Sri Lanka in Australia 2012-13 December 11, 2012

Hughes seeks runs to match his desire


Even as he showed near monastic zeal to remodel the game that slid him into horrendous batting trouble against New Zealand last summer, Phil Hughes did not expect to be back in the Australian Test team in the space of a year.

When Hughes walked off Bellerive Oval after being caught Guptill, bowled Martin for the fourth innings in a row last December, the 24-year-old was not alone in figuring it would be a matter of years, not months, before he returned to the national team. Yet Hughes now finds himself back at the scene of his demise for Hobart's next Test match, batting with punch in the nets ahead of the series against Sri Lanka.

This is as much a marker of how few Australia batsmen are currently scoring the requisite amount of runs to press a case for their use at international level as it is a vindication of Hughes. His numbers this year have been strong, though by no means overwhelming. The national selector John Inverarity admitted it took Hughes' 158 against Victoria at the MCG during the Adelaide Test against South Africa to convince the panel he was readier than the rest.

Inverarity and the other selectors have never questioned Hughes' desire, a trait borne out by the lengths the left-hand batsman has travelled to further his batting. In the intervening 12 months, Hughes has skipped the inaugural Big Bash League to spend more time tinkering with his technique, played with promise for Worcestershire in England, moved from New South Wales to fresh surrounds in South Australia and made a confident start to the domestic summer. If Hughes is not quite a new man at Bellerive this week, he is striving mightily hard to improve on the old one.

"I knew it was going to be tough to get back, no doubt," Hughes said. "I had to score heavily for South Australia in the Sheffield Shield to get back here. It happened quite quick. I feel like I've done a lot of work behind the scenes. I feel like my game's in a lot better order now than 12 months ago or two years ago. The confidence is high. The big reason [for that] is scoring runs for South Australia in Shield cricket.

"Overall, I feel a lot more settled and very calm, knowing that I have been in this environment before. I knew I had to make sacrifices as well along the way - that was definitely one, to pull out of the Twenty20 competition last year, to work on my technique and become a better player. I feel like a lot better player than 12 months ago, that's the most pleasing thing."

To quantify how Hughes is better, the most salient evidence is presented in the form of his array of strokes, now expanded greatly to include a powerful pull shot and more enthusiastic flicks, nudges and drives through the leg-side. This has reduced Hughes' reliance on his pet cut shot and cover drive, which both remain in his locker, though they are not called upon anywhere near as often as previously.

Also noticeable to observers of his innings for the Redbacks is the fact that Hughes is more eager to get forward and over the ball, his weight transfer more equable to deal with the bowlers' variations in length than in the past.

Given the amount it has been discussed in public as well as among various coaches to have run their eye past Hughes over the years, it is not surprising that he is cagey about what exactly has changed. But he is happy to acknowledge that in order to avoid being cornered as he was by Chris Martin, he needed to become a less lopsided batsman.

"[The wagon wheel] is a lot different. I hit probably 70 to 80% of my scores on the off side before. I feel now that I've got both sides of the field covered," Hughes said. "That's something I had to go away and work on. My leg-side play was something big in my mind that I had to focus on. I feel now that [the changes], in all forms, have really opened up my leg [side].

"I'm free-flowing now through that side. It's just easier, when they do bowl straight that I can work off my hip and onto the leg side. I've had to do a lot of work in the nets, no doubt, because I was used to hitting through the off side, but now it comes a bit more comfortably on both sides of the wicket. It frees me up. It's about having it behind you [in your armoury], something that I didn't have 12 months ago. But I do have it [now]."

As for being back in Hobart, Hughes recognised the irony, but also the satisfaction. "This is the ground where things probably didn't pan out perfectly on a personal note," he said. "Twelve months down the track, I feel like I'm in a better place now."

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

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Christopher on December 14, 2012, 0:50 GMT

    @Meety...with respect to the short format, I would be unconcerned at his inclusion in ODI. At 50 overs,it contains enough of the elements of the longer format to be relevant. It is only the 120 ball format that has seen a diminution in the standard of techniques of those who were already indisposed to that style of play. @popcorn, of Hughes run of 8 centuries in 10 matches leading into the Ashes in '09, only 3 of them were for Middlesex. The other 5 were against an 1100 Test wicket SA attack at home consistening then of Ntini,Morkel,Kallis,Harris and Steyn and in the Shield against the eventual winners. He has twice scored 100's in Shield finals, has a third Test hundred v SL, has a Steve Waugh Medal, a Bradman Medal, Shield Player of the Year and records in Wisden. His scores on the '09 Ashes were 36, 4 and 17-the last one having visibly bounced. DRS would have overturned it. Watson, who replaced him has a lower S/R, has one less hundred and an average barely higher.Not flattering.

  • Peterincanada on December 13, 2012, 16:30 GMT

    @zenboomerang Thanks. That seems to me to be a correctable fault. Wish him well.

  • Ash on December 13, 2012, 12:07 GMT

    hughes and cowan are the two weakest links. but as we are playing SL, they will be made to look like world beaters.

  • Roo on December 13, 2012, 8:38 GMT

    @Peterincanada... re: Hughes - he had been getting out playing mainly across the line to balls that were either moving away or wide from outside off-stump... Basically looking to play through the off-side square - caught in the slips & fairly regularly... He seems to have worked strongly on playing both sides of the wkt & improving his game - we'll see how this goes over the next few weeks...

  • Brendan on December 12, 2012, 23:56 GMT

    Agree with you @BG4cricket, Khawaja would deffinately be the next in line, but you are right about Smith. We need an aggressive bat at six but it would only work if we had a solid top 3. In the near future I would like to see the side like this; 1.Warner 2.Hughes 3.Khawaja 4.Clarke (c) 5.Steve Smith 6.Watson 7.Wade and then your bowlers

  • Phil on December 12, 2012, 22:28 GMT

    Hughes has been out in slips exactly in the manner in the Martin Guptil saga in slips 6 out of 7 times in shield this year. If this was any other batsman then Hughes this would have been pointed out by the selectors but the skipper' little mate gets an unfair opportunity at the top level. Why don't you show some fairness in selection first Clarkey and then talk about how yo ualways pick the best 11 for any game.

  • Lewis on December 12, 2012, 22:26 GMT

    It makes no sense to have 4 openers in the top order, Hughes should stay and Cowan should make way as his average of 34 is not good enough after 4 full series. My order would be Hughes, Warner, Cowan, Khawaja/Ferguson, Clarke, Hussey. And yes Clarke is close to Hughes but that's common in all work places where we try to be closer to our bosses.

  • Mariam on December 12, 2012, 22:24 GMT

    @Popcorn and @Pras Indrakumar Prasanna agree with you guys on Khawaja, he should be given a longer run though i wish Hughes well in the side. Khawaja has been very consistent and has the best technique out of all the young batsman coming through. He was unlucky to be dropped last year after top scoring against South Africa 2 games before in a record 300 chase and getting run out the game before at 40 when called for a risky run first ball after tea. You have to feel for him but a classy player such as him can't be kept out for too long as he is hitting some good runs in shield cricket this year and it was fantastic to see Inevarity acknowledge that he has improved significantly this year and is on the right path under Lehman.

  • Rajaram on December 12, 2012, 12:28 GMT

    Neil Costa, who is Phil Hughes' mentor says,"where in world cricket do you have a 24 year old score 21 first class centuries? So is it a reason to give him a THIRD chance? I recall in 2009, Phil Hughes scored century after century in English County cricket - the failed miserably in the first two Ashes Tests and was tghe cause of our losing the Ashes. He was dropped summarily - his sacking was a boon to us - we got a great opener, Shane Watson.The ONLY clainm to fame that Phil Hughes has are two centuries in south Africa. After that ZILCH. He failed again when he was given a second chance. His 21 centuries are against WEAK opposition.Check it out.I am not a Selector, so I can only hope for Australia's sake that he succeeds and we have a DOMINATING Batting lineup - I hope Warner and Cowan emulate Hayden and Langer,Hughes emulates Ponting,Watson is Damien Martyn,and Clarke,Huss and Wade or Haddin make the backbone. Or else,Khawaja for Hughes,Quiney for Warner.

  • Andrew on December 12, 2012, 12:20 GMT

    @hyclass on (December 12 2012, 08:27 AM GMT) - his List A stats suggest he should of been in the ODI side, but I'd like to see him kept out of the ODI (& T20) sides for another 3 or 4 years. I think you have to be at the top of your game to be successful aross all 3 formats & not pick up bad habits from the Short Forms - & bring them into the Test arena.

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