The inquest into cricketer Phillip Hughes’ death has ruled that he was not unfairly targeted by short bowling on November 25, 2014.
The coroner, however, was scathing about the common practice of sledging, saying that while it played no part in Hughes’ death, it demeaned the game of cricket and was unworthy of players.
Coroner Michael Barnes found that Hughes was targeted by Sean Abbott, but the fast bowler showed “no malicious intent” and that no one could be blamed for the death.
Mr Barnes acknowledged that Hughes was a highly skilled batsmen who was competent to play fast bowling and that Hughes “could have avoided the ball by ducking under it but such was his competitiveness” he tried to score off it.
“A minuscule misjudgement or a slight error of execution caused him to miss the ball which crashed into his neck with fatal consequences.”
On the day, Mr Barnes said, repeated short-pitched bowling placed Hughes in greater danger of being struck.
“Of the 23 bouncers bowled on that day, 20 were bowled to him,” he said, but on the evidence presented Hughes was comfortably dealing with it.
During the five-day hearing in October, much contradictory evidence was led about whether Hughes had been the subject of sledging and the intensity of any such verbal assault.
Mr Barnes made it clear he disapproved of the way sledging affects sport.
“Hopefully, the focus on this unsavoury aspect of the incident may cause those who claim to love the game to reflect upon whether the practice of sledging is worthy of its participants.
“An outsider is left to wonder why such a beautiful game would need such an ugly underside.
“That suggested that even if the threats were made, they didn’t affect Phillip’s composure so as to undermine his capacity to defend himself against short pitched high bouncing bowling and so the threats could not be implicated in his death. On that basis, no finding is made as to whether the sledging alleged actually occurred.”
He found that even had Hughes been wearing the most up-to-date safety helmet available, “it would not have protected the area of his body where the fatal blow landed”.
Mr Barnes made four recommendations on the basis of his findings:
• that the rules about dangerous and unfair bowling be reviewed to eliminate ambiguity, and that umpires be given more guidance on interpreting those laws
• that the governing body Cricket Australia should work with sports equipment manufacturers to develop a neck protector that should be worn in all first class games
• that daily medical briefings of key ground staff be reviewed to ensure roles and duties were clearly outlined and
• that umpires’ training should be improved to ensure medical assistance can be expedited.
Hughes died on November 27, 2014, two days after he was struck down at Sydney Cricket Ground. – Jesse Mullens
Photo of Phillip Hughes from ABC TV footage.