On the first day of the inquest into Phillip Hughes’s death, Doug Bollinger, the New South Wales fast bowler, has denied allegations that he had sledged the batsman on that fateful day in November 2014 and uttered the words, “I’m going to kill you”.
“I know in my heart I didn’t say that,” Bollinger was quoted as saying by cricket.com.au in its report on the goings-on at the inquest on Monday (October 10). “I don’t remember saying anything like that to anyone. I didn’t sledge Phil.”
Hughes, who played 26 Tests, died after being hit in the back of the head by a short delivery from Sean Abbott in that Sheffield Shield match between South Australia, Hughes’s team, and New South Wales at Sydney Cricket Ground.
“Quite clearly the death was a terrible accident,” said Michael Barnes, the coroner, at the start of the five-day procedure in Sydney. “But that does not mean that cricket cannot be made safer.”
Hughes, 25, had risen through the ranks to play for his country and his death stunned Australia and the cricket community across the world, sparking an outpouring of shock and grief.
Footage of the blow and Hughes’s collapse was played in court, with some of his family members leaving the room at the time. Footage showed the New South Wales players as well as Tom Cooper, Hughes’s batting partner at the time, summoning help and medical staff running in to help. But Kristina Stern, the counsel assisting the coroner, noted that the first person to call for an ambulance was unaware of the severity of the injury and that it took about an hour to get Hughes to hospital.
Stern, however, added that the delay didn’t seem to have had an effect on Hughes’s condition, and his death “appears to have been inevitable from the point of impact”. Nor did it appear that there was any defect in the helmet he was wearing, given that the area in which he was hit was unprotected. At hospital, Hughes underwent scans and surgery but died two days later on November 27.
Stern said that concerns had been raised about the number of short balls delivered by fast bowlers to Hughes that day.
Jason Hughes, Phillip’s brother, also suggested that Bollinger had been involved in sledging, telling the court he was made aware of the allegation two days after the incident – a claim that none of the players spoken to recalled in their statements.
Brad Haddin, the former Australia wicketkeeper who was captaining New South Wales at the time, stressed under quesioning that Hughes wasn’t unfairly targeted. “The game was played in a good spirit. It was just a normal game of cricket,” he said.
David Warner, who was one of the New South Wales players on the field that day, submitted a written statement to the court, saying the team had devised a tactic to bowl over the wicket at the Hughes’s leg stump to force him on to the back foot in an attempt to get him out hooking or pulling. Warner was expected to present evidence to the inquest via video link from South Africa where he is on duty with the Australia One-Day International squad.
Haddin, however, dismissed Warner’s claims. “One of the bowlers was a spin bowler (Nathan Lyon),” said Haddin. “If I wanted them playing off the back foot I would have used different bowlers. There was no discussion with anyone at NSW about bowling a higher number of short balls.”
Coroner Barnes is examining the manner and cause of Hughes’ death and also has jurisdiction to make recommendations, particularly in the interest of public health and safety. The findings may be made public at the end of the inquest on Friday, but could be held back till later as well.
A spokesperson for the Hughes family and James Henderson, his former manager, admitted that it would be a “very, very, very difficult week” for the family. “They’re hoping that perhaps there will be (something) positive come out of Phillip’s death as we go through this,” he said.