Phillip Hughes didn’t want to play cricket at first.
But, after honing a talent in hundreds of backyard matches, he ended up personifying the “Australian cricketing dream”.
Hughes was a “one of a kind, a young kid from the country who dared to dream big”, his cousin Nino Ramunno told thousands of mourners at his funeral at the Macksville High school hall on Wednesday.
“(He) showed if you set your mind to it you can achieve greatness.”
Mr Ramunno said a young Hughes may never have picked up a bat at all had it not been for his brother Jason whose under 10s team was short of players.
“Out of pure desperation to play, Jason decided he would ask his brother Phillip to fill in, as without Phillip the team would have to forfeit the match.”
Mr Ramunno said the request was at first met with a stern no but Phillip “finally agreed to his brother’s request, albeit begrudgingly”.
“On debut Phillip made his cricketing appearance as a tailender scoring 25 runs, and from that moment he fell in love with the game,” he said.
“That was the start of hundreds if not thousands of games of backyard cricket held at various backyards of … Macksville.”
Mr Ramunno said even nightfall couldn’t stop the young Hughes brothers.
“When it was time for dinner, usually marked by the coming of the street lights, everyone would return home and this is where Phillip and Jason continued their matches as their backyard was equipped with lights”, he quipped.
He was picked in his first NSW team at the age of 12, which was when the big city started to take notice of the country kid, Mr Ramunno said.
Five years later he moved to Sydney and three years after that, Hughes made his Test debut for Australia.
Hughes, 25, died last week after being struck by a bouncer during a Sheffield Shield match at the Sydney Cricket Ground.
The young star’s grieving family was joined at his funeral by many of the world’s cricketing elite and thousands of mourners at the small mid-north coast town.
In his tribute, Cricket Australia CEO James Sutherland said Hughes personified the “spirit of Australian cricket”.
“Ever since Bradman the image of the innocent country boy playing in the backyard while dreaming of wearing a baggy green cap has become entrenched in our psyche,” Mr Sutherland told the service.
“It’s our foundation myth as a cricketing nation and Phillip loved that dream.
“His journey from the backyard to baggy green cap 408 personified the Australian cricketing dream.”