The emotional road back to competition begins Tuesday for Australia’s Test cricketers following the death of batsman Phillip Hughes.
The Adelaide Oval match against India, with question marks over whether injured captains Michael Clarke and MS Dhoni will play, will serve as yet another tribute to the fallen Australian player.
Cricket Australia said Sunday that spectators will be asked to stand for 63 seconds of applause before the match begins. Hughes was 63 not out when he was struck by a short-pitched delivery at the Sydney Cricket Ground on November 25, and died two days later from his injuries.
The Australian players will also wear Hughes’ Test cap No 408 on their shirts.
Clarke is trying to overcome hamstring issues, while India skipper Dhoni is dealing with a fractured left thumb.
There were reports Sunday that Clarke had trained well and without much pain at a small suburban park. The news was not as good for Dhoni, who completed only a light nets session on Sunday.
Both teams are anxious to get back on the pitch. The scheduled first Test last week in Brisbane was postponed and shifted to a December 17 start after Hughes died, making the Adelaide Oval Test the first of a four-match series.
Australian players, many of them in shock after Hughes’ death, have only been back training the past few days. India also lost match practice when a two-day game was cancelled.
Australian allrounder Shane Watson, who was on the field for New South Wales when Hughes, playing for South Australia, suffered his fatal injuries at the SCG, admitted to some trepidation when he faced his first deliveries in the nets.
“There’s a lot of inner demons we’ve had to find our way through,” Watson said Sunday. “It’s been the most challenging, mentally, couple of days I’ve had to go through in my career. 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, but the memories I’ve got are very much in the front of my mind.”
Regardless of the somber tone coming into the match, India opener Shikhar Dhawan is not expecting anything but a fired-up Australian team led by paceman Mitchell Johnson.
Dhawan hopes to react to that approach in the same way.
“I feel that you need an aggressive opener in today’s cricket which can turn things around,” Dhawan said Sunday. “So that will be a very good thing for us. And I would love to play that role.”
Dhawan, who lives in Melbourne with his Australian-born wife, said there was “no fear factor” in confronting Johnson.
Australia coach Darren Lehmann said none of his players would be forced to play if they are still being affected by the carryover from Hughes’ death.
“We hope the boys can find the inner strength to play the game in the way Phillip would have wanted in Adelaide and that they can honour what he had done,” he said last week, “It’s going to be hard and if somebody is struggling Michael and I understand. There is no pressure on them.
“We will look after them and we will help them get back to the place where they can play.”
Former Australia captain Ricky Ponting wants to see some immediate closure on Tuesday.
“I would love to see a bouncer bowled as the first ball in Adelaide,” Ponting wrote in a newspaper column this weekend. “It would clear the air, announce that the game is on, and if that’s done I think it might have a healing effect on everybody.”
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