The Test match which begins in Adelaide on Tuesday is a new beginning for cricket. Looming over it is the tragic death of Phillip Hughes. His memory will pervade the game between Australia and India – one in which he might well have played – as well as the whole summer after it and perhaps professional cricket beyond that.
It was noticeable at Australia’s first training session in the city on Friday, two days after Hughes’s funeral, that the fast bowlers were not sparing in their use of bouncers. It was a bouncer that caused terminal injury to Hughes in a Sheffield Shield match at Sydney Cricket Ground when in an unprecedented accident the ball hit him in the neck and severed a crucial artery leading to the brain.
This was the players’ way of saying that the game must go on. Indeed, in his column in The Australian yesterday the former Australia captain Ricky Ponting wrote: “I would love to see a bouncer bowled as the first ball in Adelaide. It would clear the air, announce the game is on, and if that’s done I think it might have a healing effect on everybody. Or at least start the healing.”
It is Mitchell Johnson, the fastest, most destructive, brutal bowler of the age, to whom most attention will be directed. Johnson is a great cricketer, indeed the world cricketer of the year for the second time, and he has intimidated some of the most accomplished batsmen of the era. But Johnson is also a thoroughly good bloke, and in the wake of what happened to his friend Phillip Hughes, and how it happened, the 90mph swinging throat ball might not be easy to propel.
But Hughes’s death goes beyond mere bouncers. It has affected the very fabric of the game and sport in general, and everyone who plays it, in the most poignant fashion. Everyone appreciates that the game must go on, but they have given pause to reflect on whether it should go on as before.
Australia desperately want and need to be led by their captain, Michael Clarke, who conducted himself with extraordinary grace after Hughes’s death. But the return to playing means also a return to more mundane matters, and Clarke is in a race against time to be fit because of a hamstring injury.
There is bound to be a sombre atmosphere at the Adelaide Oval. Adelaide was Hughes’s adopted home city and he was lining himself up nicely for a recall to the Test side when he was struck down.
Clarke trained with the squad yesterday, had two separate batting practices and the portents are looking good. His recent Test form has been moderate, with one score above 47 (161 against South Africa last February) in 17 innings. But his status as the captain and leader is unquestioned, and at this hour of all hours the team need him.
Brad Haddin, the vice-captain, who would take over in the event of Clarke’s absence, said yesterday he had not thought about the prospect. He also indicated the brand of cricket Australia played would not change.
“I think once we are out there, we will be there to play our style of cricket,” he said. “I don’t think we have to complicate and look too deeply into things. It’s about getting out there and playing the game of cricket.”
No Test match, or many games of any type, will ever have had such a macabre focus. The players are dealing with that and with their own feelings. Australia will want to do it for their friend Hughesy, feeling that he should be there with them in more than spirit.
Cook named captain of World Cup squad
England have confirmed that Alastair Cook will lead the side at the World Cup in Australasia in February. Cook has been under pressure due to a lack of runs and poor results. Today in Colombo England play the fourth of seven ODIs in Sri Lanka, aiming to level at 2-2.
30-man England provisional squad: A Cook (Essex, capt), M Ali (Worcs), J Anderson (Lancs), J Bairstow (Yorks), G Ballance (Yorks), I Bell (Warks), R Bopara (Essex), T Bresnan (Yorks), S Broad (Notts), J Brooks (Yorks), J Buttler (Lancs), S Finn (Middx), H Gurney (Notts), A Hales (Notts), C Jordan (Sussex), C Kieswetter (Som), E Morgan (Middx), S Parry (Lancs), S Patel (Notts), L Plunkett (Yorks), B Rankin (Warks), A Rashid (Yorks), J Root (Yorks), J Roy (Surrey), B Stokes (Durham), J Taylor (Notts), J Tredwell (Kent), JVince (Hants), C Woakes (Warks), L Wright (Sussex).
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