LONDON – Cricket captain Michael Clarke broke down in tears as he paid tribute to friend and teammate Phillip Hughes at the batsman’s funeral.
Hughes (25) died last week after being hit by a ball during a match in Sydney.
His death stunned Australia and the funeral was broadcast live to millions of people on national television and on big screens in major cities.
Around 5 000 people attended the service in Hughes’s home town of Macksville, New South Wales.
The service was also shown at the Sydney Cricket Ground, where Hughes suffered the injury during a State match on Tuesday November 25. He died two days later.
During the 80-minute service, Clarke said: “Phillip’s spirit, which is now part of our game forever, will act as a custodian of the sport we all 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 will see you out in the middle.”
Around 1 000 people attended the funeral at Macksville High School, which Hughes attended, as thousands more watched on screens in the baking heat outside.
Joining the parents of Hughes, Greg and Virginia, and his siblings, Jason and Megan, were Clarke and Sean Abbott, the bowler whose delivery caused the fatal injury to Hughes.
Former Australia internationals Shane Warne, Glenn McGrath, Ricky Ponting, Adam Gilchrist, Steve Waugh and Justin Langer were also among the mourners.
They were joined by Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott and cricketing legends from around the world, including former New Zealand all-rounder Sir Richard Hadlee and West Indies batsman Brian Lara.
Cricket Australia chief executive James Sutherland told mourners: “I imagine Phillip has already taken guard up there and is currently flaying his trademark cut shot behind point.
“Cricket’s heart has been pierced with pain, but it will never stop beating. Phillip Hughes. . . forever unconquered on 63.”
Jason and Megan Hughes also read letters to their brother.
“I couldn’t have asked for a better little brother,” said Jason. “From a very young age, you were destined to be our rock star.
“I miss you, I’m so proud of you and thank you again for all the memories. I’ll love you now and forever.”
Megan added: “I want to thank you for being the most amazing brother I could ask for. You have certainly changed the way I look at and appreciate life. I will certainly take every opportunity that comes by.”
Hughes, who would have been 26 on November 30, was in line for a possible recall to the Australia Test side for the forthcoming series against India – which was rescheduled following his death.
The left-handed batsman, who also played for English counties Hampshire, Middlesex and Worcestershire, had already played 26 Tests for his country, after making his Test debut at the age of 20 against South Africa in 2009.
The number 63 – the runs he had scored when he was fatally injured – has become inextricably linked with Hughes, as has the social media campaign that urged people to remember the batsman by placing cricket bats outside homes, workplaces and at sports grounds.
Macksville, with a population of just 2 500, lies on Australia’s east coast in the state of New South Wales.
Father Michael Alcock told mourners: “We gather to celebrate his 26 years of life. That is what we are doing here this afternoon.
“To those both near and far whom his life has touched, we pray that today we will feel some consolation as we celebrate his life.”
Among those to send their condolence messages was West Indies great Sir Viv Richards, who tweeted: “My heart goes out to the family, friends & the people of Macksville honouring their favourite son Phillip today. Viv.”
The service opened with the song Forever Young and closed with Elton John’s Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me.
The local community also took part in a public procession that followed the hearse at the conclusion of the service.