At the Adelaide Oval on Tuesday one man did something that many wouldn’t think possible under the circumstances.
Just two weeks after the tragic death of Australian cricketer Phillip Hughes, his long-time friend and team mate David Warner walked out onto the field to represent his country in a Test Match against India. The last time he had played a competitive match, he was on the field with Hughes when he was stuck in the neck by a bouncer, resulting in injuries he was unable to recover from. Photographs show him being comforted beside the pitch, with his head in his hands, replaying the scene he had just witnessed over and over.
Since the tragic event, the cricketing world has been in mourning. Hundreds attended Hughes’ funeral, at which an emotional Michael Clarke (the Australian Captain) had to stop on more than one occasion as he gave tribute to his fallen team mate. Warner was there, in tears like so many others, trying to comprehend what was happening.
Tuesday’s fixture was originally scheduled for last week, but no Australian players were mentally ready to play. Yet despite this, David Warner walked out onto the field in Adelaide to represent his country, crossing giant white numbers spelling out ’408’ – Hughes’ cap number – on his way to the middle. When he got there, rather than being overcome by his emotions and unable to continue, he scored one of the most scintillating hundreds of recent memory.
It was an innings filled with fluency, aggression and precision which only a special few possess. Many will say that one of those special few were Phillip Hughes, and as a tribute it could not have been more fitting. Warner’s emotions were laid bare for all to see. He had to stop and take a moment to collect himself with his score on 63, the same score on which Hughes will remain forever not out.
Even Clarke had to pause to gather himself when he had made 37, completing the century that so many will forever say Hughes would have gone on to complete himself if only things had been different. Warner’s celebration, and his embrace with Clarke upon reaching three figures, was a real gesture of emotion rarely seen in professional sport. Looking to the heavens and kissing the badge on his helmet, it was clear to anyone who saw it what it meant to Warner to have returned to his sport and score a Test hundred in honour of his friend. It was a unique moment.
To have achieved what Warner achieved – to bat faultlessly for 253 minutes and 145 runs – would be remarkable in any circumstances. But to have done it so soon after such a personal tragedy, with reminders of that event at every turn, is unbelievable. It was a sporting performance that transcended the sporting world. Whatever your discipline or area of interest, a performance such as this speaks to every sports fan on the most basic of human levels. It is a reminder that sports stars are not machines, but are real, emotional people. It was a performance that comes around less often than the tragic event which defined it.
It is a bold statement, but David Warner’s innings on Tuesday was the best innings of the modern era of test match cricket. Records weren’t broken. The game has not been won. But from a human perspective, considering what Warner and the entire cricketing world has felt, it will be many years before we see anything like it again. And although it will never fill the gap left by losing such a close friend, he can take comfort in the fact that he made Hughes – and the rest the cricketing family – unbelievably proud.