and length, batting watchfully – mean you are at the very least always competitive. What hurts Boycs and me… and probably you the most is that England were never competitive. Never.

Find the wildflower in that desert.