Watson wrestles with Hughes memories
Remembering Phillip Hughes will be central to the Test match at Adelaide Oval this week, but so too will be forgetting. For as much as Australia's cricketers want to honour Hughes' memory through tributes and observances, they know that the moment the ball is about to be bowled, minds cannot be allowed to drift back to Macksville, St Vincent's Hospital, nor the awful events that befell Hughes at the SCG two Tuesdays ago.
Shane Watson was on the field for New South Wales that day, watching Hughes bat and then suddenly rushing to his aid. He and others have fought their own apprehension over three days of training in Adelaide, slowly returning to the familiar rhythms of batting and bowling, attack and defence and instinctive responses to the ball hurtling down towards them in the nets. Though he admitted to suffering flashbacks of Hughes' death, Watson said he would be ready come Tuesday.
"I'm getting there. Physically I feel ready to go," Watson said. "There's no doubt that mentally the last couple of days have been the most challenging of my career to be honest, after seeing what happened over the last week, trying to process everything that's happened, being there at the SCG when it happened as well. It's been a mentally challenging time but I'll be ready for Tuesday. Everyone's going through the process in their own way and everyone's handling it as well as they possibly can.
"The first couple of sessions were tough, especially the first one was really tough. A few things flooded into my head as soon as I went out to bat. I thought I'd processed quite well over the previous week. It's been tough but it's been a great thing to get back into the game we all love playing. We know how much Phillip and his family love the game as well. For us, to continue on with Hughes and his family's legacy to make sure we continue to play the game we love because it's enriched our lives so much."
Australia's first session on Friday took place at Park 25, starting with an address from the team's Adelaide inspiration "Nugget" Rees, before numerous training drills geared to drawing laughter as well as sweat from previously frowning faces. Net sessions have been encouragingly competitive and spiced with the sorts of bouncers that must inevitably come once the Test begins. Watson said the process of regathering trust in one's own skills to play the game had been a central part of preparation for Tuesday.
"I've got more comfortable with just reacting to what I see and trusting my skill," Watson said. "That's probably the simplest thing now … after what I experienced and the other guys experienced over the last week. I just go back to trusting my game and trusting my skill.
"You know that if at any stage you get a ball, and you get unlucky, and it hits you in the wrong spot it can cause some serious damage, but that's just part of the game - you hope your skill can get you out of trouble. I knew I had to confront it from day one when I went in at Park 25, and every day that I've gone in I felt more comfortable, and with one day to go I know I'll be ready."
Australia's hallmark last summer was aggression, whether with bat, ball or banter. Watson said the team had resolved to regain that sort of approach, and used some memories older than those of the SCG as an example of why. The 2013 India tour was among Australia's unhappiest of all, and the players present - all but Ryan Harris, Chris Rogers, Shaun Marsh and Josh Hazlewood were part of that tour - wish to give India's players a similarly difficult experience down under.
"We've played our best cricket when we are aggressive. That's ever since I've been involved in the Australian cricket team," Watson said. "When we are aggressive with bat and ball, but especially with the ball as we were during the last Ashes series. That's not going to change because that's when we're at our absolute best.
"We know what we have to do to do well against the Indians. They hammered us in their conditions so we have a lot to give back to them in our conditions. We need to make sure we start off well in that series and stay strong to make sure they feel a similar pain as we did over in India."
As much as anything, these words suggested that once Hughes' life is acknowledged by a 63-second ovation by players and spectators alike on Tuesday morning, battle can be resumed in the sort of willing manner commonly associated with meetings between Australia and India. Memories of Hughes will continue to flourish, but flashbacks to the SCG will be replaced by all thoughts technical, mental, and cricket.
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @danbrettig