Hughes has to find runs - Clarke
Michael Clarke has conceded that Phillip Hughes may need to go back to state cricket to regain his form after another failure in the second innings of Australia's loss to New Zealand in Hobart. However, Clarke said it was unfortunate that there was no Sheffield Shield cricket scheduled until after the Test series against India ends in February, meaning Hughes will have nothing but Twenty20 in which to regain his touch.
Hughes walked off the field a defeated man, his weakness outside off stump having almost certainly ended this phase of his Test career, with Shaun Marsh and Shane Watson expected to return to the side on Boxing Day against India. Hughes was caught by Martin Guptill in the cordon off the bowling of Chris Martin for the fourth time in the series. Clarke said the lack of runs for Hughes - he has scored 9, 9, 88, 11, 10, 7, 4 and 20 in his past eight Test innings - was a concern.
"He's obviously really disappointed like all the batters are, the way we played today," Clarke said. "But Hughesy is probably the most disappointed. He's been getting out the same way. I know he's been working hard in the nets trying to improve that deficiency in his technique and he'll continue to work on that. But he needs to find some runs, it's as simple as that. If he's not making them for Australia he's going to have to go back and score some for New South Wales."
Besides the Big Bash League and club cricket, the only other opportunity for Hughes to score runs before the end of the Test summer will be in next week's Cricket Australia Chairman's XI match against the touring Indians in Canberra. In that three-day encounter, Hughes will be competing with other top-order men such as Marsh and Usman Khawaja, who are also in the side. David Warner is also set to play at Manuka Oval, but he has already pencilled in his name for the Boxing Day Test by carrying his bat for 123 not out in Hobart, almost conjuring victory for Australia from a dire position.
"There is no four-day cricket now for New South Wales, unfortunately," Clarke said. We go back and play Twenty20 cricket so, yeah, if that's the case for somebody, people who get dropped from this team, they're going to have to go back to Twenty20 and score some runs. I'm not sure how it's going to work but you're going to have to be picked back into the Australian team from the Big Bash. We'll wait and see what happens."
The lack of first-class cricket in Australia from early December to the start of February - covering the majority of the Australian summer - was deemed necessary by Cricket Australia to allow the new eight-team BBL to flourish. When asked if he would have preferred Shield cricket during the period, Clarke was careful not to directly criticise the scheduling, but his discontent was evident.
"Well, we've got what we've got," he said. "At the end of the day let's deal with it. My opinion is not going to change anything. It's about scoring runs in any form of the game you play. If it's Twenty20, score runs. If it's one-dayers, score runs and just continue to get your name, push your name up in front of the selectors' eyes to get selected for any form of the game. It's what we've got."
Australia play four Tests against India, beginning on December 26 at the MCG, and finishing in Adelaide on January 28. The Shield season has a major hiatus from December 9 until February 2.
Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo