Former Australia captain Michael Clarke thinks some of his former teammates have been "like a tumour" on cricket – but has insisted he never called Shane Watson "a cancer". The 35-year-old was the central figure in numerous controversies during his 115-Test career and his relationship with Watson has been a source of much speculation in recent years.

The duo played together extensively at international level, but there were regular rumours that they did not see eye-to-eye on and off the cricket field. Those suggestions were escalated in 2013 when former Australia coach Mickey Arthur said, in leaked court documents, that Clarke had called Watson "a cancer" on the side.

Asked about those rumours on Australian Channel Nine's 60 Minutes programme, the 50-over World Cup and Ashes-winning captain said: "No, I didn't say that." Clarke added: "I said that there is a number of players, a group in this team at the moment, that are like a tumour and if we don't fix it, it's going to turn into a cancer."

Asked if that applied to Watson, his former vice-captain, Clarke admitted: "Shane was one of those players, yes."

Meanwhile, Clarke – who retired from the sport in 2015 – revealed his attitude towards cricket changed in light of Phil Hughes' death in November 2014. The left-handed batsman, who was a close friend of Clarke, was struck by a bouncer at the Sydney Cricket Ground and died a few days later.

Clarke revealed that Hughes' passing led him to consider his own safety on the cricket field for the first time in his career. "I guess I probably tried to tell myself that there was a chance he'd be OK," Clarke shared. "But I think I knew there wasn't. I spent the whole night talking to him. That breaks my heart the most. It was always hard to play cricket after that. I felt fear for the first time in my life when I played cricket."