The funeral of Phillip Hughes, the Australian Test cricketer who died of injury suffered while playing, was held in his home town, Macksville, halfway between Sydney and Brisbane.

Eight days after Hughes was struck by a ball in the back of the head and six after he died of the injuries that resulted, his family, friends and a host of cricketing greats gathered at Macksville High School to bid farewell to him.

Cricketers who died after being struck by ball
  • Darryn Randall, 32, was killed after being struck on the side of the head in 2013.
  • Zulfiqar Bhatti, 22, died after being struck on the chest while batting during a T20 tournament.
  • Raman Lamba, former India Test player, died after being struck on the head while fielding during a domestic match in Bangladesh in 1998.
  • Abdul Aziz died after he was hit over the heart in a 1959 Pakistan first-class match.
  • George Summers died after being hit on the head while batting at Lord's in 1870.

Father Michael Alcock welcomed the mourners in the small rural community, 1,000 mostly locals packed inside the school hall with thousands more watching on screens in the baking heat outside.

"We gather to celebrate his 26 years of life. That is what we are doing here this afternoon," he said to open the service shortly after 2pm local time (03:00 GMT).

"To those both near and far whom his life has touched, we pray this afternoon that today we will feel some consolation as we celebrate his life."

The service was broadcast live on national television and on big screens in Australia's major cities, including at the Sydney Cricket Ground where Hughes suffered the fatal injury during a state match last Tuesday.

Captain's tribute

Australia Test captain Michael Clarke urged mourners to "dig in and get through to tea" as he choked back tears in an emotional eulogy.

A near-constant presence at Hughes's bedside during his two-day fight for life, Clarke sucked back deep breaths at Macksville High School hall during the tribute to his "little brother's" spirit.

"Oh, he would definitely be calling me a sook (crybaby) right now, that's for sure," Clarke began, gasping for air. "I don't know about you, but I keep looking for him. I know it is 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. I knelt down and touched the grass, I swear he was with me," said Clarke, who had helped usher Hughes into Australia's state ranks then the national team.

"Picking me up off my feet to check if I was okay. Telling me we just needed to dig in and get through to tea.

"Telling me off for that loose shot I played. Chatting about what movie we might watch that night. And then passing on a useless fact about cows. We must dig in."

Turnout in numbers

The mourners included Tony Abbott, Australia's prime minister; the Australian cricket team; Hughes' teammates from the South Australia side; and Sean Abbott, the New South Wales bowler whose delivery had such tragic consequences.

Also in attendance were Australian cricket greats such as Shane Warne, Ricky Ponting, Glenn McGrath and the Waugh brothers, while Richard Hadlee, Brian Lara and India captain Virat Kohli represented the wider world.

Hughes, who would have been 26 last Sunday, was batting for a recall to the Australia side for the opening match in the Test series against India when he suffered the injury that killed him.

The number 63, the runs Hughes had accumulated when he was struck by the ball last week, has become inextricably linked with the tragedy, as has 408, a reference to him becoming the 408th man to play test cricket for Australia in 2009.

Most of all though, it is the viral campaign to get people to place cricket bats in tribute outside homes, workplaces and at sports grounds that has become the most common manifestation of the outpouring of grief around the world.

That was reflected in a line of bats along the fence of a primary school, one of many tributes beside the route down which the casket will travel through Macksville in procession after the funeral.

Source: Agencies