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Another cricket death provides guidance in Phillip Hughes aftermath

The key figure in shepherding cricketers through another traumatic loss of a teammate, Tasmanian batsman Scott Mason, almost a decade ago has urged cricket administrators and supporters to allow teammates of Phillip Hughes to set their own pace in coming to terms with his death.

Mason, a 28-year-old with two Sheffield Shield centuries to his name, had just completed an entire season on the sidelines as he recovered from open heart surgery to repair a dangerous valve defect.

In the first week of April 2005, a time shield players were due to be on their post-season break, he was already beginning his preparation for the following season by hitting throwdowns in the Bellerive Oval nets from Tim Coyle, a longtime mentor who was Tasmania’s assistant. It was during that session, Mason’s first with the bat since his surgery, that he collapsed due to ongoing heart problems. He died a few days later.

For Brian McFadyen, the Tigers’ head coach who had just accepted a senior coaching role at Cricket Australia’s National Cricket Centre in Brisbane, it was “horrific and, up until now [with Hughes], I’ve never had any experience like it”.

Mason fitted the category of player whose lack of public recognition was balanced by a high level of respect from his peers, particularly his teammates. One of those state teammates was a then little known all-rounder named Shane Watson. So too was Michael Di Venuto, Australia’s batting coach.

Being based in Australia’s smallest state capital city has long made the Tasmanian team close knit, even out of season. Coyle, a now widely respected coach who delivered the eulogy at Mason’s funeral, said that camaraderie proved valuable in coping with the death of ‘Maso’.

“That’s one of the strengths of playing cricket in Tasmania, that you basically stay around the group 12 months of the year . . . they play golf together, they socialise together, their wives and girlfriends are mates,” Coyle said. “At that time it was really important for us to stick together and stay strong and work through that.”

McFadyen, who still works at the National Cricket Centre, reckoned the way Coyle marshalled the players afterwards was a reason he was promoted to the top job, after which then the Tigers broke their shield drought with three titles in eight years, for which Mason was cited as an inspiration.

While Mason remains an admired figure in Tasmanian cricket – a large picture hangs in the Tigers’ dressing rooms – Coyle said for the first year or two afterwards players were still upset about his death, as some still are.

“Time does heal, but those first couple of years there were often times when you thought about him and how good it would be to have him around, not just as a person but as a cricketer.”

Coyle said he struggled to predict what would have occurred had Mason died during the season, as Hughes has, “just on the verge of such a lot of cricket”.

“With what’s transpired, for some people cricket would be the last thing on their mind, but at the end of the day life and cricket will go on. I think Phillip Hughes would want cricket to go on,” he said.

“Some people might come out and say ‘The best thing I can do is come out and play cricket because that’s what Phillip would want me to do and I want to play the best cricket in his honour’, but others will say ‘This game’s too hard’. We just have to respect everyone is going to be a little bit different.”

While not declaring himself an expert, Coyle said his advice to players currently grappling with their emotions in the aftermath of Hughes’ death is to “get as much help as you can”.

“There’s plenty of people out there who are there for you to talk to, be they professional people or people that you trust,” he said.

“One thing you can’t afford to do is just let it bottle up.

“Everyone’s different. Some will take longer than others, and we’ve got to respect that.”

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