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Sledging dirties a Beautiful Game, says Coroner Barnes in Hughes’ Inquest Verdict

November 6, 2016

 Sledging in the spotlight after Hughes inquiry”

The coronial inquest into the death of Phillip Hughes has raised questions around the culture of sledging in cricket. Hughes died in November 2014, two days after being struck by a ball in the back of the head while batting for South Australia in a Sheffield Shield game against NSW at the SCG. Although NSW Coroner Michael Barnes found no one was to blame, he took aim at what he said was an unhealthy culture of sledging by cricketers, who he urged to “reflect upon whether the practice … is worthy of its participantsAn outsider is left to wonder why such a beautiful game would need such an ugly underside,” Mr Barnes said.

Phil Hughes poses for a portrait during a Cricket Australia player camp. Picture: Robert Cianflone/Getty Images

During the week-long inquest, Mr Barnes heard evidence that players targeted Hughes with sledges, including NSW paceman Doug Bollinger, who allegedly said “I am going to kill you”. But the coroner said Hughes was an accomplished batsman who appeared “comfortable, relaxed and in control” on the day of the incident.

Mr Barnes said although Hughes had been “targeted with short-pitched balls bowled at or over leg and middle stump”, which increased the chances of him being hit, he was more than capable of dealing with them.

“Even if the threats were made, they did not affect Phillip’s composure so as to undermine his capacity to defend himself against short-pitched, high-bouncing bowling and so the threats could not be implicated in his death,” Mr Barnes said. “He could have avoided the ball by ducking under it, but such was his competitiveness he sought to make runs from it. A minuscule misjudgement or a slight error of execution caused him to miss the ball which crashed into his neck with fatal consequences. There is absolutely no suggestion the ball was bowled with malicious intent. Neither the bowler nor anyone else was to blame for the tragic outcome.

Mr Barnes handed down four recommendations: that neck guard equipment be developed, that umpires be trained to provide faster medical help, that ambiguities in fast-bowling laws be removed and that field staff be given daily medical briefings. CA boss James Sutherland said there was no need for a crackdown on sledging and that batsmen would not be forced to wear protective neck guards.

Cricket Australia chief executive James Sutherland addresses the media to discuss the recommendations from the NSW Coronial Inquest into Philip Hughes before the start of play during day two of the First Test match between Australia and South Africa at the WACA in Perth. Picture: Getty Images

Mr Sutherland said research was needed before CA considered making neck guards mandatory while umpires were already empowered to act on inappropriate sledging. He said his thoughts were with Hughes’ parents Greg and Virginia, and siblings Jason and Megan, whose relationship with CA and some players became increasingly strained during the inquest. “They more than anyone have had to live with the sad reality that Phillip is longer with them,” he said.

According to Mr Sutherland, sledging “can be in the spirit of the game or it cannot be” but was confident umpires would act if verbal intimidation went too far.

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