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Spirit of cricket a hot topic at inquest

Australia batsman David Warner struggled in Sri Lanka
Spirit of cricket a hot topic at inquest
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The spirit of cricket has always been somewhat of an abstract concept.

Countless players, pundits, punters, officials and even a few politicians have attempted to spell out what constitutes "crossing the line". Few have had much success.

Rarely has the issue taken on such sombre and serious connotations as the discussions to follow Phillip Hughes' shock death.

They started almost two years ago and this week continued in the formal setting of Sydney's Downing Centre.

The topics of sledging and short-pitched bowling continue to feature heavily in an inquest into the death of Hughes, with lawyers probing whether either tactic exacerbated the risk of Hughes being fatally injured.

Ash Barrow and Michael Graham-Smith, umpires in control of play at the SCG when Hughes was felled, spoke on Tuesday of how they were content with the way day one of that Sheffield Shield match was policed.

There have been mixed testimonies this week regarding just how much NSW set out to intimidate Hughes with short-pitched deliveries.

But in terms of alleged verbals directed at the South Australia batsman and whether any of them were untoward, Barrow, Graham-Smith, David Warner and Tom Cooper all shared similar accounts on Tuesday.

"The only sledging I recall was one player referred to the weight of another player," Graham-Smith offered.

Warner, providing evidence from South Africa, chuckled when asked to detail his on-field conversations with Hughes on the day his former teammate was struck on the neck by a bouncer.

Warner smirked, explaining it wouldn't be appropriate for him to recount it to a courtroom.

Australia's vice-captain, who memorably clutched Hughes' hand when he was loaded onto a medicab and taken from the field, was more firm when grilled by Greg Melick SC.

"He wasn't sledged at all," Warner declared, when questioned by counsel representing Hughes' family.

Warner noted that banter is common in Test cricket but that wasn't the case at the domestic level.

"Since I played I haven't heard anything in Shield cricket," the opening batsman said.

When it was suggested by Melick that Hughes was targeted by bowlers in an "ungentlemanly way", Warner was again forthright.

"I'd have to disagree," he said.

Warner's testimony came a day after NSW paceman Doug Bollinger denied muttering the words "I'm going to kill you" on the day Hughes died.

Cooper, a pallbearer at Hughes' funeral who batted alongside the talented youngster in the final innings of his life, agreed on Tuesday that was the case.

The main cause of contention on Tuesday was what constituted short-pitched bowling and whether umpires should take a more proactive role in protecting batsmen. Barrow, Graham-Smith, Warner and Cooper all gave evidence that a short-pitched salvo directed at Hughes after lunch was nothing unusual.

Simon Taufel, a former high-profile umpire who later performed senior roles at the International Cricket Council (ICC) and Cricket Australia (CA), agreed.

"There was nothing that stood out to suggest the umpires should have intervened ... they acted accordingly and appropriately," Taufel said.

He noted it was up to the game's administrators to consider tweaking any of the relevant laws. That is a conversation that will continue at CA and the ICC but regardless of the inquest's findings, both bodies will struggle to define and enforce the spirit of cricket.

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