Thousands of fans gathered at the Sydney Cricket Ground today to say their last goodbye to fallen cricket hero Phillip Hughes.
The cricket ground was opened to the public for a live video relay of Hughes’s state memorial service in his hometown of Macksville, northern NSW.
Fans queued outside the gates from midday to make their way into the ground once gates were open at 1pm.
“It’s a massive shock; never thought anything like this will happen. [Hughes] had a lot of talent and had a promising career ahead of him; every Australian and cricket fans around the world will surely miss him,” he said.
In tribute to Hughes, who died after being struck in the head by a short ball last week, the cricket ground was transformed into a memorial in his honour. His cricket statistics were blazoned around the arena with test score and ODI averages being shown around the member stands.
Cricket bats – 63 of them to mark the number of runs Hughes scored in his fatal innings – individually engraved with facts, messages and quotes recalling his career were placed across the ground outside the members’ entrance.
The pitch used for Hughes’s last match had stumps set at each end with bails removed, fenced off from the public. At the end where he fell a memorial was set up with a picket fence featuring a portrait of the late cricketer.
Around it were a selection of the signed bats, memorabilia and flowers left at the ground over the past week to honour the batsman, who would have turned 26 last Sunday.
While fans flocked to the SCG to pay their respects, family, friends and teammates gathered in Macksville to celebrate his life.
The Australian Test cricket captain, Michael Clarke, paid tribute to his former teammate.
“I know its crazy, but I expect any minute to take a call from him,” he said as he tried to hold back tears. “His spirit is still with me, and I hope it never leaves. He always wanted to bring people together. Rest in peace my little brother, I’ll see you out in the middle.”
Among the many mourning the nation’s loss was Manu Singh of the Swami Army, a local Indian cricket fan club that works with the McGrath foundation and Steve Waugh foundation.
“I’m here for Phil,” he told The Newsroom. “It’s a very sad day for cricket. I travelled all the way from Penrith just to be here. Rest in peace, mate.” – David Telefoni and Md Zahin with additional reporting by Patrick Boddan
Top photo by David Telefoni, additional photos by Natasha Jones. Screenshot of Michael Clarke delivering his tribute from ABC 24.