The tragic story of a young Australian sportsman taken too soon while playing the game he lived for struck a particularly strong chord with the nation last month. Tributes for 25 year old batsman Phillip Hughes poured in following news of his death on November 27. His funeral service in Macksville drew a crowd of over 5, 000 people, and was broadcast around the country. In celebrating his life, there have been many reflections on the cause of his death, and how it might have been prevented. In an injury that has been described as a “horrible fluke” according to ABC News, on Tuesday November 25, Hughes was struck behind the left ear with a short pitched delivery during a Sheffield Shield match at the Sydney Cricket Ground, and collapsed. The vertebral artery to his brain was compressed from the impact of the ball, and split, leading to internal bleeding into his brain. He later died while in an induced coma in the intensive care unit at St Vincent’s Hospital, after surgery to relieve pressure in his brain.
Concerns were raised over the amount of time it took for an ambulance to be called to the scene, after NSW Ambulance reported that they had not been contacted until 2.37pm; fourteen minutes after Hughes had collapsed. However, as reported in The Australian, Sports Ground Trust staff present at the time of the incident were quick to follow SCG’s emergency response procedures. Staff called for ambulance services at 2.29pm, and another call was then placed at 2.37pm as the first had not arrived. Lengthy ambulance wait times are particularly concerning where medical care is not administered to the injured person at the time of the incident. However, Hughes received medical treatment from the Cricket NSW doctor and paramedics, who reportedly did a remarkable job of resuscitating him during the wait time.
The helmet Hughes had been wearing did not offer any protection from the impact of the ball, which struck below the helmet’s side guards; regardless, the tragic incident has highlighted the role of personal protective equipment in sports where injuries are preventable. As reported in The Telegraph, helmet sales across cricket equipment increased by a huge 70 per cent in the week following news of Hughes’ injury, showing the effect on safety concerns across the spectrum of players across junior and senior levels. While there has been talk of developing helmets for batsmen that are safer by design, it seems that where success on the field is concerned, it is a difficult balancing act between managing risks to safety without compromising performance.
Hughes’ tragic death has had an impact on the scheduling of Test matches at the SCG as well as Brisbane and Adelaide for this year’s test Series against India, with the Sheffield Shield matches cancelled immediately after the incident out of respect for Hughes and the sport’s need to grieve. Impacts of the changes to the Test series are wide ranging not only for the sport, the host venues, but also the public; as many people will have arranged their summer travels and accommodation around the test series.
But these changes are necessary out of respect for a champion whose life has been so tragically cut short. Rest in peace Phillip Hughes.