Poword by Sanyuanse!

The long march as they say goodbye

Procession: Mourners walk behind the hearse at Phillip Hughes’ funeral in Macksville. Procession: Mourners walk behind the hearse at Phillip Hughes’ funeral in Macksville.

Procession: Mourners walk behind the hearse at Phillip Hughes’ funeral in Macksville.

Procession: Mourners walk behind the hearse at Phillip Hughes’ funeral in Macksville.

Australia captain Michael Clarke composes himself while speaking at the funeral service of Phillip Hughes. Photo: Reuters

As it happened: our coverage of Phillip Hughes’ funeralThousands farewell Hughes in MacksvilleMegan Hughes’ promise to her brotherMichael Clarke fights back tears in emotional tributeSean Abbott’s toughest day

Only cars heading north along the Pacific Highway for Christmas and the odd stray cow bring traffic to a grinding halt in Macksville.

And so does Phillip Hughes, the son, brother, cousin, best mate, cattle farmer and international cricketer who was laid to rest in his home town on Wednesday afternoon.

We’ve heard it enough times over the past week since his death after an innocuous bouncer hit him in the side of the neck during a Sheffield Shield match at the SCG – that the 25-year-old was a man of the people.

As thousands of mourners fell in line behind the slow-moving hearse carrying his small but prolific frame through the streets of his home town, it truly explained how much.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott walked shoulder-to-shoulder with Australian cricketers past and present, and members of the Hughes family.

The farmers, teachers, tradesmen, nurses – all of the shattered townsfolk of this region – marched alongside members of the Indian cricket team and boxer Anthony Mundine.

Shane Warne and Brian Lara, two giants of the game, wore suits and walked with them. Standing next to Warnie was a local, resplendent in work boots, green fluoro socks and King Gees.

“He was so proud of Macksville,” said Australian captain Michael Clarke. “And it is easy to see now why.”

For an afternoon and night, they were one and the same with household names.

Hughes’ hearse deviated one way. The rest of the throng jammed the nearby pubs or the wake at the Macksville Ex-Servicemen’s Club.

The mood wasn’t sad, but buoyant. You suspect the man of the hour would’ve approved.

The ex-servicemen’s club is a place that rarely draws a big crowds, let alone on a Wednesday.

After the funeral, legendary cricketers mixed with locals at the wake.

Clarke introduced Lara to Hughes’ mum, Vinnie, and then his brother Jason.

Deeper inside the club, Hughes’ teammates raised a glass to their departed mate.

Most of the Australian players had arrived at the service at Hughes’ old high school via bus, and were supposed to leave for the wake the same way.

Their spontaneous decision to walk with the masses down Wallace Street showed how united they have become in grief.

Curiously, one of them was not Clarke, who left Macksville High School driving a 4WD with his wife, Kyly.

Maybe his troublesome left hamstring was the reason. Maybe he wants to play in the first Test in Adelaide, in honour of his fallen mate.

Clarke didn’t have to walk. For much of the past week he has also carried many on his shoulders.

“He would definitely be calling me a sook right now, that’s for sure,” Clarke told more than 1000 mourners inside the hall. “I don’t know about you, but I can’t help looking for him.

He then told us of the moment last Thursday night when he stood on the exact spot on the SCG pitch where Hughes had been felled.

“I stood there at the wicket, I knelt down and touched the grass, and I swear he was with me, picking me up off my feet and checking that I was OK,” Clarke said.

“Telling me to dig in and get through to tea. Telling me off for that loose shot that I played. Chatting about what movie we might watch that night, then passing on a useless fact about cows.

“I could see him swagger back to the other end, grin at the bowler, and call me through for a run with such a booming voice the bloke in the carpark could hear it … His spirit has touched the SCG and it will always be.”

Phillip Hughes chased the definitive Australian dream: of a young bloke from the bush who wanted nothing more than to wear the baggy green.

“Ever since Bradman, the image of the innocent country boy playing in the backyard, while dreaming of wearing a baggy green cap, has become entrenched in our psyche,” said Cricket Australia boss James Sutherland.

“It’s our foundation myth as a cricketing nation – and Phillip lived that dream.”

As mourners sweltered in the hall, Hughes’ cousin Nino Ramunno illuminated the moment a cricketing star first exploded.

It had been at an under-10s game. His older brother Jason needed an extra player for his team.

“No,” was the stern reply from Phillip.

“Wuss,” Jason shot back.

On debut, as a tail-ender, he scored 25 runs and fell in love with the sport.

On the grounds and synthetic pitches near the high school hall and beyond, Hughes became such an emerging talent that Sydney clubs started sniffing.

It was coach Neil D’Costa from Western Suburbs who came with the most ambitious blueprint: to replace an ageing warrior in Matthew Hayden in the Australian Test team.

“Are you ready for it?” D’Costa, the man also responsible for fostering the rise of Clarke, asked him.

Three years later, Hughes made his Test debut against South Africa in Johannesburg.

Throughout it all, Australian players past and present, sat with ashen-faces. The past week has taken its toll.

There was obvious concern and care from so many others for Sean Abbott, who delivered the bouncer in a Shield match that led to Hughes’ death a week ago.

Yet nobody appeared as devastated as another fast bowler, James Pattinson, who clutched at his girlfriend.

On the sporting field, men are supposed to be unbreakable. Off it, they are as fragile as the rest of us.

So what now? Play some cricket. Or at least try to.

“I promise to get on the horse and play the game we love,” assured Jason Hughes. “I will endeavour to be the best player I can be.”

Said Clarke at the end of his emotional eulogy: “We must dig in and get through to tea. And we must play on. Rest in peace, my little brother. See you out in the middle.”

Notwithstanding the ales downed at Macksville’s overflowing pubs, and the wake at the ex-servicemen’s club he once played for, the only thing that eases the pain now is love and time.

Hughes had an abundance of one, but has been cruelly denied the other.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

Comments are currently closed.