No sporting loss more profound than loss of a life

No sporting loss more profound than loss of a life
Phillip Hughes batting fluently during the 2013 ICC Champions Trophy match between England and Australia at Edgbaston in Birmingham. Hughes, who died on Thursday, was only 25 and on the verge of a national recall.

AUSTRALIA - Grizzled writers weep over their laptops. Strangers in Australia place cricket bats outside their homes, leaning there like a salute, as homage to a fallen boy of theirs.

The Indian hockey team, from a different geography, in a different sport, lay out their sticks in an act of athletic brotherhood. A tweet of grief comes my way, written by an Australian:

"Driving home. On a cricket oval to my left an old man, with a fierce moustache, crying. His son dragging a bat through the grass."

Phil Hughes, 25, the cricketer, who most of the sporting world had never met, has gone and it has staggered us. I never knew him, yet I mourn.

Loss is not a competition. There is no measuring tool to rate tragedy. For every family, every loss, of any person, of any age, is exquisitely aching. But the death of the young athlete seems different.

Partly because he is famous. We know him as a face on a screen and a voice in interviews. He tells us of his boyish ambition, he scrambles to realise his promise, we ride on his pimpled dreams.

Connected by TV and Twitter, we grow up alongside them and with few others do we forge such intimate relationships. No journey is quite like this.

For many of us, irrespective of age, the young athlete represents the defiance of our own failures. Talent and circumstance tripped our greatness, but not with him. Not yet. In a way, he plays for us.

Man's youthful ambassador to some distant, untouchable horizon.

And so he lives among us, hope in sneakers. He is the poster on our walls, the scribble in our autograph book.

Of course, we overdo the veneration, ego can blossom, riches can turn a man, but in the beginning, and Hughes was only 25, this much remains true - the young athlete chasing a ball, greatness swirling within his reach, is among mankind's most innocent images.

It speaks of possibility, of the pursuit of perfection, of youth unfettered. Now it has been stolen, like a page abruptly ripped from a book. A story incomplete.

Our heroes should be scientists, teachers, firefighters, social workers. But athletes liberate us in a different way, they let us travel in our own imaginations, they supersede even the Hollywood star.

The actor's flight over buildings is fake, a clever creation of computer graphics; the athlete, soaring past gravity and rivals and history to dunk, is real. He gets no second takes at match point.

For that moment, our life stops. As he leaps, we will him further.

But one part of sport is never supposed to be real. It is never real war. It is never real life and death. As Tom Fordyce, who covered this same subject eloquently on the BBC website, noted, these are just exaggerated metaphors.

From these sporting conflicts, in stadiums and arenas, he wrote, "everyone walks away to fight another day". Or are supposed to. These heroes are not supposed to die. They are bruised, then they carry on. Their cars are mangled, then they limp out. They fall, then they stand back up.

But Hughes didn't rise. Get up, you wanted to shout at the video. Please, get up.

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