Australia's captain Michael Clarke led the tributes at Phillip Hughes' funeral in Macksville, where family, friends, team-mates, past cricketers, dignitaries and the public gathered to mourn for the batsman, who died last Thursday.The funeral service was broadcast live on Australian television and radio, and was also shown at the SCG, Adelaide Oval, WACA and Bellerive Oval, where mourners were invited to gather for a public viewing of the Macksville service. Hughes died aged 25 after being struck by a bouncer last Tuesday during the Sheffield Shield match between New South Wales and South Australia at the SCG.
Eulogies were delivered by Hughes' brother Jason and sister Megan, and his cousin Nino Ramunno, and tributes also came from family friend and fellow Angus breeder Corey Ireland, Cricket Australia chief executive James Sutherland, and Clarke. As Clarke struggled to hold back the tears before beginning his tribute, he joked that Hughes would "definitely be calling me a sook right now, that's for sure".Clarke spoke of the remarkable outpouring of grief that has come from around the world in the wake of Hughes' death, and openly wondered if it was a tangible example of the much-mentioned "spirit of cricket". He said Hughes' spirit was now "part of our game forever" and "will act as a custodian of the sport we all love", and urged cricketers to "play on".
"Is this what we call the spirit of cricket?" Clarke said. "From the little girl in Karachi holding a candlelight tribute to masters of the game like Tendulkar, Warne and Lara, showing their grief to the world, the spirit of cricket binds us all together. We feel it in the thrill of a cover drive. Or the taking of a screamer at gully, whether by a 12-year-old boy in Worcester or by Brendon McCullum in Dubai."It is in the brilliant hundred or five-wicket haul, just as significant to the players in a Western Suburbs club game as it is in a Test match. The bonds that led to cricketers from around the world putting their bats out, that saw people who didn't even know Phillip lay flowers at the gates of Lord's, and that brought every cricketing nation on earth to make its own heartfelt tribute.
"The bonds that saw players old and new rush to his bedside. From wherever they heard the news to say their prayers and farewells. This is what makes our game the greatest game in the world. Phillip's spirit, which is now part of our game forever, will act as a custodian of the sport we all love. We must listen to it. We must cherish it. We must learn from it. We must dig in and get through to tea. And we must play on. So rest in peace my little brother. I'll see you out in the middle."After the hour-long service in the Macksville High School hall, Clarke and the other pallbearers, including Hughes' father Greg and brother Jason, and cricketers Aaron Finch and Tom Cooper, carried his coffin to the hearse outside, and a remarkable procession wound through the streets of the small town.
Among many indelible images and words, that of thousands following Hughes through the heart of Macksville will not be forgotten in a hurry. The Hughes family, Clarke, his wife Kyly, and the Australian Test team walked together with locals, visitors, administrators and Australia's prime minister Tony Abbott. Winding through Wallace Street, they made for a rare sight of shared grief but also collective memory of Hughes' life.
India's acting captain Virat Kohli and coach Duncan Fletcher walked alongside Adam Gilchrist. Shane Watson and David Warner offered a sombre partnership in lock step together, and CA's chief executive James Sutherland spoke with members of both the cricket and Macksville communities. They were all headed towards the Macksville Ex-Services Club for the wake, where tears and laughter were likely to flow in equal measure.
At the SCG, a line of 63 cricket bats, one for each run Hughes score in his final innings, was planted into the turf, each one inscribed with a special moment or fact about Hughes. "'He was 12 playing against 18-year-olds and even then he was a step above them,' remembers Macksville High sports master Barry Lockyer," read one of the bats.A photo memorial, flowers and cricket equipment were laid behind the stumps where Hughes was struck down last Tuesday. The pitch and centre square were roped off as a mark of respect, and the pitch on which Hughes played his final game will be retired and not used again this summer.
In Adelaide, at Hughes' adopted home ground, the Adelaide Oval, around 2000 people gathered in the Riverbank Stand and the Chappell Stand to watch on the big screen the service telecast live on Channel Nine. After the service the public was allowed to get to the main square and leave their flowers and tributes.
It will be at Adelaide Oval that Australia's cricketers will "play on", as Clarke said, with the rescheduled first Test against India to begin there next Tuesday.