Both deaths are immeasurably sad, but it’s Hughes who has grabbed attention around the world. His death has captured my emotions – like those of many others – and I think there’s good reason.
Cricket is a game. And like all the best games, cricket is entirely made up. Athletics and target shooting have skills similar to those needed for chasing food in the wild (or running away from danger). But cricket is weird: stumps of three sticks plus two; bowl without throwing; strike a leather ball; run back and forth on a small strip in a huge paddock.
Cricket is an imaginary game to play and watch, and that’s part of its appeal. We don’t want ‘work’ all the time, because we’re not made by God as simple work units. Humans work, that’s part of God’s creation. But we’re made for so much more: we’re made for rest (the goal of Genesis 1); we’re made for joy; we’re made for freedom in Jesus; we’re made to find that purpose is not intrinsic to our own frantic activity.
Cricket, however lightly, touches on these bigger purposes by ignoring practicality and making up rules with no connection to the business of business.
Yet death through cricket crudely slashes at the face of beautiful imagination. It’s all so real now for those who knew or watched Hughes, and for the bowler involved, Sean Abbott.
I do not claim that cricket is escapism. I’m claiming much more: that cricket is reality. Cricket hints at the so-much-more that is embedded in God’s creation. Hughes’ death shows us that the so-much-more remains tantalising, beyond our capacity and beyond our guarantees.
Though Christians know that creation will fulfil its purpose, in Christ (Ephesians 1:10), we share honestly with the on-going pain of our home (Romans 8:18-25).
To paraphrase someone who really could write: Ask not who was struck by the bouncer – it struck us all.