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<   No. 976   2005-09-28   >

Comic #976

1 Head Death: Now think about what you have wrought. The horribly mutilated, the starving, the terminally ill, all caught in incredible and unending pain.
2 Head Death: {standing up from his seat at his desk} Gangsters, insurgents, terrorists, and mass murderers getting up from fatal wounds to endlessly continue pointless bloodshed.
2 Death of Insanely Overpowered Fireballs: But...
3 Head Death: {walking around to Fireballs} PERPETUATING NEEDLESS SUFFERING AND LOSS OF LIFE BECAUSE YOU DELAYED THE DEATHS ON A PICKET LINE.
3 Death of Insanely Overpowered Fireballs: {disconsolately} Yes, sir...
4 Head Death: {placing hand on Fireballs' shoulder} Keep up the good work.

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For those wondering, yes, the Head Death does have a softer side.


2014-12-11 Rerun commentary: Death is the one certainty in life, it is often said. Yet it remains one thing that is the toughest to deal with.

Australians looked Death in the eye over the past few weeks (as this rerun annotation goes live). On Tuesday 25 November, 2014, the New South Wales and South Australian cricket teams were playing a match in the Sheffield Shield competition - the premier Australian cricket competition - at the Sydney Cricket Ground. This is a sports venue I know well, having attended many international and domestic cricket matches there over the years, a few rugby league games, and the opening game of the 2014 Major League Baseball season.

On this Tuesday afternoon a few weeks ago, the first day of the four-day match, Phil Hughes and Tom Cooper were batting for South Australia. Hughes had scored 63 runs - a good score which had placed his as the favourite contender to be called up for the Australian national cricket team for the first Test match to be played against the visiting Indian team, beginning on 4 December. At 2:23 pm, Hughes faced a ball bowled by the young New South Wales bowler Sean Abbott. The ball bounced high and Hughes tried to hit it cleanly to the boundary fence with a pull shot, swinging his bat across at eye level. He missed and the ball crashed into the side of his neck, just under the protection afforded by his batting helmet.

Hughes staggered for a few seconds, then collapsed face first on to the pitch. His team mate Cooper, his opponents, and the umpires rushed to his side, desperately calling for medical assistance from the side of the field.

Occasionally in cricket players are struck in the helmet or body by the ball and need a minute or two to regain composure. More rarely, someone is injured and needs to leave the field for treatment. This was more serious. Hughes was unconscious. The team doctors quickly realised this was much more serious. They moved him carefully to the side of the field, to allow space for a medical evacuation helicopter to land. Hughes stopped breathing and medics performed CPR, before evacuating him to a nearby hospital.

Normally after an injury, the affected player leaves the field and the game continues. Play in this game was called off for the rest of the day. News came from the hospital that Hughes was undergoing surgery and in a critical condition. Cricket Australia decided to abandon the entire match. Two other matches in the current round of the Sheffield Shield competition were also underway in different cities across Australia. Players completed the first day of play, but the three remaining days of those matches were also abandoned, scrapping the entire round of competition.

That evening, I watched the news in shock. But doctors were operating. Hughes was in the finest medical care available. He'd be okay.

The next day the news was still bad. Hughes had been placed in an induced coma in an attempt to allow him to recover. The injury was a dissected artery - the ball had burst a major blood vessel in his neck, and blood had flowed up into the brain cavity. This was a life threatening injury. The whole country was following the news. The cricket world - England, India, South Africa, New Zealand, Pakistan, the West Indies, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh - were following the news and wishing Phillip Hughes all the best wishes they could muster.

In some sense sport is a frivolity, an entertainment, not important. But we need frivolity, entertainment - and in another sense sport is very important. It brings people together over a shared passion. The cricket world - different countries mostly secular, mostly Christian, mostly Muslim, mostly Hindu - combined to support one young man from the southern hemisphere in his darkest hour.

On Thursday 27 November, I was checking the news in my web browser from work, reloading constantly throughout the day. By now, Hughes was the top story on every Australian news site, as well as the BBC, CNN International, The London Times, The Times of India, The Dawn in Pakistan, The New Zealand Herald, News24 and the Mail & Guardian in South Africa, and probably several others I didn't check. Late in the afternoon I hit reload and saw the update I didn't want to see. Phillip Hughes had died without regaining consciousness.

I didn't do any more work that afternoon. As I left work through the kitchen, people in there were talking animatedly about other things. They obviously hadn't heard the news. I told them. The mood instantly changed to shock and sombreness. When I got home, I turned on the TV. Every commercial TV station had pre-empted their entire afternoon schedule for non-stop coverage.

Phillip Hughes had played for Australia in a few games, selected for the national team on his batting talent. He hadn't performed very well for Australia, and was dropped, but his star was rising again with excellent form in the domestic competition. He would probably have been picked to replace the vacancy left in the national team by the captain Michael Clarke, who had an injured hamstring. And from there his career could easily have blossomed, elevating him to a regular in the best eleven players in the country. But now that was gone.

Hughes's death made international news. It was placed on the front page of Wikipedia. But I don't know if anyone outside Australia felt it the same way we did here. That afternoon as I watched the news which had replaced everything else that should have been on TV, a news reader filled in a few seconds between the crosses to various reporters. He said, and I quote to the best of my ability to remember his exact words, "It's hard to describe the atmosphere here in the newsroom. I haven't seen it anything like this since the death of Princess Diana or 9/11."

It was the death of a single sportsman, yes. But he was right - it felt like the worst thing since 9/11.

In the United Arab Emirates, Pakistan were hosting a home series (in exile, as Pakistan is not safe for touring cricket teams) against New Zealand. The first day of the third Test match had been played on 26 November. News of Hughes's death came through just before the start of play on day 2. The day's play was abandoned. The Indian national team touring Australia were to play a warm-up match against a second-string Australian team beginning on 28 November. That match was abandoned completely.

The Premier of New South Wales ordered that Australian flags across the state be flown at half staff. Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott made a statement: "Phillip Hughes was a young man living out his dreams. His death is a very sad day for cricket and a heartbreaking day for his family. We should also remember Sean Abbott who would be absolutely devastated at this tragic accident. The thought that a player in his prime should be killed playing our national game is shocking and sobering. We should be conscious of the risks that our sportspeople run to give us the pleasure that they do. What happened has touched millions of Australians. For a young life to be cut short playing our national game seems a shocking aberration. He was loved, admired and respected by his teammates and by legions of cricket fans. Australians' thoughts and prayers are with the Hughes family." The Government granted Hughes a state memorial service.

On Saturday, the weekend football round of the Australian A-League soccer competition began. Even though a completely different sport, the games began with a minute's silence for Hughes. At one game, as the clock reached 63 minutes, Hughes's score when the ball hit him, everyone in the crowd spontaneously stood up and applauded for a full minute as the clock ticked upwards to 64, while the players on the field paused the game in mid-play.

Another spontaneous event took place across Australia, and across the cricketing world. Someone took their own cricket bat and put it outside their front door, and posted a photo online. Within a day or two, hundreds of thousands of Australians, Englishmen, Indian, South Africans, and others across the world had put their cricket bats out on the front porch in memory of Hughes.

The first international cricket match of the Australian season, against India starting 4 December, was postponed. The sporting officials, and the general feeling of the Australian public, was that neither team could possibly concentrate properly on playing a game so soon after Hughes's death. The game has been postponed to begin on 17 December.

Hughes's funeral was held on 3 December, in his home town of Macksville on the northern New South Wales coast. Both Qantas and Virgin Australia scheduled additional flights to Coffs Harbour, the nearest airport, to carry people wishing to attend. Over a thousand people attended, including the Prime Minister.

Australia has looked Death in the face. Even if you were not a cricket fan, it was impossible to ignore this event in this country. Death is capricious and random. It can strike at any time. To see it strike someone in the public eye, and claim its victim with no mercy is unsettling. But life must go on, and we should celebrate life rather than fear Death.

When cricket begins in Australia this summer, millions will be watching, and it will make us feel better.

Phillip Hughes was 25 years old. Rest in peace.

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