JASON GILLESPIE believes it will take Australia a long time to recover from the tragic death of Phillip Hughes.
The country – along with the entire cricketing world – is in mourning after Hughes’s death from injuries sustained during a Sheffield Shield match in Sydney on Tuesday.
The 25-year-old was struck on the side of the neck near the base of the skull while trying to hook a short delivery from pace bowler Sean Abbott.
Despite the best efforts of doctors and medical staff, Hughes died in the early hours of yesterday morning UK time with friends, family, and current and ex-cricketers close at his side.
Gillespie, the former Australia fast bowler and current Yorkshire first-team coach, got to know Hughes during an Australia A tour of Zimbabwe in 2011.
He remembers him as “a knockabout lad – very much the glass half-full mentality – with a fierce determination and desire to succeed”.
Gillespie said he was stunned to wake up in England yesterday to the news that Hughes, who had been in an induced coma at St Vincent’s Hospital in Sydney ever since the accident, had sadly passed away.
He admitted he was struggling to come to terms with it from 10,000 miles distance and said the emotion would be infinitely worse back in his homeland.
“It’s going to be very difficult for everyone back in Australia to get over this,” said Gillespie, who is friends with many of the Australian players and coaches directly affected.
“It’s devastating to everyone here in England, but I really can’t begin to imagine what it’s like in Australia.
“In New South Wales, where Phillip’s family live, and in South Australia, where he moved to play from New South Wales, it’s going to be terrible.
“The Australian cricket community is very small – you’ve got to remember there’s only six states – and everyone is really close-knit.”
Gillespie said he had spoken to former Yorkshire batsman Phil Jaques, who is part of the New South Wales support staff and who was present at the ground when Hughes fell.
Jaques was one of several with Yorkshire County Cricket Club connections to visit St Vincent’s Hospital, including Australia coach Darren Lehmann, batsman Aaron Finch and pace bowler Mitchell Starc, the latter having also been on the field at the time of the tragedy.
“I just feel so sorry for everyone involved, the family, the players on both sides, the support staff, the umpires, you name it,” said Gillespie.
“Phil (Jaques) was at the ground, and I’ve been in touch with him and he’s absolutely devastated.
“It’s just horrible, inconceivable, and a stark reminder that, at the end of the day, cricket is just a game. Phillip Hughes was a wonderful guy, and it’s just so hard to fathom that he’s not here now.”
There was a minute’s silence at Headingley yesterday as Yorkshire paid their own moving tribute.
Players, coaches and staff gathered in the East Stand nets area, while the club have written to Cricket Australia and the South Australian Cricket Association to express their condolences.
Yorkshire also released a statement in which chairman Colin Graves echoed the pervading sense of loss.
“Yorkshire cricket, along with the family of cricket, is deeply saddened to hear the heart-breaking news of the passing of Australian cricketer Phillip Hughes,” said Graves.
“We extend our deepest condolences to the family of Phillip as well as his playing colleagues and friends from around the world.
“He will be sadly missed throughout the world of cricket and his death has put life into perspective.”
Hughes, who played county cricket for Hampshire, Middlesex and Worcestershire, played one match at Headingley, scoring an unbeaten 80 for Worcestershire in a T20 quarter-final defeat to Yorkshire in 2012.
As cricket tries to come to terms with his loss, Gillespie spared a thought for one who will surely never be able to – the wretched Abbott.
The 22-year-old looked inconsolable as he left St Vincent’s Hospital.
“Spare a thought for young Sean Abbott, poor lad,” said Gillespie. “He just ran in and bowled a bouncer, and I’ve got huge sympathy for him.
“He’s a young lad with the cricket world at his feet, but what he needs now is absolute support and understanding. It wasn’t his fault, and every cricket-lover will know that.”
Hughes’s death has been marked by numerous tributes, with flags flown at half-mast, games abandoned, and hundreds of messages of sympathy and support. As a mark of respect, the ECB delayed by 24 hours the announcement of the 2015 county fixture list, which will be published at 10.30am today.