South Africa in Australia 2012-13 November 1, 2012

Older Hughes hopes he's wiser too

In the tour match against South Africa in Sydney, Phillip Hughes will have the chance to make an impression against the side he began his now flagging Test career against with a bang

At the age of 23, Phillip Hughes grins when recalling his exploits as a 20-year-old. In his first Test series three years ago Hughes laid waste to South Africa's bowlers in Johannesburg and Durban, fearlessly clouting them to all parts as Australia claimed an unexpected and memorable series victory.

Back then, it was a simple game for Hughes, his homespun technique confounding a South African side that now admits to misreading his game. However the years since have brought more days out of the Australian team than in it, and a public examination of Hughes' technique and character reached its nadir last November when he was caught Martin Guptill, bowled Chris Martin, four innings in a row. That sequence against New Zealand cost Hughes his Test spot, the third time he had been dropped.

"It's hard to put it, how low it really got," Hughes said. "There have been lots of ups and downs. I've been in the international side a couple of times now and had the taste. Back in South Africa was three years ago now, so there has been a fair few low times and there have been a fair few high times as well. It's about being as consistent as possible and scoring runs is always good for that confidence.

"Cricket's a funny game at times, especially batting up at the top of the order. You nick sometimes, you get low scores. The key is once you get in, you get good scores. I suppose in 2009 I was just going with the flow at that stage. I had confidence behind me, runs were behind me, and I just happened to click on that tour. I was a lot younger then.

"It's the same game. It's about keeping things very simple. I don't like complicating things."

Ahead of Australia A's tour match against the South Africans at the SCG, Hughes is confident once again. Not in the "too young to know better" sense that he took to South Africa in 2009, but in a more mature sense based on a steadily refashioned technique, a so-far-successful move from New South Wales to South Australia and a greater knowledge of what is important in life.

"I'm grateful for getting selected in this team," Hughes said. "It was only four months ago I didn't get selected in the Australia A team that toured England and that was a disappointing time. I went to Worcester and got an opportunity there. Now, with runs on the board, I see myself in this team and I've got a great opportunity ahead of me.

"I feel I've opened my leg-side play up so I can hit to all areas of the field. A couple of years ago I was probably limited. My strength was the off-side. I feel like now I can play all around the field and I think that's a big thing in all formats but especially the short format, where you've got to open that [leg-side] up."

"I feel I've opened my leg-side play up so I can hit to all areas of the field. A couple of years ago I was probably limited. My strength was the off-side."
Phillip Hughes

South Africa remain intrigued by Hughes, given how confidently he attacked them in 2009. They fared better against him in South Africa last year, though Hughes was still able to craft an important half-century in the first innings of the Johannesburg Test. Dale Steyn said the earlier miscalculations would not be repeated at the SCG.

"I think we summed him up badly and he made us pay," Steyn said. "I think when he came down to South Africa more recently we'd definitely done our analysis a lot better of the Australians, especially him, and he didn't get away from us. I think we went short and wide [in 2009] and we didn't realise that he could cut so well.

"In the next series we were a lot straighter and we kind of tucked him up a lot more. It was a lot tidier in all honesty. We didn't give him the freebies that he got in the previous series."

South Africa are much wiser this time around, but so too is Hughes. He will hope that the next three days will be the start of his path back to the kind of Test match glory he experienced at the first time of asking.

Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Victor on November 2, 2012, 6:52 GMT

    Without trying to say that mr Hughes is not as good as everyon gives him credit for. He certainly does know how to play cricket. He was, however, rather fortunate in South Africa in 2009. He was out twice caught behind without being given out. The DRS system just got introduced and Greame Smith, probably due to lack of experience on the system, did not review. Hughes just stood his ground and ended up scoring a century and got the much needed momentum. Giving such a get-out-of-jail-free-card to ANY up and coming young test batsman will make him a terrible cricketer if he did NOT make use of it. He is good, but he did get a lot of help

  • Christopher on November 2, 2012, 6:36 GMT every measure,Hughes has a vastly superior record to Cowan. I wonder what that says about the difference between those who concentrate on the way something looks and those whose interest is in results. Well said @Marcio. @davidpk...I wonder how Hicks Test record stacks up if he is the Test player and Hughes and Warner are the ODI and T20 players. Hmmm. @Tigg...your point is well made, but given Hughes age and his rising success in List A, it's still possible for him to break through. I'm convinced that Hughes has real character and a game that should never be limited by theory. Hick was a champion without question and a dominator of County attacks. Like Hughes, the only limitation appears to be doubt. This article shows Hughes discussing his move to leg side play, yet his 1st class average continues to fall. The Youtube video 115 v SA shows numerous on drives and flicks off the pad. I think that 3 years of theories and being wrong by those who champion technique is enough.

  • Christopher on November 2, 2012, 6:24 GMT

    @ross_fleming...I agree to the extent that 20/20 has no relevance to longer format cricket because it contains so few of the necessary elements, like endurance, concentration, fitness, technique. I believe ODI has enough elements other than endurance,to be a guide. It requires varying rates of scoring,batting plans and bowlers are required to send down at least 10 overs, giving them the opportunity to apply and execute plans. When Hughes trouble arrived,he was given no chance to solve it himself and all the talk was of technique. That technique thrashed an 1100 wicket attack in SA that contained the worlds best fast bowler and a fiery pace attack.Hughes record has been extraordinary.Shield Player of the Year, Bradman Medallist, Steve Waugh medallist, then youngest 100 in a Shield final, records in Wisden. When the fall came, his 1st class and Test averages were in the 60's. Since pursuing text book legitimacy, his record has plummeted.Those promoting it had their chance and were wrong.

  • Christopher on November 2, 2012, 6:10 GMT

    @Gareth Kidd..I think you've almost hit upon it. He's taken 26 balls to make 5 in the Aus A game. It must be obvious that he is a far better attacking than defensive proposition. When he arrived in Eng in 09, it was on the back of 1637 runs and 8 x 100's at 96 in ten games. DeCosta, his long time mentor talks about him being pushed to prepare in a way, unsuited to him, when joining the Aus squad. He was pushed to play straighter and attack less. The results have seen his 1st class average drop 17 runs since then. The only instructions I would ever issue to Hughes would be to keep his head still as long as possible and attack whenever he believes its in his zone. Defence should be his last option. The rise of his List A and T20 averages indicate that his game succeeds under those conditions. @Viv_Gilchrist has suggested for some time that the ODI squad is his best way forward,then into Tests and I agree. It used to be the traditional pathway. One wonders why it was ever changed.

  • Christopher on November 2, 2012, 6:00 GMT

    @UndertheGrill...You've hit the nail on the head. No fast bowler and particularly the worlds best, makes their name bowling fast and wide. It eats at the SA that Hughes was able to smash them to all parts in their own back yard. He made 275 runs in the second Test. Any bowler would have been aware quickly of where not to bowl. It doesnt take watching videos or years of analysis. It takes one or two overs. Not one word of Steyns statement is true. If you doubt it, both innings are on Youtube-Hughes v SA 115 and Hughes v SA 160. It will be immediately apparent that Hughes hit regular leg side boundaries. It will also be obvious that the SA attack of Steyn, Ntini, Morkel, Kallis and Harris tried every trick in the book and mostly bowled excellent lines and lengths at speeds in the high 140km/s range. When they did bowl short and wide, you can see they've set fields and traps specifically for that shot.They were better to Hughes after that series because Hughes game changed, not theirs.

  • Marcio on November 2, 2012, 0:19 GMT

    @Milhouse79, if any decent fastbowler will get Huges easily, then what does it say of the English bowlers he feasted on last county season? I saw only one of those innings, where he scored a century against a decent attack that included Shahzad, who is a decent fastbowler. Australia has the best crop of young fastbowlers at first class level, and Hughes is doing very well against them at present. Clearly there is something slightly amiss about your analysis.

  • Charlie on November 2, 2012, 0:16 GMT

    I'm a big admirer of Steyn, but the most remarkable thing about this article is that the tactic that he thought would be most effective against Hughes in 2009 was to bowl short and wide at him. Since when's that been a good wicket taking option against any batsman?

  • Victor on November 2, 2012, 0:05 GMT

    No matter how much he improves his game, he will never be a permanent feature in the australian line up. there are other players who are as good as him and needs little improvement. Ed cowan is a good opener but he needs to improve on his strike rate. he can bat for long but scores too slowly. i would really like to see his sr go over atleast 50. I really would like to see clarke batting at 3 and taking the charge. watson comes in at 5 or 6 till ricky retires and then promoted to 4.

  • Ross on November 1, 2012, 23:01 GMT

    He has been out in slips 7 out of 8 times this year and is averaging in the 30s in shield cricket where it matters. He still has a long way to go before he is ready for the top level. Runs in the shorter format mean little for the longer format.

  • Dummy4 on November 1, 2012, 21:47 GMT

    I think he's sorted out his issues with swing. Top scorer in both limited overs comps in england where the white ball moves like hoe. I hope he sorts it out. Warner, Hughes, Cowan, Wato, Clarke, Maxwell seems to be a top six Invaraity is banking on for the next 5yrs.

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