A gentleman beyond measure

A gentleman beyond measure

Barely seconds after New South Wales Blues’ training session had got over at the Uppal stadium during the Champions League T20, team manager David Townsend’s message came on the mobile phone. It was crisp. “Lee not available. Meet Phil Hughes at hotel. 4.30 pm sharp.”

It was a blazing October afternoon in Hyderabad five years ago, and the heat felt even sharper because the original request was for an interview with Brett Lee. Within 30 minutes, the scramble back to hotel ITC Kakatiya had to be made, and a new set of questions needed to prepared. The picture of a cocky Aussie youth that pervaded the mind was soon shattered. Hughes was anything but that. The forthrightness of his character was unmistakable, evidenced in that firm handshake, bright smile, and that typical warm Aussie greeting: “How’ya doing mate?”

He remained friendly throughout an interaction that lasted about 40 minutes in which he spoke about a variety of issues -- cricketing, personal -- with rare maturity. He had seen just 20 summers then. The only time exuberance conquered him was when he spoke about meeting Sachin Tendulkar in Mumbai, a meeting arranged by his personal coach Neil D’Costa.

Hughes was the toast of Australia after making a truckload of runs against South Africa, including two hundreds in the Durban Test. But the axe wasn’t too far. Andrew Flintoff had sorted him out during that year’s Ashes with a barrage of short-pitched deliveries and Hughes was dropped after the first two Tests, making for Shane Watson.

Hughes had to go through two extremes in that nine-month period between February and October 2009. Now, you would expect a sulking, whining young man. But a question about his struggles against Flintoff, short-pitched balls, and subsequent loss of place brought only laughter. “Perhaps, those two innings in Durban made people to expect a lot from me. Perhaps, I expected a lot from myself. However, those Ashes Tests taught me the need to work on my game. Hopefully, I will be a better batsman when I come across Freddie next time,” Hughes had said. It was hard not to laugh with him.

Once the interview was over, Hughes was interested in knowing more about India -- its culture, way of life, and, of course, the influence of media. The informal chat consumed another 20 minutes before the manager reminded him about a team meeting. Before leaving, Hughes scribbled down his e-mail and requested to mail him the interview after it appeared in the print. His request was duly obliged, and a rather formal-looking reply arrived in the inbox hours later.

But that was just the first of many. His mails began to appear more frequently, carrying Christmas and New Year wishes or replies to the messages congratulating him for his hundred against Sri Lanka or for getting an IPL contract with Mumbai Indians.

The warmth in those short mails never for once changed in the five years. Only the end line changed, from ‘regards Phil’ to ‘regards Hughesy.” RIP mate!

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