Phillip Hughes death an accident, but sledging must stop, says inquest
Australian coroner rules cricketer was killed after making a 'miniscule misjudgement' and no one was to blame
Cricketer Phillip Hughes's death was an accident caused by a "minuscule misjudgement", an inquest in Australia has found.
Hughes died after he was struck in the neck by a bouncer during a game between South Australia and New South Wales in 2014.
The inquest heard the batsman had been subjected to a barrage of "sledging"- verbal abuse - from the bowlers during his final innings, but coroner Michael Barnes said neither this nor bowler Sean Abbott were to blame. Nor was their any deficiency with the helmet Hughes had been wearing, he added.
While Barnes expressed concerns about emergency medical procedures at the Sydney Cricket Ground, he concluded nothing could have been done to prevent Hughes's death.
"A minuscule misjudgement or a slight error of execution caused him to miss the ball which crashed into his neck with fatal consequences," he said. "He was well able to deal with such bowling, but even the best can’t perform perfectly all of the time."
The coroner did, however, address the issue of sledging in cricket, making what the Daily Telegraph calls an "impassioned plea" for players to stop the practice.
"Hopefully the focus on this unsavoury aspect of the incident may cause those who claim to love the game to reflect upon whether the practice of sledging is worthy of its participants," he said. "An outsider is left to wonder why such a beautiful game would need such an ugly underside."
His remark represents "another grenade launched in the deepening trench warfare in Australian cricket over the way the nation plays the game, and it had a valid place in this inquest", says Sam Perry of The Guardian. "His comments should be cause for reflection at least."
Cricket Australia chief James Sutherland said sledging remained part of the game, but that it was up to umpires to police it, reports the Sydney Morning Herald.
"If it has become a problem then I would say the umpires are not doing their job," he said. "It's very clear in the relevant codes of behaviour as to what constitutes behaviour that crosses the line. If people cross the line then the umpires who are on field should be dealing with that."
Phillip Hughes inquest: Parents storm out in evidence row
The parents of the Australian cricketer Phillip Hughes, who died after being hit by a bouncer during a match in 2014, walked out of his inquest on Friday amid claims that players had not told the truth about the passage of play that led to his death.
Hughes, who was playing for South Australia against New South Wales (NSW), died two days after being struck in the neck by a short ball from bowler Sean Abbott. Much of the evidence at the inquest concerned NSW's tactic of bowling short balls at Hughes. There was also controversy over claims that another bowler, Doug Bollinger, had threatened to "kill" Hughes and his batting partner Tom Cooper.
Hughes's parents "stormed out" of the hearing as counsel for Cricket Australia delivered his closing remarks, says the Sydney Morning Herald. It adds that at the end of the hearing there remained a "striking division between his family and players over accounts of the day's play in which the former Test batsman was struck".
It adds: "The alleged Bollinger sledge [a cricketer's term for players' taunts during a match] – and the family's claims that there was a NSW plan to bowl short at Hughes after lunch – were the dominant themes in court all week and there is anything but a resolution on that front. The likelihood is that there never will be."
Questions have been raised about the evidence from players in the match, says the BBC. Some of them have been "accused of dishonesty for saying they could not recall many of the events of the day".
Lawyers for the family "criticised the players for repeatedly answering many questions by saying 'no recollection' or 'I can't recall'", adds the BBC.
It has been a difficult week, says Malcolm Knox of the SMH. "The fall-out will take years to resolve, and some of it perhaps never will be. What can be said is that Australian cricket, though scorched by the week's events, can heal and emerge stronger for the process. The first positive to be drawn out of the inquest is that it's finally over."
However, there could be more repercussions when NSW State Coroner Michael Barnes delivers his findings on 4 November.
Phillip Hughes: Inquest 'haunted' by 'kill' threat claim
Hughes died in 2014, after being struck in the neck by a bouncer. Several players, including bowler Sean Abbott, who delivered the fatal ball, have given statements and evidence to the hearing in Sydney, held to establish if the death was avoidable.
However, the headlines have been dominated by the question of whether bowler Doug Bollinger "sledged" Hughes – a cricketing term for players' taunts during a match - and threatened to kill him and his batting partner Tom Cooper during play between South Australia and New South Wales.
Bollinger has denied the sledge and Cooper says he did not hear a threat.
However, Hughes's brother Jason says he was told of the comment after the cricketer's death, while player Matthew Day claims Bollinger admitted saying: "I'm going to kill you" and expressed remorse as players grieved.
New South Wales captain David Warner has also been questioned about whether there was a deliberate plan to bowl short balls at Hughes during the match. The Australian vice captain had earlier given a written statement saying he wanted his bowlers to "bowl at or over leg stump and to get him moving backwards rather than forwards".
Abbott, meanwhile, explained in a statement how he had tried to help Hughes after his delivery hit him in the neck.
"I saw him start to sway and I ran to the other end of the pitch and I held the right side of his head with my left hand," he said. "Once in the change room I felt confused and upset. I had a headache, people kept coming up to me but I cannot remember what they said. It was all a bit of a blur and I felt like I was in a bit of a daze."
The hearing, which is expected to last all week, has been hard for those involved, says Chris Barrett of the SMH.
"Professional cricketers are accustomed to operating in an adversarial environment and coping with pressure but being interrogated in a court – with the death of a former teammate as the subject – has been a foreign and highly uncomfortable experience," he says.
And the issue of the death threat has become an unwelcome sideshow.
"What no one in the court has asked – from the players to the dozen or so legal representatives at the bar – is that even if Bollinger, or anyone for that matter, had issued the sledge, what would it matter?" says Barrett..
"Though they sound crude in black and white and in the knowledge of a player's death, there can surely be no suggestion that words claimed to have been barked in the heat of the contest on the ground can be applied literally or bear any relation to the ultimately fatal injury suffered by Hughes."