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