No one was to blame for the death of Australian cricketer Phillip Hughes, it was declared at the conclusion of the month-long public inquest. Although the New South Wales coroner did find that Hughes was targeted with bouncers, he said the batsman was well-equipped to handle them.
Hughes was hit by a rising Sean Abott delivery while batting for South Australia against New South Wales at the Sydney Cricket Ground on Nov 25, 2014 and died two days later in a Sydney hospital.
"Phillip was targeted by short-pitched balls bowled at or over leg stump or middle stump that placed him in greater danger of being struck. Of the 23 bouncers bowled on that day, 20 were bowled to him,” Michael Barnes, the New South Wales coroner who was in charge of the inquest, said.
"However, in view of the evidence of the other players, the presiding umpires, and Mr Taufel [former umpire Simon Taufel], that Phillip was, because of his high level of skill and confidence, comfortably dealing with the short-pitched balls, I conclude that no failure to enforce the laws of the game contributed to his death.
"Such was his skill and experience, he was well able to deal with such bowling, but even the best can't perform perfectly all of the time. 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."
While Barnes found out that no laws of the game were broken during the incident, he hoped that cricket reflects on whether such tactics of bowling should be persisted with in the game.
"Hopefully the focus on this unsavoury aspect of the incident may cause those who claim to love the game to reflect on whether the practice of sledging is worthy of its participants. An outsider is left to wonder why such a beautiful game would need such an ugly underside," he said.
The report also states that the injury suffered by Hughes was ‘unsurvivable’ irrespective of the efficiency of the emergency response.
"None of those on the field at the time knew how to summon medical assistance onto the field. Although it was immediately obvious that Phillip was injured, it was not clear whose responsibility it was to call an ambulance. An ambulance was not called for over six minutes after he was hit.
"The person who called the ambulance did not have sufficient information to enable an accurate triage to be made by the ambulance dispatcher. As a result, the ambulance response was given a lower order of urgency than it would have been given had the relevant information about Phillip's condition been conveyed."
Barnes also declared that the system in place for such an incident was ‘inadequate’.
"Not that anyone involved was lackadaisical or cavalier, rather the systems in place to respond to such an incident were inadequate," he said. "Unless addressed, those failings could result in a preventable death occurring ... All of those who responded to Phillip's injury did so selflessly and to the best of their ability. They are to be commended."
The coroner concluded that Hughes’ death was a ‘tragic accident’, clearing every player and official involved in the match.
"The family's grief at losing their much loved son and brother was exacerbated by their belief that unfair play had contributed to his death. In the course of this inquest they have heard from independent experts, high ranking cricket officials and some of the players who were on the field with Phillip when he played his last game of cricket.
"Clearly, they do not agree with all that they heard. However, it is hoped that they accept the compelling evidence that the rules were complied with; that Phillip was excelling at the crease as he so often did, and that his death was a tragic accident.
"Nothing can undo the source of their never ending sorrow but hopefully, in the future, the knowledge that Phillip was loved and admired by so many and that his death has led to changes that will make cricket safer will be of some comfort," he said.