By Nick Mulvenney
Australian cricketer Phillip Hughes will be buried in his home town on Wednesday, Cricket Australia said on Saturday, forcing the indefinite postponement of the Test match against India which was scheduled to begin the following day.
Hughes, 25, died on Thursday as the result of a catastrophic injury he sustained when struck on the head by a ball during a domestic match, triggering a wave of mourning in Australia and around the world.
Cricket Australia chief executive James Sutherland said it would have been unreasonable to expect the players to get the four-Test series underway less than 24 hours after Hughes was laid to rest in Macksville, New South Wales.
“Their welfare is our absolute priority. They are grieving and to expect that they could play a high-pressured, five-day Test match the following day is out of the question,” he said in a statement.
“We appreciate the incredible understanding and support of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI). It has been nothing short of outstanding during these difficult times.”
Ticket sales for the match at the Gabba in Brisbane had been suspended and a new date would be set after consultation with the BCCI, broadcasters and stadium officials, Sutherland added.
Australia captain Michael Clarke earlier gave a graphic illustration of the raw emotions of the players when he broke down repeatedly while paying tribute to his friend.
Battling to hold back tears, he read out a statement on behalf of the players at the Sydney Cricket Ground, where Hughes suffered his fatal injury on Tuesday.
“Words cannot express the loss we feel as a team right now,” Clarke said.
“We are going to miss that cheeky grin and that twinkle in his eye. He epitomised what the baggy green was about and what it means to us all.
“The world lost one of its great blokes this week and we are all poorer for it.”
Clarke said the players had requested that Cricket Australia retire Hughes’ one-day international number, 64.
“They agreed. That means so much,” he added. “His legacy of trying to improve each and every day will drive us for the rest of our lives.
“Our dressing room will never be the same. We loved him and always will. Rest in peace bruzzy.”
Tributes continued to flood in from around the world for Hughes and an indication of how deeply his death has affected his fellow professionals came in Sharjah, where Pakistan are hosting New Zealand in a Test.
The second Test had been postponed for a day after Hughes died and there was no celebration of wickets or centuries when it resumed on Friday.
“The game was irrelevant at that stage, that was just a natural reaction by a group of people whose mind was elsewhere,” New Zealand coach Mike Hesson told reporters in Sharjah.
“We didn’t bowl any bouncers and that was to show respect.”
Back in Australia, Hughes was not forgotten as Saturday morning cricket was played across the country in blazing sunshine, as it has been for more than a century.
Cricket Australia has encouraged teams at all levels to remember Hughes and both the score he had accumulated when the fatal blow struck him, 63 not out, and his Test number, 408, were much in evidence on pitches around the country.
At a match between Sydney Boys and Shore schools in Centennial Park, just a stone’s throw from the SCG, a row of bats topped with cricket caps were lined up beside the pitch in tribute.
Cricket at the elite level has yet to resume with senior club matches cancelled in Sydney and Adelaide, where Hughes played his state cricket for South Australia for the last couple of years.
The fate of the first Test against India had been in the balance even before Hughes died of his horrific injury as many of the Australia team were among his closest friends.
TV rights make an incoming tour by the India Test team by far the most lucrative in the world game so cancellation of the Brisbane match is unlikely.
There is precious little room for manoeuvre, however, with the second Test scheduled to take place in Adelaide from December 12-16 with the third starting on Boxing Day (December 26) in Melbourne and the fourth in Sydney running from January 3-7.