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Governor-General speaks to Australian cricket team

Governor-General Sir Peter Cosgrove has praised Michael Clarke and Darren Lehmann for their “outstanding” leadership and told the national team Phillip Hughes will always be the “13th man by your side”.

The head of state addressed the side after training on Sunday to tell them they had his support after Hughes’ tragic death last month.

Mr Cosgrove, a retired senior Australian Army officer who served in Vietnam and East Timor, characterised Clarke and Lehmann’s leadership as being “outstanding during these difficult days”.

Clarke delivered a touching tribute at Hughes’ funeral on Wednesday, which was widely praised. It came just days after he choked back tears while reading a statement on behalf of his team.

Mr Cosgrove told the side that the tremendous spirit of cricket had shone through during the tragedy and that “for this Test team, there will always be a 13th man by your side”.

The best way of honouring Hughes, who played 26 Tests, would be to play good, competitive cricket, Mr Cosgrove said.

Mr Cosgrove had released a public statement last week and also wrote a letter of condolence to the Hughes family.

A former Australian Rugby Union board member, Mr Cosgrove is also an avid cricket fan.

Former vice-captain Shane Watson missed the speech due to an extra session of batting but was confident the team would draw meaning from someone of Mr Cosgrove’s standing.

“I would have loved to have been there. Unfortunately, they don’t wait for someone who is trying to get their game right for Tuesday,” Watson said with a smile.

The first Test, to be played at Hughes’ adopted home town of Adelaide, is set to be one of the most emotional games of cricket played in this country.

Cricket Australia have planned a series of tributes themed around his Test cap No.408 and his final inning of 63 not out.

The Australian team will wear the number 408 on their shirts and black armbands for the first Test in honour of their former teammate.

Both sides will stand before a large 408 painted on the Adelaide Oval while viewing a video tribute to Hughes narrated by Richie Benaud.

The tribute will be played on the big screens at the venue.

Players and fans will also be invited to stand for 63 seconds of applause rather than the traditional minute’s silence.

“With the international season re-commencing on Tuesday, it is appropriate to pause once more and honour a modest hero who thrilled the nation and, in so doing, won an enduring place in our hearts,” Cricket Australia chief executive James Sutherland said.

“We hope that the cricket community can come together to join the Australian and Indian teams in the pre-match tribute.

“Soon after arriving in Adelaide, Phillip became a crowd favourite playing for Australia,  South Australia and the Adelaide Strikers.

“This is an opportunity for those that embraced him so fondly to say goodbye.

“We hope that followers of the game will make their way to Adelaide Oval to pay tribute to Phillip and support the Australian team at a difficult time.”

Storm dampens Shane van Gisbergen win as Jamie Whincup celebrates sixth V8 title

The thunderous and spectacular V8 Supercars deferred to altogether more impressive forces at the Sydney 500 once again.

Rumbling racecars were overpowered by a spectacular electrical storm that flooded the circuit and saw spectators evicted from grandstands over fears they may be struck by lightning.

New Zealand rain master Shane van Gisbergen took victory after 45 laps of racing, leading home the Holden Racing Team duo of Garth Tander and James Courtney in a static finish parked in pit lane.

Van Gisbergen said race directors made the right decision in putting the race to a stop.

“It was dicey trying to keep up with the safety car, he was pulling away from me,” he said.

“It was dangerous again, they made the right call.”

Van Gisbergen is renowned for his wet-weather prowess despite a firm preference for dry conditions. The racer credits growing up in New Zealand for his ability to find grip where others only find concrete walls.

“I had some races in Formula Ford that were like today, especially down in the south island,” he said.

“I don’t like racing in it but I know how to do it, to do it well and make the car work.

“But dry races are always better.”

The Team Tekno driver also secured second place in the championship behind Jamie Whincup, a strong result from a small single-car team that outgunned factory-backed efforts from Ford and Holden.

Van Gisbergen was narrowly beaten to pole position earlier in the day by Kiwi compatriot Scott McLaughlin, who along with Whincup earned a $10,000 bonus as the joint qualifying champion of the season.

McLaughlin won the loudest cheer of the day during  a spectacular lap made all the more impressive by light drizzle that fell during his attack.

Tander started on the front row alongside McLaughlin and darted into the lead with a well-judged start in wet conditions, though he was quickly overcome by Van Gisbergen.

The kiwi had plenty of pace, leading the first half of the 250 kilometre race, and setting the fastest lap times of the race from the front of the field. The rain abated and returned with around 40 laps to go, and Tander plucked the lead from Van Gisbergen with a well-timed pit-stop.

But the usually unflappable Tander slipped back to second by skating off the circuit with excessive speed on a sodden track shortly before officials called a halt to proceedings on lap 45 of74.

Jamie Whincup finished fourth in the final race, having won the first two heats on Saturday.

With his sixth championship title in the bag, Whincup was happy not to risk life and limb for the sake of a spectacle.

“We could all see on the radar that some rain was coming [but] we certainly didn’t expect the rain that hit,” Whincup said.

“There are probably some people sitting at home thinking we’re pretty soft, but we don’t actually have a wet tyre. We call it a wet tyre but the tyre that we run is an intermediate tyre… We aren’t really geared up for those crazy monsoon conditions.

“At the end of the day race control did a great job to call it off.

“It’s a bit of a weird end to what’s been one of the best V8 Supercar championships of all time, it’s been such a crazy rollercoaster.

“The show’s been incredible and that’s important because at the end of the day that’s keeps not just me but all of us in a job.”

Melbourne Stars savour arrival of Kevin Pietersen

Melbourne Stars’ preparation for the Big Bash League reaches a milestone on Monday when prized English recruit Kevin Pietersen arrives for his seven-week stint.

The postponement of round five of the Sheffield Shield has cut the time available to BBL teams to prepare for the upcoming tournament.

Seven Victoria-listed Stars players, such as Cameron White and Glenn Maxwell, will not return to Melbourne after shield duty until Saturday night. At least three interstate-based players – James Faulkner, Jackson Bird, Luke Feldman – will similarly be occupied with shield matches running from Tuesday to Friday.

Given that state-listed players were initially due to be released three days earlier – the death of Phillip Hughes triggered the later start – the Stars hope any of their players not chosen for state duty this week, most notably recent signing Michael Beer, will be permitted by their state to depart earlier.

“We’ve rescheduled our plans, like everyone else has done in the circumstances,” Stars chief executive Clint Cooper said. “We hope players who’ll be sitting in their home states can be released because it will definitely help each of the teams with their marketing and community activities that had originally been planned.”

The Stars have two Melbourne-based players, Clint Mckay and Alex Keath, who were not chosen for the Bushrangers’ match away to Western Australia.

Tasmania’s Clive Rose and South Australia’s Daniel Worrall could also, depending on selection, be available under those arrangements, as could supplementary-list players Jason Floros from Queensland and Bushrangers duo Jake Haberfield and Ryan Sidebottom. Fellow supplementary-list players Will Sheridan and Andrew Kent do not hold state contracts, so they can join the Stars immediately.

Cooper said the Stars were “eagerly awaiting” the arrival of Pietersen on Monday. He will be joined on Tuesday by his countryman Luke Wright, who has been representing Auckland in New Zealand’s Twenty20 competition.

With Stars coaches Greg Shipperd, Trent Woodhill and Mick Lewis all with Victoria until the weekend, this week’s training will be focused on fitness work, along with any net-based and match-based training requested by their English imports.

“There won’t be a whole heap of tactical stuff done in the lead-up week . . . the first hit-out we really get is the Casey [Fields] family day next Sunday,” Cooper said.

Roosters prop in Raiders’ sights

The Canberra Raiders are closing in on their biggest recruitment target in years, with Sydney Roosters prop Jared Waerea-Hargreaves spotted in Canberra on the weekend and weighing up a multi-year deal in the nation’s capital.

Waerea-Hargreaves was seen at a restaurant on the Kingston Foreshore with his partner on Saturday night and it’s understood the 25-year-old has been offered a significant deal from the Raiders that could be too good to refuse.

The New Zealand international still has a season to run on his contract at the Roosters, but an answer on the Raiders offer could come before Christmas.

Waerea-Hargreaves is in strong demand from NRL rivals, but the Raiders are leading the charge of clubs trying to pry him away from Bondi.

Raiders coach Ricky Stuart would not confirm he met with Warea-Hargreaves in Canberra or that the premiership-winning enforcer was in his sights.

The Raiders have been spooked by media coverage of recent recruitment collapses, given Melbourne’s Kevin Proctor and Wests Tigers fullback James Tedesco reneged on agreements to join the club.

The Raiders have started to turn that fortune around, recently snaring Wests Tigers five-eighth Blake Austin and another Roosters premiership-winning forward Frank-Paul Nu’uausala.

“I’ve made it quite clear that I won’t be discussing individual names when it comes to our recruitment,” Stuart said.

“As I’ve said on a number of occasions, the Raiders will be aggressive in our recruitment and we have a handful of high-quality players we’re looking at.

“Jared Warea-Hargreaves is a fantastic young player, but that means half the competition are throwing their hats in the ring to try and have him in their squad.

“A lot has been made of the players we’ve missed out on, but every one of those players has remained loyal to their current clubs. That shows we’re going after the right calibre of players.”

Waerea-Hargreaves has played 118 NRL games, since his debut with the Manly Sea Eagles in 2009, and 17 Tests for New Zealand.

The Raiders have freed up some money on their salary cap by releasing Terry Campese to the UK Super League, although a portion of his wage will remain on Canberra’s books for 2015.

The Raiders are also looking to further bolster their props, given Tom Learoyd-Lahrs has left for Melbourne and Brett White has retired.

They have already added Nu’uausala to their pack, the 27-year-old arriving in Canberra on Sunday to commence pre-season training with the club.

Clarke takes fitness test in bid to play

Michael Clarke took another step towards the comeback he and Australia crave when he completed a searching fitness test under the watch of physiotherapist Alex Kountouris on Sunday.

As the main training session before the first Test wound down at Adelaide Oval, Clarke simulated running between the wickets on the outfield, pushing off from his batting stance and turning on his suspect hamstring. Having run through a series of sprints, he appeared to blow hard from the effort, but did not seem troubled by his hamstring.

Clarke is not over the line yet and the batsman who would replace him if he is unable to play, Shaun Marsh, is likely to stay in Adelaide until the morning of the Test. Marsh’s state, Western Australia, has delayed naming its team for the Sheffield Shield game against Victoria, which also starts on Tuesday, until match morning in case Clarke has a mishap with his hamstring or another batsman is not emotionally ready to play in the Test.

Clarke has done most of the things he needed to do to prove his fitness in the past two days, although he is yet to take his customary position in the slips cordon at training.

Intrigue continues to surround the shape of the Australian pace attack, with Josh Hazlewood, the form quick after his exploits in the one-day series against South Africa, bowling with impressive pace and bounce on juicy practice pitches.

Hazlewood has attracted rave reviews, most recently from Shane Watson, and the scheduling of four Tests in four weeks raises the prospect that Ryan Harris could be given extra time to reach peak fitness and held back until the Gabba as he returns from knee surgery.

Should Hazlewood get the nod, Watson declared the towering New South Welshman would be ready to rattle India.

“He has got all the attributes to be something special even now,” the allrounder said. “He has got height, holds his height, gets great bounce out of any wicket… How he controls and swings the ball out of his hand is well beyond his years… I am very excited about the opportunity when he does get a chance because I know what he can do to the best batsmen in the world.”