Intimidating Assault Tactics behind Phil-Hughes’ Death by Bouncer

Michael Roberts

Background information known only to a few has emerged during the coronial inquest into the tragic death of Phil Hughes after he was felled by a bouncer bowled by Sean Abbott of New South Wales (NSW) at the personal score of 63 runs on 25 November 2014 – with the revelations produced by the Hughes family in response to the coroner’s approach fueling this new fire. From my particular political position on the practices that prevail on the cricket field, let me summarize the conclusions that I draw from this corpus of data.


A. Phil Hughes was regarded as one of the most potent batsmen in the South Australian side and the game plan fashioned by the NSW team management and leaders was to subject him to a short-pitch bowling barrage – as blurted out by Trent Johnston, NSW bowling coach to Matthew Day (a cricketing mate of Hughes) in the immediate aftermath of the accident during hospital vigil.

B. This tactic was supplemented by the verbal badinage and abuse that is a standard practice in Australian cricket[1] – a practice referred to as “sledging” and regarded as legitimate by all-and-sundry in Australia.

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - NOVEMBER 25: (EDITORS NOTE: Image contains graphic content.) Phillip Hughes of South Australia is helped by New South Wales players after falling to the ground after being struck in the head by a delivery during day one of the Sheffield Shield match between New South Wales and South Australia at Sydney Cricket Ground on November 25, 2014 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images)

Phillip Hughes of South Australia is helped by New South Wales players after falling to the ground after being struck in the head by a delivery during day one of the Sheffield Shield match between New South Wales and South Australia at Sydney Cricket Ground on November 25, 2014 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images)

C. Since Hughes was a former buddy who had defected to South Australia, he was a turncoat – so we can conjecture quite firmly that these paths of intimidation were pursued with extra zest in his case.

D. Since Hughes coped with this ‘package’ competently and reached his half-century during the morning session, the verbal intimidation and bouncer barrage were, in the typical manner of some Aussie cricketers and as one saw recently in South Africa with Matthew Wade, raised a couple of notches … and there is even a hint that the short-pitch balls and bouncers increased in intensity to the point that Hughes asked his batting partner Cooper what was happening a few balls before he erred and ducked into a bouncer.

E. There is even a suggestion that the two umpires, Ash Barrow and M Graham-Smith, could have been guilty of a dereliction of duty in failing to curtail the number of bouncers/short pitch balls per over and the intensity of the verbal intimidation (aka “sledging”).

F. Critical pieces of evidence on these lines were disclosed by members of the NSW team and coaches during the emotional turmoil in the immediate aftermath of the incident when they were in shocked vigil at the hospital or attending a wake at the  cricketing precincts .

G. Tom Cooper of South Australia, the other not out batsman, also chipped in with information that Doug Bollinger’s[2] verbal intimidation included the threat “We will kill you.”

H. This threat cannot be taken literally. The intent was to frighten and unsettle Hughes—in step with the aggressive medium of “sledging,” a term which embraces all forms of verbal badinage (including wit and jokes) aimed at batsmen and serves as a legitimate label for all forms of intimidation.

I. Those who picked up these vital details during the traumatic period were Jason Hughes (Phil’s sibling) and Matthew Day,[3] another local cricketer and close mate of the Hughes brothers.aaday Matthew Day

J. Armed with this body of evidence, the Hughes family and Matthew Day have come out swinging in response to the coroner’s (welcome) outreach.[4] One reporter noted that “all week the Downing Centre … resembled a battlefield exposing the gulf that exists between Cricket Australia and the Hughes family” (Ben Horne 2016).

K. The data presented by Matthew Day and the Hughes family was second-hand but, to my mind, as believable as definitive. Its impact was quite remarkable: all the NSW personnel suffered collective amnesia and could not remember what words they had used. David Warner, Doug Bollinger and the NSW captain Brad Haddin stonewalled and obfuscated. Protecting the cricket world of Australia, it seems, is more vital than the search for definitive TRUTH by legal process. doug-b-22cooper

L. Tom Cooper of South Australia – the erstwhile buddy and house-mate of Hughes — shredded and shed his mate-ship: he could not remember the words used by Bollinger and the fact that he had divulged this piece of evidence to both Matthew Day and Jason Hughes in the traumatic aftermath of the incident.[5]

M. The coroner had a legal counsel named Katrina Stern on hand and she has insisted that the verbal intimidation had nothing to do with Hughes’ death. One can comprehend the lawyers from Australia Cricket insisting on such an interpretation, but for any other counsel to press such an interpretation is simply astounding. Stern’s reasoning is legal pedantry taken to ridiculous lengths. As indicated in Points A, B, C, D and E above, the verbal threats and barrage of short-pitched bowling was a combination-package seeking to unsettle Hughes – in circumstances informed by his status as “traitor to NSW.”

N. Cricket Australia have sustained a background presence at the inquest via one of their lawyers, viz. Bruce Hodgkinson. The insertion of Alex Kontouris (the present Australian team’s physiotherapist) as expert background witness suggests a looming influence on the proceedings from behind the scenes by Cricket Australia. If there was any doubt on this point in the initial stages of the reportage on the incident, the presence of Pat Howard (High Performance Manager for Cricket Australia) and his impromptu ‘press talk’ outside the courts one day[6] dismissed such hesitations.

O. Though not present at the grounds that day, Kontouris’ expertise was/is not irrelevant. He noted that “there had been another instance of a vertebral arterial blow from a cricket ball leading to haemorrhage … in Melbourne.”[7] As vitally, the forensic pathologist, Joan Duflou, who carried out the postmortem examination stated that “an artery in his neck had been severed —an injury more commonly seen in single punch attacks.(ABC News Item, 10 October 2016).

P. The Aussie cricketing fraternity’s long standing defense of verbal intimidation within the cricket field has been severely dented by the fury, amidst deep anguish, within the Hughes family circle, The latter’s anger has also been directed at the umpires and emergency services who are alleged to have failed in their duties.

Q. Circumstantial evidence suggests that the umpires that day did not intervene to limit the degree of short-pitched bowling. The entry of Simon Taufel, bowling consultant to Cricket Australia, as expert witness[8] in the inquest suggests efforts at damage control by the powers-that-be – the more so when Taufel told the coroner that “the bowling was fair and didn’t breach regulations.”[9]

R. What is puzzling in the reportage on these proceedings is the obliteration of the evidence conveyed by the two officiating umpires (Barrow & Graham-Smith)[10] – if, indeed, they were questioned in depth at any stage. My inference is that Cricket Australia commandeered Taufel to act as shield and, in effect, override their evidence – even though he may not have been present on the scene.

S. In his traumatized anger Greg Hughes has intelligently deployed the vocabulary of workplace regulations to criticize a range of officials.

T. Greg Hughes also asserted that the Sheffield Shield laws on bouncer bowling are different from those of the MCC (and thus those of the ICC). He is correct. Both sets of rules refer to “fast short pitched balls” not bouncers. But where the MCC decree 42.6/a/ii on “Dangerous and unfair bowling” rules that balls over the head of a batsman in standing position can be deemed a no-ball, it seems that in Australia the definitional limit is shoulder-height.[11]

U. However, it is MCC rule 42.6/a/i that is pertinent to the Hughes incident and should serve as an eye-opening influence on the coroner’s verdict. It stipulates that the “bowling of fast short pitched balls is dangerous and unfair if the bowler’s end umpire considers that by their repetition and taking into account their length, height and direction they are likely to inflict physical injury on the striker irrespective of the protective equipment he may be wearing. The relative skill of the striker shall be taken into consideration.

V. Phil Hughes’ skill is not in question. The issue is whether the intensity of the short pitched barrage after lunch developed to the level “dangerous and unfair” … and the umpires were derelict in their duty by the law.[12] The news reports do not present any details on the information yielded by Barrow and Graham-Smith if they were ever questioned in depth. So we face a gaping hole in the coverage of the coronial process.

W. The circumstantial evidence seems damning: “Senior counsel Greg Melick, for the family, suggested [that] eight of the last nine balls bowled by Sean Abbott, including the one that dealt the fatal blow, were short. Possibly as many as four were bouncers. An expert counted 23 short balls that day. At one point it was claimed all but three were directed at Hughes.”[13] The video recording of the match is available for specialists to test this presentation.

the-hughes-famil-ross-schultz hughes-distress

X. Despite his criticisms (S and t above) Greg Hughes nevertheless accepted that “sledging is part of the game” as a preliminary to a strange distinction which asserted that the comments directed at his son “were more abusive and intimidating than sledging” and combined with “the use of illegal deliveries” to generate “a very unsafe workplace.”

Y. This effort to cut “sledging” into acceptable and unacceptable segments is simply unworkable. Verbal intimidation on the cricket field has to be eliminated tout court.[14] It has to be eliminated because it destroys the sporting principle of a “level playing field.” Not all cricketing nations of the world are bred in a macho culture beyond field and within the playing arena that enable aggressive intimidation in the English language with the capacity to disturb the equanimity of batsmen. “Sledging” is a euphemism that obscures the practice of verbal intimidation amounting to verbal assault. Ideally, the term “sledging” has to be exorcised from our vocabulary – but that will not happen.

Z. What is feasible and what must be pursued by the ICC is a statement up-front that deems “sledging” to be “unacceptable verbal assault” as the first step in a programme that obliterates the practice by (Y1) insisting that stump-microphones in televised matches are fine-tuned to maximize public access to verbal exchanges between opponents; (Y2) counselling and training umpires to intervene strongly[15] whenever such aggression occurs; and (P3) enabling umpires and Match Referees to “sin-bin” players[16] who infringe on the personal rights of any other player for 90 minutes—with particular emphasis on the captain of the fielding side.

AA. The degree to which the practice of “sledging” and the incidence of verbal assault within this range of practices within cricket is condoned in Australian society is evident in the reportage of the Hughes inquest. Andrew Webster’s summing up in the Sydney Morning Herald of 14th October wriggled and squirmed, but gave the bias away. Let me select some revealing comments.

  • “To the outsider, it appears grossly unfair [that Bollinger’s threatening words} this would be raised now, two years after the fact and when it was something said on the field, in the heat of battle. A sledge did not kill Phillip Hughes.”
  • “Many in the court have been taken aback by the family’s hostile reactions. Indeed, when Bollinger was testifying on Monday, the rage felt by Hughes’ parents was there for all to see. It was confronting to watch.”
  • “On the flipside, though, you must empathise with the players as they replay the nightmare of that afternoon. These men lost a great mate, playing the game they all love. That has been forgotten by some this week. Now, they’ve been cross-examined and questioned about the way they go about their business. To many, this seems grossly unfair, especially when anyone with any understanding of the game realises that short-pitched bowling and sledging are all part of the game, not least at a first-class level (Webster 2016).

Though The Australian was willing to push the allegations further than some other newspapers, the initial report by Peter Lalor on the 10th October 2016 began on this note: “The game with all its inherent traditions and assumptions squirms beneath the cold gaze of courts, laws and objective judgment. …. Existing in a place where normal standards do not apply cricket is a microclimate with its own sense of fairness, justice, safety and acceptable behavior.”

So, cricket in Australia, and thus Cricket Australia, should remain as a state within the nation state of Australia. To these forms of special pleading all I can say, with many years of cricket behind me and with an exclamation mark, is “what arrogant balderdash, Peter Lalor.”

***   ***

PS: The coroner’s verdict will be delivered on the 4th November. Watch this space….  And write to IF you have pertinent information or wish to argue differently.


    ***   *** 


Roberts 2016 “The Phil Hughes Coronial Inquest: Cricketers Wallow in Contradictory Evidence,” 13 October 2016,

Roberts 2016 “Against Verbal Intimidation in Cricket: A Voice in A Wasteland,” 12 October 2016,

Roberts 2016 “Alex Kontouris faces “Chin Music” at the Coronial Inquest into Phil-Hughes’ Death,” 13 October 2016,

Roberts 2014 “Australian Patriotism and Sacrificial Christian Symbolism embodied in One Image commemorating Phil Hughes,” 29 November 2016,

Roberts 2007 “Vilification, Zero Tolerance and Double Standards in Cricket,”, 7 November 2007.

Roberts [2006] “Cricket, Dirty Cricket,” reprinted in Roberts, Essaying Cricket. Sri Lanka and Beyond, Vijitha Yapa Publications, 2006, pp. 98-102.

Roberts 2003 “Legitimising the Bullyboys on the Cricket Field,”, 16 Dec 2004.

Roberts 2003 “Verbal Assault on the cricket field: ICC piss-weak, TV commentators insouciant,” 27 November 2013,

Roberts [2002] “Letter to the ICC, 25 November 2002,” reprinted in Roberts, Essaying Cricket. Sri Lanka and Beyond, Vijitha Yapa Publications, 2006, pp. 103-06.

Roberts [2001] “Sin bin for verbal Intimidation,” originally printed on 28 April 2001, reprintin Roberts, Essaying Cricket. Sri Lanka and Beyond, Vijitha Yapa Publications, 2006, pp. 98-102.

Roberts 2000 “Against verbal intimidation in cricket,”,

Roberts [1999] “The Grunt, The Spit and The Scowl in Sports,” originally 1999, reprinted in Roberts, Essaying Cricket. Sri Lanka and Beyond, Colombo, Vijitha Yapa Publications, 2006, pp. 96-97.

     ***  *** 


 ·Peter Lalor 2016a “Cricket goes under the Microscope,” The Australian, 10 October 2016,

ABC News 2016 “Coroner’s Inquiry into the Death of Phil Hughes: Serious Questions, Tears & Standard Fare,” 11 October 2016, [From] …. ……. …… ………     …………………..’-death-begins/7916974

Peter Lalor 2016b “Sledgers, Bouncers, on Trial at Hughes Inquest,” The Australian, 11 October 2016,

Sam Buckingham Jones 2016 “Bollinger denies kill threat’ to Hughes,” The Australian, 11 October 2016,

AAP News 2016 “Matthew Wade elbows Bowler Abbott and faces Code of Conduct Charge,” 11 October 2016,

Peter Lalor 2016 “Doug Bollinger on Back foot in Phil Hughes Inquest,” The Australian, 13 October 2016,

Peter Lalor 2016 “Coronial Twist catches out Bolly,” The Australian, 13 October 2016,

Andrew Webster 2016 “The Sad Divide between the Family of Phillip Hughes and the Cricketing Community,” 14 October 2016,

Rob Forsaith for AAP  2016 “Hughes inquest: what we now know, 14 October 2014,

Ben Horne 2016 “Lawyers duel it Out at Inquest into the Death of Cricketer Phil Hughes,” Daily Telegraph, 14 October 2016,

The Australian 2016 “Hughes had ‘unsafe workplace’,” The Australian, 14 October 2016,

Daniel Brettig 2016 “Call for Clarification of bouncer Laws at Inquest into Phil Hughes’ Death,” ESPNcricinfo, 14 October 2016,

Reuters 2016 “Greg &Virginia Hughes express Disbelief & Anguish at Coronial Inquest,”14 October 2016,

Peter Lalor 2016 “No way to close Hughes’ Innings,” The Weekend Australian, 15/16 October 2016.


 [1] Note the impact on Jonathan Trott – see Roberts, “Verbal Assault on the cricket field: ICC piss weak, TV commentators insouciant,” 23 November 2013

[2] In his younger days Bollinger looked a cherub, but in recent years he would easily fit into a line-up of ISIS fighters or a cavalcade of toughs from the inner city of Sydney.

[3] Matthew Day’s evidence came late in the day [since 2014]. Day  is not a nonentity. He was in Australia’s Under 19 collective at one point and is (or was) captain of the Mosman Cricket Club in Sydney. Clearly, though, his loyalty to the Hughes family has outweighed that of devotion to Australian cricket. Bravo!

[4] It is of some significance that the Hughes family from Mackaville in country NSW did not initiate their protest. They were “approached by the coroner a few months after Hughes was skilled” (Australian, 14 October 2016).

[5] See Peter Lalor 2016 “Doug Bollinger on Back foot in Phil Hughes Inquest,” The Australian, 13 October 2016, Cooper was one of the pallbearers at the funeral. Facing the court room  was traumatic and Copper left the precincts in tears.

[6] “Cricket Australia’s high-performance boss Pat Howard spoke to the press after proceedings, saying “we’re very proud of the conduct of the players, officials and staff throughout” and that his organisation was “open to any suggestions of further improvements we might make” (see Forsaith 2016)

[7] See Roberts 2016 “Alex Kontouris faces “Chin Music,” 13 October 2016.

[8] It is unclear whether Taufel was oat the grounds that day. If not, this is a strong indication of Cricket Australia’s looming power and suggests a dereliction of public duty by Taufel.

[9] The Australian, 14 October 201). (even though he may not have been present?).

[10] Peter Lalor refers in passing to Barrow having given evidence (Lalor 2016 at

[11] Information on Australia was derived from a phone call to experienced umpire Joe Hoad.  For the MCC rules, see

[12] Taufel ws adamant that there was “nothing to indicate that the umpires should have done anything differently on the day” (quoted in

[13] See Lalor 2016b, “Sledgers, …,”

[14] See especially Roberts, “Letter to the ICC, 25 November 2002,” reprinted in Roberts, Essaying Cricket. Sri Lanka and Beyond, Vijitha Yapa Publications, 2006, pp. 103-06. Also see  Roberts 2000; 2002; 2006; 2007 and Roberts 2016 “Against Verbal Intimidation in Cricket: A Voice in A Wasteland,” 12 October 2016,

[15] I am reliably informed (viz., Michael mMorley)  that the previous practice of verbal abuse by rugby forwards when they scrummed down in international matches has been effectively eroded by referees’ warnings as a matter of collective practice.

[16] See Roberts [2001] “Sin bin for verbal Intimidation,” originally printed on 28 April 2001, reprinted in Roberts, Essaying Cricket. Sri Lanka and Beyond, Vijitha Yapa Publications, 2006, pp. 98-102.


Filed under Australian culture, australian media, citizen journalism, cricket for amity, cultural transmission, disparagement, doctoring evidence, performance, politIcal discourse, power politics, self-reflexivity, slanted reportage, trauma, truth as casualty of war, vengeance, world events & processes

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