From ghost tour to Ashes tour

Darren Gough makes a ghost impression at Shane Watson PA Photos

It was the greatest mystery of Australia's 2005 tour of England: precisely what did Shane Watson see at Lumley Castle? His brush with the paranormal made international headlines - particularly after Darren Gough's ghoulish sledge in the ensuing one-day match at Chester-le-Street - but never has Watson revealed what it was that prompted him to flee his room for the sanctuary of Brett Lee's floor.

Until now. Back in England with the Australian Ashes squad, Watson has disclosed for the first time the bump in the night that drove him to fright. Was it, as Durham locals suspected, an apparition of Lily Lumley, the 14th century maid of the manor who spooked the West Indians five years prior?

"I didn't see anything, but it was a very spooky sort of place and it definitely freaked me out - things that probably aren't there but some people believe are there," Watson said a touch sheepishly. "People go there to actually see the ghosts.

"That night we went out for dinner once we got to Lumley Castle, and there was a couple of blokes... starting to wind me up massively about the place being haunted. [Geoff Goodwin, the coach driver] said certain rooms are more haunted than others, and I got a bit spooked out by that. And then I went back to my room and it was a tiny little room and I had to walk through a dungeon to get there. So I got a bit spooked out. I think I've grown up a bit since then." Will he stay there again? "I hope not," he said. "I have bad memories there. I didn't sleep for four nights."

Aside from the supernatural, Watson's defining memory of his 2005 stint in England was of a player he likened to a superhero. While Watson was plying his trade for Hampshire, Andrew Flintoff was terrorising Australia in perhaps his finest all-round Test series. It was a performance he has not forgotten.

"To see what he did in the Ashes series, it was like he was superman," Watson said. "To me, as an allrounder, those are the heights you want to get to, to feel like you are superman in a way that you're able to achieve the things you want to achieve in both aspects of your game in one big series.

"To me that was a big inspiration, to see someone achieving the things I'm aiming for. Now it's going to be very interesting to see whether the preparation that he's had is going to give him the opportunity to do it again."

The same applies for Watson. A player with astonishing natural talent and work ethic, Watson has been blighted by a seemingly endless procession of knee, back, hamstring and shoulder ailments, limiting him to just eight Tests since his debut against Pakistan four years ago. Hopes for an injury-free tour of England were dented during the week, when a sore left knee sidelined him from Australia's opening tour match against Sussex. The prognosis for a return in Australia's next game against England Lions is positive, but with Watson's injury history, there are few guarantees.

If a positive can be drawn from his many months on the sidelines, it is that Watson uses his time away from the game constructively. While battling a debilitating hamstring injury two seasons ago, he spent numerous hours working to free up his batting technique, and his recent efforts atop the Australian one-day order are testament to their success.

"To see what Andrew Flintoff did in the Ashes series, it was like he was superman. To me, as an allrounder, those are the heights you want to get to, to feel like you are superman in a way that you're able to achieve the things you want to achieve in both aspects of your game in one big series" Shane Watson

Most recently Watson has worked with Dennis Lillee and Troy Cooley to introduce conventional swing into his fast-medium arsenal. The newly-acquired skill-set could prove effective in English conditions - provided, of course, he maintains his fitness over the next few months. "The things I've done technically are definitely going to help my bowling and give me an opportunity to swing the ball and not just angle the ball in like I have been previously," he said. "It will give me a few more things in my repertoire, so I'm very excited by it.

"I'm never going to be someone like Ben Hilfenhaus, who swings the ball big out of the hand, but this is going to give me the opportunity to have the ball in my repertoire that I didn't have before. Like with my batting... when you see that come together it's very exciting."

Watson was considered a certainty to claim the No. 6 position in the Australian batting line-up in the 2006-07 Ashes series, only for a hamstring injury to rule him out of the series and open the door for Andrew Symonds. This time, he begins the tour of England behind Marcus North, the incumbent all-rounder, and has already missed one chance to impress selectors in Hove. Watson is under no illusions as to the difficulty he faces in dislodging North from the starting XI.

"I think it's going to be very hard to knock him out," Watson said. "He batted absolutely beautifully in his first Test in Johannesburg in really tough conditions. If I did that, I'd expect to get a good run at it. My expectation is that it's going to be unbelievably hard to dislodge him at the moment because he's been able to perform when he's got that opportunity. If and when I get an opportunity in the tour matches or whenever it is, I've got to perform."