Macksville hosts cricket world as they gather for emotional goodbye to their favourite son
The picturesque NSW mid north coast town of Macksville has farwelled their favourite son, Phillip Joel Hughes.
The funeral for the late Test cricketer, who died at the age of 25 last week after being hit by a bouncer at the SCG, started at 2pm on Wednesday at a high school recreation hall in his hometown.
Michael Clarke's tearful tribute to his "little brother" pulled at the heartstrings.
"He'd definitely be calling me a sook right now, that's for sure," Clarke said before a deep breath and launching into his speech, in which he talked about the spirit - of Hughes, of cricket, and of how they were now forever intertwined.
Michael Clarke struggled with his emotion // Getty Images
"I keep looking for him," said Clarke. "I know it's crazy but I expect any minute to take a call from him or to see his face pop around the corner.
"Is this what we call the spirit? If so then his spirit is still with me and I hope it never leaves.
"I walked to the middle of the SCG on Thursday night ... those same blades of grass beneath my feet where he and I and so many of his mates here today had built partnerships, taken chances and lived out the dreams we painted in our heads as boys.
Greg Hughes leads the pallbearers for his son Phillip // Getty Images
"I stood there at the wicket, I kneeled down and touched the grass. I swear he was with me, picking me up to my feet to check if I was ok, telling me we we just needed to 'dig in, get through to tea', telling me off for that loose shot I played, chatting about what movie we might watch that night, and then passing on a useless fact about cows."
Clarke spoke of the extra significance the SCG now held for him, and how he had been lifted by the worldwide outpouring of emotion and tributes, and the support from his "band of Baggy Green brothers and sisters that have held me upright when I thought I could not proceed".
"Is this what we call the spirit of cricket?" Clarke asked.
"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, that spirit of cricket is holding us together.
"We feel it in the thrill of a cover drive or taking a screamer at gully. Whether by a 12-year-old boy in Worcester or by Brendon McCullum in Dubai.
Mourners walk through Macksville // Getty Images
"It's in the brilliant 100 or the 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 lead to cricketers from around the world putting their bats out. It saw people who didn't even know Phillip lay flowers at the gates of Lord's. It lead to every cricketing nation on earth to make its own heartfelt triubte.
"The bonds that saw players old and new to rush to his bedside when 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 for the game we 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."
Clarke's tearful tribute capped an emotion-charged service for the several hundred who crammed into the school hall, with thousands more watching from a nearby sports ground in sunny, steamy conditions.
Hughes's family, parents Greg and Virginia and siblings Jason and Megan, entered the hall as Forever Young played.
Jason read a letter he had written to his younger brother, and vowed he would return to cricket to honour his brother's memory.
Jason spoke of the final time the brothers played together, a first grade game against Mossman, where they put on 210 runs together in partnership and where Phillip encouraged his brother on to his best first-grade bowling figures of 5-19.
He promised he would "get back on the horse" and continue playing the game they both loved.
"Now it's time to say goodbye bra, I miss you," he said.
"Love, your big brother Jase."
Megan's tearful tribute spoke of her pride at Phillip's achievements, and how her brother had never lost his country roots while his career took him to international fame.
"I promise I will speak to you ever day," she said. "Until next time, I love you big brother."
Nino Ramunno, a cousin to Phillip, detailed the early exploits of a cricket career that would move from the Hughes family backyard to Baggy Green No.408.
Ramunno spoke of the family's Italian heritage, how his grandfather bestowed him with the family nickname 'Boof' after he was born a large baby.
He told of how his older brother Jason asked him to fill in for an under-10s to save a game from being forfeited, scored 25 batting as a tail-ender and never looked back.
Close friend Corey Ireland spoke of Hughes's passion for his Angus cattle.
"He would spend every spare moment thinking about his cattle, researching genetics and planning his next move," said Ireland. "He didn't get a lot of time to spend with his cattle during his cricket career but he loved that he could share his special passion with his father, Greg."
Ireland spoke about the beginnings of 408 Angus - the company he started with his father - and how his cattle had won many blue ribbons. He spoke of their "10-year plan" to get
"Cattle breeding is a lot like cricket. You have to work hard, stick to a plan, show consistency and predictability, and strength will see you through.
"Hughesy, I make a promise to you today mate, I will keep your dream alive."
Cricket Australia chief executive James Sutherland said the tributes and grief showing around the globe "tells us so much about the affection millions felt for Phillip and also about the privileged place cricket has near the heart of this nation".
"Mere words are woefully inadequate at times like this," said Sutherland. "But if the life of Phillip Hughes demonstrated one thing, it is this: a great deal can be packed into a very short time if you have talent, passion and big adventurous spirit.
"Ever since Bradman the image of the innocent country boy playing in the backyard while dreaming of the Baggy Green cap has become entrenched in our psyche. It is our foundation myth as a cricketing nation. And Phillip loved that dream.
"His journey from the backyard to Baggy Green 408 personified the Australian cricketing dream. Phillip's joy in playing his natural game was evident to all."
Elton John's Don't Let The Sun Go Down On Me played as Hughes's casket was carried out at the conclusion of the funeral. The musican had dedicated the song to the batsman during a concert in Germany last week.
The death of the young batsman last Thursday had sparked tributes from Broadway to Barbados, Macksville to Manchester, Hollywood to Bollywood ahead of the funeral.
Australia's Test squad and the New South Wales and South Australian squads - including Sean Abbott, the bowler whom the cricket world has rallied around after it was his delivery that struck Hughes in what has been described by medical professionals as freak injury - were joined by past greats and others connected to the games who have been touched by Hughes's passing.
Sean Abbott arrives at the funeral in Macksville // Getty Images
Shane Warne, New Zealand's Richard Hadlee, Brian Lara, Ricky Ponting, Glenn McGrath and Adam Gilchrist were among the previous players who will pay their respects.
Matthew Hayden, the batsman's whose retirement after the 2008-09 season gave Hughes his opportunity to make his Test debut, was on his way to Macksville on a road trip from Queensland with his parents.
"It's been a long time since I've had a road trip with mum and dad, so we're re-living I guess a lot of what Phillip had as a country cricketer, driving here there and everywhere to play what is a magnificent game that is so important to country communities right across Australia," Hayden told 4BC radio.
Several members of the Indian cricket team, including acting captain Virat Kohli, were also in Macksville for the service.
Virginia and Greg Hughes at the funeral for their son // Getty Images
Primary school children lined up 88 cricket bats, signifying the year of Hughes's birth, outside his former primary school, St Patrick's, adorned with touching tributes for the local hero.
"You'll always be a part of Macksville family and forever in everyone's hearts," read a tribute from the Rudder family.
Hughes's father Greg, brother Jason, cricketers Michael Clarke, Aaron Finch and Tom Cooper and three of Hughes's closest mates were the pall bearers.
A guard of honour was formed by the cricketers before a procession through Macksville's main streets with the route marked by green and gold ribbons.
At AusNewsLanka.com, it's not just about keeping up with Sri Lankan news and events from around Australia, it's about participating in it. You help shape our coverage by sharing what matters to you, from sports to news to entertainment. Your contribution is much appreciated.
Be part of the news by sharing your news, videos and stories with Aus News Lanka.