New sledging claims appear at Phil Hughes inquest

Phil Hughes

Phil Hughes died on 27 November 2014 after a bouncer hit his neck. 

Sledging directed at Phillip Hughes and his batting partner Tom Cooper “in no way exacerbated the incident” in which Hughes was fatally injured, the inquest into the batsman’s death has been told.

The conclusion by Kristina Stern SC, the counsel assisting the New South Wales Coroner at the inquest, was made after the submission of a new statement by Matthew Day, the former Tasmania batsman and a Sydney club teammate of Hughes’ brother Jason Hughes at Mosman. Day, 29, was also a pallbearer at Hughes’ funeral in Macksville.

Day’s statement corroborated allegations that the fast bowler Doug Bollinger had directed the words “I’m going to kill you” at Hughes and Cooper, highlighting divisions between the Hughes family and the cricket community.

Bollinger and Cooper had both denied these words were uttered, moving Day to make the statement on Tuesday. In it he described events at a wake for Hughes, which occurred at the SCG on November 28, the evening after he died at St Vincent’s Hospital.

“Whilst I was at the gathering at the Sydney Cricket Ground, I was with a group of players sitting where the players’ seats are in the home dressing room,” Day said in the statement, dated October 11, 2016. “There were six or seven players in the group. I can’t remember all of the players but Doug Bollinger was one of the group. There was general discussion regarding the circumstances of the match.

“At one stage Doug Bollinger said words to the effect of: ‘One of my sledges was ‘I am going to kill you’. I can’t believe I said that. I’ve said things like that in the past but I am never going to say it again’.”

Day went on to say that when he saw Jason Hughes later in the evening he relayed this words, to which he replied that “Tom Cooper told me the same thing”.

The submission of Day’s statement caused a flurry of activity in the courtroom on Wednesday, before Stern offered the following words in mitigation. “One of the issues identified in my opening statement was the nature of the play that afternoon and if that in any way exacerbated the injury to Phillip Hughes,” she said. “My submission is … that there is no evidence that any comment or sledging or whatever description you wish to use, exacerbated the injury.”

Day’s statement also conflicted accounts offered by the NSW captain on the day Brad Haddin, David Warner, Sean Abbott and Doug Bollinger that there were no specific plans to bowl short at Hughes. In it he alleged that Trent Johnston, then the NSW assistant coach and now the state’s head coach, had offered a different view.

“I shared a taxi with Trent Johnston [who] said words to the effect of ‘I am struggling with the fact that I was a big part of the plan that New South Wales adopted, that was to bowl short to Phil, and that eventually ended with him being struck’.”

In response to the new allegations, Cricket Australia outlined the process by which witness statements and testimony had been taken.

“Counsel assisting the Coroner, Kristina Stern SC, in association with legal representatives retained by Cricket Australia interviewed player and umpire witnesses appearing at the coronial enquiry,” a spokesperson said.

“Each person was interviewed in this process independently. These interviews were held at the request of counsel assisting in which each of the players and umpires voluntarily participated. Statements were then drafted recording these interviews and these draft statements were reviewed by both cricket’s legal representatives and counsel assisting.

“Following this review, players were then sent the resulting draft statements and were asked to check the accuracy of the draft and make any amendments or additions they wished to have included before returning them.

“As witnesses who have appeared at the coronial hearing have testified, these statements were finalised without talking to any other witness. We are comfortable that this process has allowed the players and umpires to provide accurate, independent and truthful evidence to the enquiry.”

It has been agreed that Day will not be cross-examined following his statement. The inquest continues until Friday.

On 25 November 2014, Hughes was hit in the neck by a bouncer, during a Sheffield Shield match at the Sydney Cricket Ground, causing a vertebral artery dissection that led to a subarachnoid haemorrhage.

The Australian team doctor, Peter Brukner, noted that only 100 such cases had ever been reported, with “only one case reported as a result of a cricket ball”.

Hughes was taken to St Vincent’s Hospital in Sydney, where he underwent surgery, was placed into an induced coma and was in intensive care in a critical condition. He died on 27 November, having never regained consciousness, three days before his 26th birthday.

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