So many batsmen are hit on the head these days (I’m of the school of thought that says helmets encourage them to take their eye off the ball), but Hughes had the awful misfortune of being struck on the side of the neck, just below his helmet’s grille, flush on the vertebral artery, which split and caused the fatal brain haemorrhage.
South Africans have also been mourning the 25-year-old Australian, not least of all because he greatly impressed everyone on these shores with his grit and unorthodox talent as he averaged 53 against the Proteas in five Tests, scoring two centuries and two half-centuries.
The national team has, of course, just returned from Australia, where their 4-1 ODI series hammering caused much soul-searching and anguish amongst their fans, before being overshadowed by the real tragedy that unfolded in Sydney.
Whatever AB de Villiers so brashly said upon his return home about being the better side and South Africa’s World Cup plans being on track, serious questions have been raised about the Proteas’ ability to seriously contend at the global showpiece tournament starting in 11 weeks’ time.
Most worryingly, there is no further ODI cricket scheduled for them before they have to announce their final 15-man squad for the World Cup on January 7. So the five-match series against the West Indies will not provide the selectors with the opportunity to find someone who can bale them out of their current problems in terms of balance and form, because it starts on January 16. Neither is there any franchise 50-over cricket before then.
The squad that plays against the West Indies will be the World Cup squad and those 15 players will have dress rehearsals on five days in which they have to regain form and convince their fans that they are the strong contenders they perceive themselves to be.
South Africa’s most pressing need would seem to be to fill the number seven position with someone who can genuinely contribute with bat and ball. Ryan McLaren, with his mediocre bowling and his weakness against the short ball when batting, has done little lately to suggest he could be a match-winner in that vital position. Sadly, the schedule has dictated that the selectors are not going to be able to see what David Wiese can do.
I would back the Titans all-rounder because he brings power-hitting and a proven ability at the death, as well as the sort of bowling skills the South African attack desperately needs to master on what should be good batting pitches in Australasia.
In terms of cover, the 15-man squad will need to include two extra pace bowlers – perhaps one containing and one more attacking – an extra batsman who can bowl a bit and either an extra spinner or a top-order batsman.
This means Kyle Abbott must surely have secured his ticket, while I would choose Lonwabo Tsotsobe, in great form since returning from injury, ahead of Wayne Parnell. This would also reduce the pressure on the selectors in terms of Black African representation; although Aaron Phangiso deserves to go to the World Cup, his ill-timed injury and the need for top-order batting cover could count against him.
The selection of both Rilee Rossouw and Farhaan Behardien would facilitate cover for both the top three and the middle-order, with Behardien able to fulfil the crucial role of a sixth bowler that was vital in JP Duminy’s absence.
The presence of a genuine all-rounder like Wiese at seven would enable the Proteas to avoid the problem of either having to go into games a batsman or a bowler short, but the other issue they need to solve is not one of personnel but one of skills.
The bowling in the death overs was generally poor and the failure to consistently execute yorkers, slower-ball bouncers and changes of pace means the South Africans lack the weapons the other top teams enjoy.
My World Cup squad: Hashim Amla, Quinton de Kock, Faf du Plessis, AB de Villiers, JP Duminy, David Miller, David Wiese, Vernon Philander, Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel, Imran Tahir, Kyle Abbott, Lonwabo Tsotsobe, Farhaan Behardien, Rilee Rossouw.