The tragic death of Phillip Hughes could not have been prevented – and no one was to blame – a New South Wales coronial inquest has found.
Hughes died in November 2014 after being struck on the neck by a cricket ball while batting in a Sheffield Shield fixture for South Australia.
He suffered a brain haemorrhage as a result of the hit and passed away two days later in hospital.
The inquest generated several headlines last month when it was alleged that Hughes was the subject of excessive sledging, a claim denied by all players on the field.
NSW state coroner Michael Barnes said that although Hughes was clearly the subject of regular short-pitched bowling, it was not malicious, and that even a better-designed helmet would not have prevented his death.
“Neither the bowler nor anyone else was to blame for the tragic outcome,” Mr Barnes said.
“I conclude no failure to enforce the laws of the game contributed to his death.
“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.
“Had he [Phillip] even been wearing that most modern equipment then available, it would not have protected the area of his body where the fatal blow landed.”
The 25-year-old batsmen’s parents Greg and Virginia, his brother Jason and sister Megan “are deeply hoping that no other family has to go through the pain of losing a loved one on an Australian sporting field”, they said in a statement issued on their behalf on Friday evening.
“As the coroner has noted, Phillip’s death has led to changes that will make cricket safer.” It added that they “hoped that this would be part of Phillip’s legacy to the game that he loved so dearly”.
In the inquest, New South Wales bowler Doug Bollinger was alleged to have uttered “I’m going to kill you” in the direction of South Australian players during the match.
It was an allegation strenuously denied by Bollinger – and those on the field from both sides said they did not hear it.
Mr Barnes made no finding on whether Bollinger made the sledge but did offer general comment on sledging.
“An outsider is left to wonder why such a beautiful game would need such an ugly underside,” he said, before specifically referring to the Hughes case.
“The repeated denials of any sledging having occurred in the game in which Phillip Hughes was injured were difficult to accept,” he added.
“Members of Philip’s family considered that the spirit of the game had been disrespected by an opposition bowler who they alleged made threats of violence towards Phillip or his batting partner.
“That was denied by the bowler in question and the batting partner but there was other evidence contradicting those denials and supporting the family’s claims.”
Mr Barnes made a series of recommendations, including reform on emergency response procedures, protective equipment for batsmen and rules around short-pitched bowling.
“None of those on the field at the time of the incident knew how to summon medical assistance onto the field,” he said.
“Although it was immediately obvious that Phillip was seriously injured, it wasn’t clear whose responsibility it was to call an ambulance.
“An ambulance was not called for over six minutes after he was hit.”
Cricket Australia chief executive James Sutherland said that his organisation would review their rules relating to dangerous or unfair bowling.
He said he was confident players had not overstepped the line in comments to Hughes during the Sheffield Shield match and that systems were in place in relation to sledging.
“It [cricket] is a contest where there’s a lot at stake and the game means a lot to those people they are playing the game,” he said.
“I come back to the fundamentals – the game should still be played in the right spirit and, for the sake of clarity, there’s codes of behaviour that are in place that deal with inappropriate behaviour.
“When that line is crossed, people should pay the price for crossing that line and I can only encourage the umpires and relevant officials to take action when it is appropriate and perhaps that avoids things escalating.”