Phillip Hughes was farewelled by thousands in his home town of Macksville today and by many more around the nation who stopped to say goodbye to the popular Australian cricketer.
International cricketing greats joined Hughes’s family and local community in a colourful celebration of his life in a funeral at Macksville High School on the New South Wales Mid North Coast.
Thousands more gathered at Australia’s iconic cricket grounds in other states to say goodbye to the former Test batsman, who would have turned 26 last Sunday.
Australia was joined by the international sporting community in disbelief last Thursday when Hughes died of a head injury, two days after he was hit in the head by a ball during a Sheffield Shield match at the Sydney Cricket Ground.
In Macksville on Wednesday the road leading to the high school was decorated with green and gold streamers while shopfronts, homes and cars were adorned with tributes to Hughes.
The service opened with the song Forever Young as family and friends shed tears remembering the joy the tenacious young cricketer had brought them.
Hughes’s close mate and Australian Test captain Michael Clarke, who hardly left his hospital bedside last week, provided a tribute during the service and was one of the pallbearers, along with fellow cricketers Aaron Finch and Tom Cooper and Hughes’s family and friends.
The family invited the entire Macksville population of 2,500 to the funeral and they shared the hall with many sporting legends and national dignitaries.
Among them were West Indies great Brian Lara and stand-in Indian captain Virat Kohli. Prime Minister Tony Abbott, Opposition Leader Bill Shorten and New South Wales Premier Mike Baird were also in attendance.
Clarke delivered a stirring and heartfelt speech that ended in tears.
“I don’t know about you, but I keep looking for him,” Clarke said.
“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.”
Clarke spoke of how he walked onto the SCG the night of Hughes’s death remembering the moments they shared together on the famous ground that was also the place he was fatally injured.
“I stood there at the wicket, I kneeled down and touched the grass, I swear he was with me,” he said.
“Picking me up off my feet to check if I was OK, telling me we just needed to dig in and get through to tea.”
Clarke said the SCG will forever be a sacred ground for him and said Hughes’s spirit “will act as a custodian of the sport we love”.