SYDNEY (Reuters) – The death of Australian cricketer Phillip Hughes was caused by a “freakish accident” that gave the 25-year-old international batsman little chance of survival, his doctors said on Thursday.
Hughes was struck by a short-pitched delivery on Tuesday while playing in a domestic match and died in St Vincent’s hospital on Thursday having never regained consciousness.
“I think in this instance, this was a freakish accident because it was an injury to the neck that caused haemorrhage in the brain. The condition is incredibly rare,” Cricket Australia doctor Peter Brukner told a media conference at the hospital.
The injury, called a subarachnoid haemorrhage, occurs when an artery is compressed and splits, forcing blood into the brain area. Only one case had previously been reported as a result of a cricket ball, said Brukner.
Such catastrophic injuries were frequently fatal at the time, but Hughes was resuscitated on the field and taken to hospital in a “reasonable condition,” he added.
Tony Grabs, the head of trauma surgery at St Vincent’s Hospital, said Hughes was taken quickly to surgery where part of his skull was removed to relieve pressure on his brain.
“Over a period of the first 24 to 48 hours, as we know, he did not make very much improvement and unfortunately as a consequence of the injury he died,” Grabs said.
Manufacturers of cricket safety equipment had earlier said Hughes’s accident was unusual and nothing on the market now would likely have prevented it.
But they also say advances in cricket helmet technology are being stymied by a lack of enforcement of international safety standards and the reluctance of elite-level players who prefer the game’s traditional aesthetics to adopt new styles.
Meanwhile, long called upon to rescue his team from treacherous situations, Australia captain Michael Clarke could do little to save his close friend Phillip Hughes, but bore his grief quietly in a vital supporting role for his “little brother’s” family.
Clarke was among the first to arrive at St Vincent’s hospital on Tuesday after Hughes was rushed there with a sickening head injury and read the family’s statement upon his death, three days before his 26th birthday.
In between, the 33-year-old was rarely away from the bedside of the player he mentored and ushered into New South Wales and later the national team.
TV footage showed Clarke walking briskly through the Sydney hospital’s doors early every morning and trudging out despondent much later in the day.
He returned at six in the morning on Thursday, perhaps hoping for some better news as Hughes, who never regained consciousness after being struck on the neck by a rising delivery in a domestic match, entered a third day in an induced coma.
Unshaven, with rings under his eyes, Clarke’s head was bowed as he read the family statement, his voice clear if a little gravelly. He didn’t trip on a single word but after reading the final phrase – “we love you” – he exited quickly, overcome.
“Phillip has always been a little brother to Michael,” team doctor Peter Brukner said, his voice quivering with emotion.
“Michael’s efforts over the last 48 hours to support the family – the family was obviously going through a difficult time – but I’m not sure they would have coped without Michael’s assistance.
“I was just enormously impressed at the work he did and the genuine care and love he gave to the Hughes family.”
Clarke spent time consoling the other party to the tragedy, all-rounder Sean Abbott, whose ball reared up and ruptured an artery, causing a rush of blood to Hughes’ brain that ultimately proved fatal.
“When he came to the hospital yesterday, Michael Clarke came down and spent a significant amount of time with (Abbott),” Brukner added.
Clarke is nursing a hamstring injury, battling to be fit for a first test against India that may yet be called off.