The thud of a cricket ball can swiftly remove anyone from humanity. The savage damage it can inflict. The initial momentary shock, then the sharp, acidic pain, followed by the blackness on the turf just a prelude to the potentially and, from the armchair, easily forgotten consequences. Cricket is a sport for the bold, however fey it is categorised by those who fail to comprehend its valour. The gut-slicing but wholly unnecessary guilt and nauseating despair of the bowler who struck the blow. The terrible, recognisably unique, beckoning gestures of the players standing over their fallen peer with their faces already slightly pallid and gaunt with horror as the life of their contemporary hangs in the balance. The rush and panic of the medical staff, those professionally trained to remain calm in the worst of circumstances, but whose unadulterated concern betrays them. Mouth-to-mouth on a cricket field. The sheer awfulness of it and later the lives of the batsman's friends, family and dependents also suspended in a heartless, intolerable limbo, waiting for news outside an Intensive Care Unit. It is existence's worst manifestation of despair, stripped to its soul and devastating everyone involved. Phil Hughes's mother and sister witnessed it all in person from their seats in the stadium to the hospital in which he now lies, fighting to survive. It is unimaginable.
The thud of a cricket ball also brings us closer to humanity. The responses it provokes. The unified outpourings of grief and empathy from around the world. The "Thoughts and prayers with you, Phil"s, the "You're a fighter, Hughesy!"s, the numerous "Inshallah"s rendering anything as objectively seismic as the schisms between oppositions, faiths and nationalities utterly trivial. As Hughes battles to overcome one of the most sickening injuries the game has known, the period since he was struck has been and remains probably the most upsetting purgatory of hours for cricket I can ever recall. It has also been one of its most elegant, dignified and uplifting, reminding us about the very nature of sport: That it is, of course, a fantasy forum for quashing our faux-hated rivals but is in reality a thousand times over, with apologies to music, the world's premier means of brokering the simplistic yet undeniable notion that the best of people is brought out by shared interest. It is perhaps shallow and grasping to try to make any point about what happened yesterday beyond the fact that a man is fighting for his life. For me, though, the thud of a cricket ball, while undeniably showing how terrifyingly parlous life can be, has also revealed life at its most beautiful and decent. And that is the most fitting and deserved welcome possible to which Phil Hughes, a sportsman, son and brother, will wake up.