Phil Hughes coroner inquest: Cricket world prepares for a ‘very tough week’

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Inquest: A dynamic batsman, Phil Hughes was struck on the head by a bouncer. Photo: Hamish BlairThe Australian cricket community is bracing for a “very tough week” when the painful memories of the death of former Test cricketer Phil Hughes are re-lived at a week-long coroner’s inquest in Sydney.

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State coroner Michael Barnes will examine the death of Hughes, who was struck below the helmet to the left upper side of his neck when batting for South Australia against NSW in a Sheffield Shield match at the SCG in November 2014. The injury to his neck caused a haemorrhage in the brain and he died in hospital two days later.

The inquest, beginning on Monday, will focus on the factors surrounding Hughes’ death, including the number of bouncers delivered at him. Whether protective gear could have prevented his death or minimised injury and the response time of ambulances will also be examined.

Several witnesses are set to take to the stand, with fast bowler Sean Abbott, who was bowling when Hughes was struck, likely to be one.

Cricket Australia, the Hughes family, NSW Ambulance, Sydney Cricket Ground Trust and NSW Police have engaged legal representation. NSW Ambulance had failed to provide the coroner at a directions hearing in June with information as to how it had improved its procedures since Hughes’ death. When contacted by Fairfax Media, NSW Ambulance said it would leave its comments for the inquiry.

Hughes, 25, was given medical attention from CA’s chief medical officer Dr John Orchard and Dr Tim Stanley, an intensive care specialist who was at the match as a spectator, before an ambulance arrived 20 minutes after he was hit.

Great loss: Phil Hughes is honoured in his hometown in Macksville, NSW. Photo: Edwina Pickles

Mark Taylor, a Cricket Australia board director and former captain, spoke for the cricketing community when he said “next week is going to be a very tough week”.

“I think what we have learnt is, and what we have always tried to do, is keep players as safe as you possibly can,” he said.

“At the same time, we also realise that no matter what sport you play, there is a certain amount of risk involved in that sport. The whole Phil Hughes tragedy has certainly reinforced those thoughts, no doubt about that.

“It’s going to be a really tough week for the players involved, particularly those who are still playing because obviously their thoughts are on the various sides they are playing in, doing well, maybe getting picked to play for Australia, we don’t know, and, at the same time, a lot of these very tough memories are going to be rekindled, which is going to make it tough for them.”

The hearing will also examine whether there are more appropriate ways for the media to cover such tragedies, better balancing the public interest with the feelings of the family concerned. Major media outlets have provided submissions.

An independent, 62-page review of Hughes’ death by Melbourne barrister David Curtain QC and released in May found that had Hughes even been wearing a more modern helmet and a neck guard, it was unlikely the incident would have been avoided.

Hughes, who had played 26 Tests and 25 one-day internationals for Australia, had been wearing a Masuri brand helmet which was Australian Standard compliant but not compliant with the more recent British Standard.

Curtain also said he did not believe any lack of medical attention contributed to Hughes’ death. A mobile emergency MediCab arrived mid-pitch within three minutes of him being struck.

When the report was released, CA chief executive James Sutherland said he hoped the inquiry would not lead to more restrictions on short-pitched bowling.

“You’ll see in the brief terms of reference we gave David Curtain that we needed to draw a line about the laws of the game and to have some perspective around that,” Sutherland said. “You can make the game of cricket a lot safer by playing with a tennis ball, but that’s not how Test cricket has been played and it would obviously be a very different game.

“We’re not wanting to go there, but we do need to find the right balance in the circumstances to not compromise the way the game’s played and not compromise the way in which the players are best equipped to show their skills.”

CA has since strengthened its protocols around head knocks and concussion, even introducing concussion substitutes in the ongoing Matador one-day domestic series.

“We have tried to do everything we can to at least learn as many lessons as we can but, from a personal point, no matter what you do, there is always a certain amount of risk in everything you do,” Taylor said.