Shane Watson reveals mental toll of Hughes tragedy

Former Test cricketer Shane Watson has opened up about the mental toll that the death of Phillip Hughes had on him, saying he was never scared when facing fast bowling until after that fateful day.

Speaking on Big Bash commentator Mark Howard’s sports podcast, The Howie Games, the Sydney Thunder skipper talked about his time in the baggy green, before going on to discuss how much different facing short bowling was after the tragic incident in November 2014.

“I didn’t have fear honestly up until Phil Hughes got killed. Fast bowling was always my strength … I was fielding at first slip when Phil got hit, so it wasn’t until that moment that fear came into my game massively, and that was one of the reasons why against fast bowling in my career, in my performance with the bat started to really dive, because I had no idea how to deal with it.”

Hughes was batting for South Australia in a Sheffield Shield match at the SCG, when a short ball from Sean Abbott struck him in the neck.

“The innocence of the game of cricket went immediately,” Watson said. “I always knew that you could get hurt of course … if a ball went through my helmet I could fracture my face or my eye socket or jaw or whatever it was but never ever contemplated that you could actually get killed.

“I had a two-year-old son at that stage. Will was two and just the thought that went through and continued to go through my mind for a long period of time, was ‘what if that was me?’. Like what happens to my family, not just my mum and dad, but my wife and my son.”

The 36-year-old retired from international cricket in 2016, last playing Tests and one day internationals on Australia’s tour of England in 2015, before walking away from internationals altogether at the end of the World Twenty20 the following year – and says that the shock death of his former teammate attributed to a decline in his own abilities to play against fast bowling.

Watson’s Test average after the incident slumped to 28.25, and he failed to make a century in any of those 12 post-Hughes innings, reaching his half-century only twice – well below his career average of 35.19.

“That’s where subconsciously the fear just continued to be there for a long period of time. Until I actually really understood how to deal with it. To be able to one, talk about it as a starting point, because I could not talk about it if anyone ever bought it up or anything I just shut it down.”

But a chance meeting with Indycar driver Will Power at the Dally M awards put Watson in contact with a performance coach in America, who had a history of working with professional drivers as well as fighter pilots and special operations troops. After flying to Charlotte and having sessions, Watson has been able to process what happened that day more effectively.

“From that moment on I’ve been able to talk about it very openly, I can understand, I can put things in place, whereas before I could not talk about it because I had no mechanism in place to be able to deal with it at all. So that’s the beauty of life: people just come along at a certain stage of your life which is the right thing at the right time, which is exactly what happened.”

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