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Nepal

Emotions run high at Hughes tribute match in Nepal

Kathmandu locals turn out in droves to honour Phillip Hughes in landmark memorial clash

It’s timely to wonder just what the late Phillip Hughes might have made of the uplifting events that came to pass at Kathmandu’s bucolic yet boisterous Kirtipur Tribhuvan University Stadium which today hosted a unique 63-over match in his honour.

True, Hughes had not set foot - let alone unfurled his remarkable batting talents - in a nation where cricket carries a fanatical public support that, thus far, remains inversely proportional to Nepal’s accomplishments on the game’s global stage.

Nor is it known whether he harboured ambitions to one day join the throngs of international travellers who come to the hub of the Himalayas to find serenity further from sea level, if not closer to God.

Certainly, his passion for cattle raising would have been appreciated as much as his cricket ability in a seething, sprawling city where the animals can regularly be found standing stoic and sacred amid the maelstrom of Kathmandu’s choking traffic.

Nepal, Australia and CAN flags blow at the Kirtipur Tribhuvan University Stadium // cricket.com.au

But it’s safe to suggest that if Hughes was still with us and happened to be in Kathmandu on this sunny, celebratory afternoon he would have wanted to be at the venue that Cricket Association of Nepal officials hope will become the rejuvenated rallying point for their team’s growing international status.

That’s because if there was a cricket match going, the cheekily irrepressible left-hander with an insatiable hunger for the game wanted to be involved.

"It’s hard to say, he was certainly a modest and unassuming character,” NSW batsman Ryan Carters told cricket.com.au when asked how he felt Hughes would have responded to the notion of a sold-out, nationally televised match in an unprecedented format being staged in his name.

"He was a champion of actions, and someone whose actions always spoke much louder than his words.

"So it’s not for me to suppose what he might have thought of this but I hope people from throughout the cricket world who knew him will be touched by this tribute.

"He certainly would have wanted to play, and I have no doubt he would have wanted to score an unbeaten century." 

The genesis of the tribute match came from the flood of condolences received at Cricket Australia’s Jolimont offices in the dark days that followed Hughes’s passing last November.

CA Chairman Wally Edwards, who was an enthralled observer as well as a passionate champion of today’s match, recalled at a pre-match function at the Australian Embassy in Kathmandu last night that he was touched by the offer that came in from the Cricket Association of Nepal (CAN).

A small but proud member of the worldwide cricket family, CAN through their recently-appointed chief executive Bhawana Ghimire felt moved to offer some form of recognition for a young man whose deeds and premature death has clearly touched many a nerve in cricket-savvy Nepal.

Social media has been awash with Nepali cricket fans posting heartfelt tributes since Hughes was struck while batting, and died two days later.

The idea of a Memorial Tribute Match of 63 overs (31.3 overs per side) in honour of the score on which Hughes will remain forever unbeaten came with the additional suggestion that artifacts from the fallen Test batsman’s cricket life could be carried to the roof of the world.

That the poignantly practical acts of tribute that saw families, clubs, individuals and organisations ‘put out their bats’ in memory of Phillip Hughes might culminate in a bat once used by the man himself, carried to the highest point on the planet where it will be lifted one final time.

One of Hughes’s Kookaburra bats, along with one apiece of his Test and ODI shirts will be presented in Kathmandu tomorrow to Chhurim Sherpa, the first woman climber to have reached the summit of Mount Everest twice in a climbing season. 

From there, she will lead an expedition that will take these items of Hughes’s kit to the summit of Everest almost 9km above sea level.

As Edwards noted at last night’s function, it was the sincerity, the simplicity, the novelty and the community-driven nature of CAN’s correspondence that made such a compelling case to see that it came to pass.

It also, as the Chairman candidly revealed, “brought a tear to our eyes”.

In showing their capacity to visualise, organise, plan and deliver such a significant logistical undertaking with the full support and scrutiny of Cricket Australia and the International Cricket Council, CAN has done its own case for a greater international presence no harm.

Today’s match was preceded by a moving ceremony in which 63 young dancers, some holding aloft placards spelling out ‘Phillip Hughes’, performed a routine that culminated in the release of two white doves.

Then followed 63 seconds of silence to honour the memories of Hughes and Richie Benaud (63 Tests) for Australia, and the visage of the younger man was a subtle yet constant presence around the venue where more than 10,000 fans congregated on the grass banks today.

As reported on cricket.com.au yesterday, Edwards has committed to the Tribute Fixture being played annually in Kathmandu and has pledged that Australia will field a full representative XI for subsequent matches rather than the smattering of Australian players involved in today’s match. 

In addition to Carters, who captained the Red team which also included a number of Nepal’s national players, the ‘away’ side boasted former Test opener Matthew Elliott, Perth-born Charlie Burke who is currently Hong Kong’s senior coach, and ex-Australia under-19 captain Tim Anderson now Head of Global Development with the ICC.

Carters, who like many of his compatriot teammates struggled to come to terms with the slow, spinning pitch at a stadium hosting its first major cricket match in two years, said he had no hesitation in getting involved in the game when he was first approached.

As a player who, like Hughes, has represented two States at first-class level, Carters played against the former batting prodigy for Victoria and then New South Wales when Hughes was representing the Blues and later South Australia.

Carters also has a direct connection with Nepal even though this is his first visit to the nation, with the charity he founded ‘Batting for Change’ having funded the construction of three new classrooms at the Heartland School in Kathmandu.

“When I first heard about it just after Christmas, I thought it was a really nice gesture from the Cricket Association of Nepal to remember someone who was a champion in the local cricket community after a tragic event that affected everyone throughout that community,” Carters said.

“So I was delighted to be able to be involved, and to get behind it.

“I was also excited to come to Kathmandu, it’s a place that’s quite a romantic destination in my mind with so much history and so many wonderful trips based from Kathmandu.

“And the cricket ground is such a beautiful setting with the mountains in the background and lots of grass banks for the crowd.

“As well as being a tribute it’s a great opportunity to build a relationship between Australia and Nepal in cricket and a chance for a lot of the Nepal players to showcase their skills in matches that garner a bit of attention and to foster some longer term ties that will further grow and develop cricket here.” 

Fans watch on in the 63-over match // cricket.com.au

As the day unfolded, the symbolism, the ceremony and the sense of divided loyalties for home fans were consumed by the tension of competition that peaked in the final nine deliveries of a game that turned on Elliott’s hitherto underrated left-arm orthodox bowling.

The ex-Test opener had managed 12 before being stumped, with Carters making 16, Anderson 13 (plus a torn right quadriceps muscle) and Burke a first-ball duck to an unplayable delivery that pitched on leg stump and hit off.

But amid the emotion of Nepal captain Binod Das’s final appearance after 15 years in a team that he came to symbolise as well as represent, the crowd-favourite Blue team stumbled with just six runs needed and as many wickets in hand when the final over and a half began.

Elliott’s three wickets in four balls secured him man of the match honours, and a failed attempt to sneak a second bye from the 31.3rd delivery saw the Red team take home the Phillip Hughes Trophy by the margin of a solitary run. 

Elliott with his man of the match tophy as Carters walks off after a close finish // cricket.com.au

As if by script, their score of 163 prevailed in a match where the admission charge was 1.63 Nepalese rupees.

In a nation that recognises more deities than Australia has people, perhaps a higher force had indeed been at play.