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Sport's biggest names pay their respects

The funeral of Phillip Hughes touched more than just the cricket community

As mourners slowly departed the grounds surrounding Macksville High School this afternoon, two of the biggest names in Australian sport stopped to share a heartbreak that has both saddened and united the nation.

As Australian skipper Michael Clarke began the drive into town to join fellow mourners at the wake for his "little brother" Phillip Hughes, he stopped his car and wound down his window to accept the condolences of Australian rugby league star Greg Inglis.

The pair shook hands and had a short exchange, with Inglis no doubt praising Clarke for the emotional tribute he had bravely delivered some 30 minutes earlier.

Greg Inglis

Greg Inglis and Sally Robinson arrive at the funeral // Getty Images

Inglis hails from the town of Bowraville, just 15km up the road from Macksville, a short detour off the Pacific Highway that hugs the north coast of NSW.

That the South Sydney star represents Queensland in the fiercely-contested State of Origin series would normally make him persona non grata in these parts, but this was a day when all sporting rivalries were put on hold.

Among the crowd of black suits was a stoic Sean Abbott, the 22-year-old NSW allrounder who bowled the fatal delivery that struck Hughes at the SCG last week. The Nine Network opted not to show Abbott on its coverage, but his presence as part of the NSW team took considerable courage. 

He wore sunglasses and was supported by his parents and girlfriend Brier Neill during the long walk, with the procession route marked by green and gold ribbons.

The march along Wallace Street ended at the Pacific Highway with pubs in Macksville packed as mourners reflected on the sudden loss of a local hero gone too soon.

Sean Abbott in Macksville

Sean Abbott and Brier Niell march in the procession // Getty Images

Members of the touring Indian cricket team, including stand-in captain Virat Kohli, coach Duncan Fletcher and team director Ravi Shastri, made the long journey from Adelaide via Sydney and Coffs Harbour to pay their respects.

West Indies legend Brian Lara arrived in the hot afternoon sun alongside long-time rival Shane Warne, while New Zealand great Sir Richard Hadlee was also in attendance.

Hadlee said the tearful tribute to Hughes from New Zealand's players during their Test against Pakistan last week showed that the often spiteful trans-Tasman rivalry applied only to pursuits on the sporting field.

"It was their way of saying 'thank you, we respect you for your contribution to the game'," Hadlee said of the Black Caps, who etched PH on their shirts and joined the #PutOutYourBats movement during the match in Sharjah.

"It’s wonderful to see the current players and many players of yesteryear actually here at this occasion to farewell.

"We are a cricketing family, and clearly as opponents in club or provincial and state cricket or in international cricket, you try hard, you play hard, you try to play within the spirit of the game.

"But when you lose one of your fellow players it’s important we acknowledge the contribution of that player."

Sir Richard Hadlee

Sir Richard Hadlee in Macksville // Getty Images

The fact that Inglis was here, along with NSW State of Origin coach Laurie Daley and NRL player turned boxer Anthony Mundine, would have delighted Hughes, whose love of rugby league was second only to cricket, at least when it came to sporting passions.

The politicians were here as well; Prime Minister Tony Abbott, Opposition Leader Bill Shorten, Federal Minister for Sport Peter Dutton and NSW premier Mike Baird.

And of course, a who's who of Australian cricket were present, along with thousands of Macksville locals in farewelling the much-loved left-hander.

Along with Australia's current Test squad and state players from all around the country, retired greats like Warne, Ricky Ponting, Matthew Hayden, Justin Langer and Michael Hussey were among the mourners.

Some are ex-teammates of Hughes's, some are former opponents, while some just admired him from afar like thousands of fans from across the sporting world.

"I didn’t know him anywhere near as well as some of the players he played with, but I think he’s had an impact on all of us who follow cricket," said former skipper Mark Taylor.

"We’re a competitive lot. We like to win. But we also don’t like to see situations like we’ve seen over the last week, and that really brings us together.

"It’s terrific that there have been people that have come from Western Australia over here for today.

"Richard Hadlee’s turned up to represent New Zealand Cricket. We’ve got David Richardson from the ICC, flown in from Dubai just for the funeral today.

"That’s shows Phil’s impact on the game and the impact of what happened to him last week."

Matthew Hayden

Matthew Hayden joins the march in Macksville // Getty Images

Hayden, the opening batsman whose retirement at the end of the 2008-09 summer gave Hughes the opportunity to make his debut in February 2009 against South Africa, drove down from Queensland with his parents to attend the funeral.

"It's been a long time since I've had a road trip with mum and dad, so we were re-living I guess a lot of what Phillip had as a country cricketer, the driving here, there and everywhere to play what is a magnificent game and one which is so important to country communities right across Australia," said Hayden.

"Cricket and cricketers are already playing, albeit respectfully. Where cricket will go from here from a process point of view – it will continue to be played, it will continue to thrive and continue to honour the services of Phillip Hughes."