SYDNEY • Australian batsman Phillip Hughes made a “minuscule misjudgment” before he was fatally struck by a cricket ball, a coroner ruled yesterday – attaching no blame to the bowler, verbal abuse or the tactic of sending down short-pitched deliveries.
The popular 25-year-old, who played 26 Tests, died from brain bleeding two days after being hit on the neck by a rising ball from Sean Abbott in a domestic match at the Sydney Cricket Ground on Nov 25, 2014.
“A minuscule misjudgment or a slight error of execution caused him to miss the ball which crashed into his neck with fatal consequences,” said New South Wales coroner Michael Barnes.
“There was no suggestion the ball was bowled with malicious intent. Neither the bowler nor anyone else was to blame for the tragic outcome.”
During the inquest, concerns had been raised by Hughes’ family about on-field sledging, or verbal abuse, including threats against him, and the amount of short, fast deliveries he faced which they felt the umpires could have stopped.
But Barnes said neither affected the player’s composure. “I conclude no failure to enforce the laws of the game contributed to his death,”he said, but recommended that the laws around dangerous and unfair bowling be reviewed by Cricket Australia (CA).
He made no finding on whether sledging occurred, but Barnes expressed hope that the focus on this “unsavoury aspect” of the game might cause players to think again before abusing opponents.
He said: “An outsider is left to wonder why such a beautiful game would need such an ugly underside.” He added that the death would not have been prevented even if Hughes was wearing more modern head protection, and that a quicker medical response would also have made no difference to the “unsurvivable” injuries.
He was wearing a helmet which was not compliant with the more recent and stringent British standard, which extends the grille protecting the face further to the rear.
Since the incident, CA has recommended all first-class cricketers in Australia wear helmets made to British safety standards while batting against medium or fast bowling, in nets and games.
Barnes said authorities should continue working with sports equipment manufacturers to develop a neck guard that is comfortable and provides better protection, with the view to it becoming mandatory. CA chief executive James Sutherland said he would work to implement all the recommendations “as soon as practical”.