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Australia captain Michael Clarke has written an emotional tribute to batsman Phillip Hughes on what would have been his 26th birthday.
Hughes passed away three days shy of his 26th birthday after he was struck on the side of the neck by a bouncer from New South Wales pace bowler Sean Abbott.
The pair first met when Hughes, who was 17 at the time, moved from his hometown of Macksville to Sydney to play club cricket for Western Suburbs, which is the same club Clarke represented.
“I was drawn to him instantly, falling for his cheeky grin and love of life,” Clarke wrote in his column for the Sunday Telegraph. “Phillip truly was uncomplicated – what you saw was what you got. I don’t think in 12 years of playing cricket at the top level I have ever come across a more loyal or generous-hearted team-mate.
“Whenever Hughesy suffered adversity – if he was replaced in the team or if he wasn’t scoring as many runs as he wanted – he never dropped his head, never once complained. If he had a tough conversation with a selector he would nod, agree he needed to work harder, grin because he felt bad for the person delivering the message and then get on with it.
“You knew deep down he was shattered because playing cricket for his country meant everything to him. But his head wouldn’t drop because he knew his team-mates didn’t need that — he was honoured to be running drinks as 12th man for his mates and he went out of his way to show that. But Phillip’s laid-back nature disguised something more important about the man. He was as mentally tough as they came.
“I don’t have a blood brother, but I am very proud to have called Phillip my brother. I am a better man for having known him. Vale Hugh Dog. I will miss you forever, but I will not forget. Happy birthday bro.”
Clarke also expressed his support for Abbott, who has been going for counselling since the tragic incident.
“No-one – not one single person — blames him in any way for what has happened,” Clarke wrote. “He deserves our full support, he will absolutely have mine whenever he needs it, and I know that also goes for the entire Australian cricket community.
“Sean, when you feel like getting back on the horse mate, I promise you that I will be the first to strap on the pads and go stand up the end of the net to hit them back at you. It’s exactly what Hugh Dog would want us both to do.”