MELBOURNE (Reuters) - An Australia team still mourning the tragic death of Phillip Hughes face the biggest mental battle of their careers in playing the first test against India next week, according to former captain Ricky Ponting.
Australia host the first match of the four-test series in Adelaide from Tuesday, less than a week after batsman Hughes's funeral, and Ponting said the collective loss of their team mate would far outweigh any personal tragedies players had previously brought into a game.
"None of the things that have happened before compare to what the players are dealing with after Phillip’s death," Ponting wrote in a column in The Australian newspaper.
"We are in uncharted waters and the boys are going to have to dig deeper than they ever have.
"This will be the biggest mental battle any of them will have encountered, but I have faith they can pull it off.
"In a perfect world I want to see the team come together and go out there as one, but I understand that some might find it impossible. For cricket’s sake, I hope that they can all do it."
Ponting, who retired in 2012 after 168 tests, spoke of playing with a heavy heart after deaths in his own family and said cricket at the highest level was "a job that has to be done no matter what's going on in your life".
"Like everyone in the community, cricketers have to show up at work and suck it up when things are rough," he added.
"Your wife or kids can be sick, there might be trouble at home, but too often this can happen when you are on the road and there’s not even the chance to drop in at the end of the day and sort out the mess."
Hughes died from a severe head injury after being struck by a short-pitched ball, prompting debate about whether "bouncers" should be banned or further limited.
Former Australia fast bowler Merv Hughes said players should send in a short ball first thing in the Adelaide test and Ponting agreed.
"I would love to see a bouncer bowled as the first ball in Adelaide on Tuesday," he said. "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. Or at least start the healing."
(Writing by Ian Ransom; Editing by Patrick Johnston)