Australia v New Zealand, 2nd Test, Hobart December 8, 2011

Pressure on Hughes to avoid the slip

With plenty of competition in the side for Boxing Day, Phillip Hughes needs runs under his belt to retain his place in the side

Phillip Hughes is a firm believer that a batsman's technique is irrelevant. All that matters is he scores runs. It sounds fine but is a theory that is unlikely to sway the majority of cricket watchers. Hughes plays with a style so unusual and uninhibited that his successes look streaky and his failures, especially the growing number of catches he sends to the cordon, appear reckless.

Hughes finds it difficult to leave the ball outside off for it is his most prolific scoring zone. Only Guns'n'Roses have a more conspicuous Slash than Hughes. But his greatest strength is also his major weakness. Opposition captains have learnt to stack the cordon with as many slips and gullies as they can and ask their fast bowlers to angle the ball across Hughes without giving him too much width.

Chris Martin claimed Hughes twice using that method at the Gabba. It could be argued he succeeded three times, for Hughes was dropped at slip the ball before he was caught at gully in the second innings. It brought to 19 the number of times Hughes has been caught by the wicketkeeper, slips or gully from 29 dismissals in his Test career. He has never been out lbw to a fast bowler.

These are difficult times for Hughes. He is the most experienced man in Australia's youthful top three, but without a significant score in Hobart he is in danger of losing his place for the first Test against India on Boxing Day, when Shane Watson and Shaun Marsh are expected to return. Usman Khawaja's reliability makes him an appealing option, while David Warner can overtake Hughes with a big innings at Bellerive.

Hughes was trusted with the opening role when Simon Katich was removed from Australia's side. Since then, Hughes has averaged 30.54. His successes in that period included 88 against South Africa in Johannesburg, when 67 of his runs came through the off side as the bowlers allowed him too much width. When Vernon Philander finally strangled him with a tighter line, Hughes was caught at slip.

His work ethic is not in question. At Bellerive on Thursday, Australia had an optional training session. Hughes spent a long while in the nets, working on his problem area. He was one of only three batsmen who turned up to an optional session in Cape Town after Australia's heavy defeat last month.

"Hughesy has been working hard for the past couple of years . . . on his technique and on the area of his game that need to improve, like all of us," the captain Michael Clarke said. "I've made it very clear to him that I think I've been caught in slips as many times as any player.

"It's an area of a lot of people's game that you need to continue to work on, especially when the ball is moving. I've always loved his work ethic. You guys continue to see him in the nets, he trains as hard as anyone and he wants to get better."

But life won't be any easier for Hughes on the first day in Hobart if Australia bat first. On match eve, the pitch sported so much grass that it looked more like a lawn-bowling green than a cricket wicket. Clearly it had not yet had its end-of-November shave.

However, Hughes has a strong record at Bellerive, where he averages 74.63 from six first-class matches. By comparison, his Gabba average is 28.50. After the Brisbane Test, the New Zealand captain Ross Taylor said he'd be very happy if Australia retained Hughes for Hobart, a comment he now says was tongue-in-cheek.

"He's a world-class opener," Taylor said ahead of the second Test. "He's still got three hundreds for Australia and a few fifties. He's scored runs against us in the past - and scored more runs than I did in the last game - so I'm sure he'll be fine."

Despite his generous comments, Taylor is sure to be confident that New Zealand can contain Hughes again. The main question is how many slips and gullies to use.

As Hughes showed in Brisbane when he was dropped one ball and caught the next, he won't stop playing the way he knows. It's a method that brought him 17 first-class centuries before his 23rd birthday. But unless it brings him runs in this match, he could be spending Christmas - and Boxing Day - at home.

Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Samrat on December 9, 2011, 22:16 GMT

    A batsman technique may be irrelevant according to Hughes, but temperament matters the most at this level. Case in point Gilchrist and Sehwag.

  • Dummy4 on December 9, 2011, 11:53 GMT

    if he was from any other state in australia he would have been axed 10 tests ago, thankfully now there are some level headed selectors there meaning he will be sent back to shield level were he belongs,

  • Dummy4 on December 9, 2011, 9:42 GMT

    I'm a little puzzled at the number of people who've claimed Hughes is a future star... seems like the poorer he performs the better they believe he's going to be. Perhaps we should consider that a guy with a weak technique and a long list of failures may not be part of the future of Australian cricket.

  • Christopher on December 9, 2011, 9:25 GMT

    In stark contrast to the point this article is trying to make,of the 6 Test innings in his 09 debut series in SA in which he made, 0 & 75, 115 & 160, 33 & 32, only his 1st was caught behind the wicket from a quick. That had more to do with extreme nerves,which he quickly dispelled in the 2nd innings.Of those innings,he was dismissed 3 times attacking Harris,the left arm spinner. I highlight this,because it is far more indicative of his game at 1st class level and before it was tampered with. He was not an edger before his grip,stance and entire game were altered by so called coaches.The balls which are dismissing Hughes now are the same ones every opening bowler tries to bowl to left handers.The Youtube SA 09 shows Steyn & Co using the same tactics. I expect the energy that is being used on here to undermine Hughes credentials,to be used for proper investigation,not just watching the screen and repeating what others have said.The evidence is freely available for those who search it out

  • Dummy4 on December 9, 2011, 9:18 GMT

    Hughes seems to be hit and miss and presently more of a miss. His technique is fairly suspect and while he may still score heavily against certain types of opposition, like the Indians maybe, I still think he needs to spend a summer in England and work on his technique.Today with world cricket being the way it is, people with suspect techniques get found out easily.Martin certainly isn't the greatest fast bowler going round, but if he can get Hughes so regularly and so consistently then clearly Hughes days are numbered. Surely Australia has a better opener and I don"t mean Watson. I think Australia should find someone who will work for a couple of years even as someone from the younger brigade works out.I am sure Marsh is a better bet. In any case with Hughes the no 3 and no 4 are almost openers !I think it is important for the selectors to figure out the future instead of worrying about Hughes. He is a non starter. Watching him is agony ! sridhar

  • Andrew on December 9, 2011, 9:10 GMT

    It might be possible the Phil Hughes is nothing more than a good domestic player and that's it. Yep, he started off well in test cricket but now that everyone's got him worked out I'm not so sure he's the future star we keep hearing about. Better players than Phil Hughes have never even got to play for Australia.

  • Christopher on December 9, 2011, 9:05 GMT

    I understand people calling for Hughes head.His batting doesnt instill confidence at this point. I urge people to remember that his game has been forcibly altered.If hed been left to play his own game,this never would have happened.Nielsen was the architect & Langer has made things worse. His grip,trigger movement to leg of his back foot and misdirection on playing in the v have robbed Australia of a prodigy.He should cut 1st ball if thats his game. He should cover drive 1st ball if thats his game.A batsman needs only an attacking plan,a defensive plan and the concentration,courage and skill to carry it out.Technique is irrelevent in that his game proved brilliant until someone altered it,both at 1st class level on 4 continents and in his early Tests against an 1100 wicket Test attack.This kid has been bashed from pillar to post.He is guilty of following the coaches instructions.The coach never took responsibility.Id love to see Australians get behind him.In the end,we will be rewarded

  • Christopher on December 9, 2011, 8:54 GMT

    By the time Hughes arrived for the Eng Lions game in 09,he had 1637 runs at 96 in his previous 10 games with 8 100s,2 in 1 Test.He had been the Shield player of the year,Steve Waugh Medallist & Bradman Medallist and was in Wisden.Both his Test & 1st class averages were over 60.At that point,I unhesitatingly classed him the best since Bradman & the best offside player ive seen.Youtube videos,Hughes 115 v SA & 160 v SA show the real Hughes before his game was forcibly altered.So what changed? His technique did. Not on its own. He was only 20 then & a country town kid.Nielsen,whose obtuse & toxic behaviour was highlighted on in a national paper by a 36 Y.O.McGain,forced unworkable changes.His grip was changed,a point commented on by Benaud after todays dismissal.The face is now open pushing balls to slip instead of down the ground or through cover.His body position & back foot play were altered.Langer,after 18 months is making it far worse.Hughes must fix his grip & forget all advice.

  • B on December 9, 2011, 8:07 GMT

    Thanks for coming Phil. Maybe see you again in a couple of years.

  • Dummy4 on December 9, 2011, 7:14 GMT

    Phil Hughes has revealed he has grand plans to emulate Sehwag - but look how drastically different the fortunes of these two gentlemen are, on the 8th of December, 2011.

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