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. Behind closed doors, the cricket community has been dreading this week ever since the coroner's office announced it. For all concerned, there have been grave anxieties over what would be said. It is difficult to imagine the dark cloud that the players who were on the field, particularly Brad Haddin as captain of NSW on the day and Sean Abbott as the bowler of the fateful delivery, have been under. Doug Bollinger, too, knew that his alleged "I'm going to kill you" sledge would be brought up. The tension building up around the inquest has affected many cricketers and their families, and now the boil has been lanced.
Should the inquest have happened in the first place? "Unnecessary" is the most widespread accusation, but given the circumstances of Hughes's death it would have been irregular for the State Coroner to dispense with an inquest. The inquest has clear aims to improve the safety of cricket. The ugliness of court proceedings is a daily occurrence. It might be the first time many in the cricket world have been exposed to it, but this is the first time a top-flight cricketer has been killed in this way. The legal system has been criticised for amplifying the Hugheses' grief into a "witch-hunt". But the Coroner's Court is constituted to recognise both kinds of pain – that which the Hughes family are feeling, and that which the cricketers and the game in the witness stand are feeling – and try to hold them in balance.
Is there a positive for Bollinger? The overwhelming majority of the community have rallied for him. Whether he uttered the words or not on that day is hardly the point. Big mean fast bowlers utter empty threats, and Bollinger has been uttering them for a long time. Did he have to be questioned about it in open court? Did Haddin have to be questioned about the bowling plans to Hughes?
One of the inquest's terms of reference was to inquire into the "nature of play" in order to see if there were any factors that made the death preventable. Blind Freddy knows that Hughes was targeted both verbally and with short balls on the line of his leg-stump, because he was targeted that way every time he batted. All batsmen in Australian first-class cricket are targeted verbally; and Hughes feasted so much on balls around his off-stump, aiming at his body was the only place bowlers could hide. But was there anything uniquely spiteful or, that bizarre descriptor, "ungentlemanly" in the way NSW targeted Hughes on that day? These questions had to be raised in open court so that a conclusion could be reached. This ugliness is why most clear-thinking people will do anything to resolve their disputes before they get to a courtroom.
As for Bollinger himself and sledging in general, one thing that has been overlooked in the "he said, she said" has been the context of Matthew Day's observation of Bollinger allegedly admitting to the sledge. Day, a good young man who is as sincere and trustworthy a cricketer as I have ever met, said he saw Bollinger remorseful when he allegedly told teammates, "I can't believe I said that. I've said things like that in the past but I am never going to say it again."
Hughes's death was a loss of innocence for cricket. Since it happened, only the most dimwitted fast bowler would threaten to kill a batsman. Bowlers who regret having made such threats in the past are better people for having changed their ways. With so much support and sympathy around him, it is going to be easier for Bollinger to move on from his trauma than it has been for the Hughes family to move on from theirs.
And this is where people can be hard-hearted. Australia mourned Phillip Hughes for a couple of weeks, then moved on. Some cricketers looked to the heavens and paid special tributes during that 2014-15 season, then moved on. The further you are from the centre, the quicker you move on.
Among those who urge the Hugheses to move on – and most reprehensibly, accuse them of using the inquest to apply pressure for financial compensation – who has walked in their shoes? This is not a family like most. I have been in their house and felt the relentlessness of the pain that has broken this family.
It's not just the grief, it's the memory of Phillip Hughes in life. He had an amazing ability to make anyone feel like they were his best mate, yet there is absolutely no question that his four closest friends in the world were Greg, Virginia, Jason and Megan Hughes. How many of us have known a family like that? Their whole lives were wrapped up in this young man and his success and the life he was going to live with them after his cricket career was over.
Telling them to move on? Their grief is literally unimaginable. What the outside world can do is respect it. It's been difficult for cricket in Australia and some players to differentiate that grief from vengeance, but part of the reason for the inquest going ahead – as it is for so many families who have suffered loss – is to allow that grief a legal forum in which it can be ventilated. It is painful, it is unwanted, but the legal system must hold opposing weights in its scales. None of what has happened is satisfactory, but to be reminded that grief does not just blow away after two years and to thrash it out in public view can be cathartic, and good may yet come of it.
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