Sri Lanka in Australia, 2012-13 December 6, 2012

Hughes chosen to replace Ponting


Phillip Hughes has been granted the Test match equivalent of a soft landing, chosen to fill the gulf left by the retired Ricky Ponting in Australia's top order against Sri Lanka after the selectors preferred to spare him the rigours of the recently completed series against South Africa.

When Shane Watson's calf troubles opened up a batting vacancy ahead of the South Africa Tests, the panel headed by the national selector John Inverarity had chosen Rob Quiney as a mature and ready-made option for No. 3.

However Quiney's elevation was brief, and the more modest opposition expected from Sri Lanka has been deemed more suitable as the best circumstance in which to recall Hughes, a little more than a year after he was dropped, coincidentally after last year's Hobart Test against New Zealand.

Speaking with typical candour as he named the Australian squad for the Hobart Test, the national selector John Inverarity said Hughes had always been seen as a long-term part of the national team's planning, and that there had been a desire not to expose him to South Africa' bowlers at the top level while he continued to build confidence with South Australia.

"We felt that for the South African series that Quiney was the right man," Inverarity said. "We look to Phil Hughes to be one of our players of the future, a real long-term player, so when we were considering the South African series we were very keen for Phil Hughes to come in when his form was absolutely right, and the right circumstances for him.

"We did feel that throwing him into the Tests against the world No. 1 with their attack was probably not the ideal set of circumstances for him, and we feel the time now is absolutely right for him. We needed to be convinced that his game was absolutely cherry ripe. It was just recently at the MCG that he got a big hundred [158 for SA v Victoria] and I think that was further proof that he's in absolutely the right place.

"Rob Quiney is a wonderful man, I think he was very grateful for the opportunity, and who knows what's round the corner. He's not one to hold grudges or think he's hard done by, I think he was very grateful for the opportunity and looks forward to the time when he might get an opportunity again."

Since he was caught Guptill, bowled Martin in four consecutive innings against New Zealand, Hughes has spent countless hours refining his technique and clarifying his mental approach. Inverarity had said earlier this year that the selectors were looking for evidence of development from both Hughes and Usman Khawaja, another contender for the space vacated by Ponting, and the panel has concluded that at 24 Hughes has made the most rapid strides.

"If you watched him closely 12 months ago and now, his scoring range is very different," Inverarity said. "He's scoring through the leg side off his pads much better, driving on the on-side, and pulling short balls, which wasn't the case 12 months ago. So I think he's developed his game, and it is much harder for bowlers now in a sense to corner him.

"Last year when he was dropped from the Test team he decided not to play BBL and to work on his technique an get himself into a better space. We didn't select him for the Australia A team because he had a long-term opportunity with Worcestershire, where he did very well. I think being there and out of the spotlight and working in a very consistent environment, has done him a great deal of good.

"Then moving to Adelaide and a fresh environment there, I think as a young man he's in a very good place and his game's in good order, and the circumstances are absolutely right for him to be selected."

Apart from Hughes' recall, the balance of Australia's bowling attack for Hobart is another point of conjecture. Peter Siddle and Ben Hilfenhaus have been deemed fit enough to return, though Inverarity said the selectors needed to see further evidence that the latter's bowling methods were returning to those he showed against India last summer.

"The history with Ben, he was doing well then the last series against England in Australia [in 2010-11] he didn't bowl to his highest level," Inverarity said. "He got things sorted out, a few niggles were sorted out and he got his bowling action right, and his bowling last summer was superb. He bowled at good pace and very well.

"His bowling in the first Test was a bit like against England, it wasn't as good as he'd hoped. So he needs to get 100% fit to perform, and his action so that he bowls like he did against India last summer, and we're hopefully that during this little break he'll be back to that sort of form."

Irrespective of who plays against Sri Lanka, all will have a challenge ahead to make up the gap left by Ponting in terms of leadership, experience and training example. "The dressing-room will be different without the presence of Ricky Ponting," Inverarity said. "His absence creates both the opportunity and the necessity for others to grow and fill the gap."

Ponting's contribution to the game will be marked by a lap of honour at Bellerive Oval during the lunch break on day one of the Test.

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

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • paul on December 9, 2012, 16:54 GMT

    @ pat_one_back Nah mate that's not funny at all, or for that matter even close to being original but hey banter isn't you're strong point so I'd keep quiet. Lets be real though hughes wouldn't even get a gig in the England B team and that's been kind to the dude. I think England fans can be critical without any irony what so ever after the display you and them put up in 2010, I mean come on Steve Smith, Doherty and that other spinner I can't remember the name of, surely the cupboards weren't that bare or maybe they were and still are if hughes is getting a look in.

  • Patrick on December 9, 2012, 6:15 GMT

    @RednWhiteArmy, what's really funny is that if only Hughes was born in South Africa he could be opening for England! Hilarious irony reading English posts critical of Aust selections when your lot can't even field a team.

  • Mashuq on December 8, 2012, 12:54 GMT

    A more thoughtful way to go (which might have happened if we lost badly against SA) would have been to ease Khawaja into the team to open with Cowan. Clarke, Watto, Ferguson and Hussey could have followed by now. Acknowledge Hughes' great first class form by taking him to India where he could get a game if someone got injured. But no! We're still looking for some the next Ponting or whoever (since Bradman retired). The jibes from the Pom trollers only hit home while we persevere with this mindset. Otherwise, if we were to make best use of our available talent (and this includes NOT rushing Cummins back for the first Ashes) the Ashes will be in our possession within a year and we will be real challengers for the Saffers, not the imposters we were.

  • Mashuq on December 8, 2012, 12:28 GMT

    @Rahul_Ashok on (December 06 2012, 05:13 AM GMT) agree partly, but he will be needed soon because even if Hughes does well initially, how long can Warner be picked as opener? Agree entirely @Big_Maxy_Walker on (December 06 2012, 12:35 PM GMT): Hughes to open after Sri Lanka with Usman at #3. That will then make some kind of sense because Warner's footwork will again be exposed away from home. At best he'd be worth playing down the order against a team like the Saffers who lack good spinners. But surely others like Ferguson deserve a shot there. On Hughes: @OneEyedAussie on (December 06 2012, 10:35 AM GMT) "I [too] don't get the logic - is he being brought in for some confidence building against SL and India only to be dropped for the Ashes?" If so, who will replace him? That is why I've been pushing for Rogers to be in the party (also because I fear Warner will fail in India) and you really don't want to return Watto there.@brusselslion Holland will play in Ashes and surprise the Poms

  • Rajaram on December 7, 2012, 23:14 GMT

    This fancy for Phil Hughes puzzles me. After his tour to South Africa where he scored centuries, has he EVER scored a Test century? He has failed in The Ashes 2009,and against New Zealand.Caught Guptil,Bowled Martin.4 times.The Selectors are relying on HOPE over EXPERIENCE.Why was Chris Rogers given just one Test then? He was declared out dubiously. A great opener.Rob Quiney will NEVER get a look-in again.Usman Khawaja has been treated shabily by the Selectors.

  • Richard on December 7, 2012, 21:45 GMT

    @Hammond - in the interests of balance , when you say that Warne couldn't do it against England in 2005 , he did give us a damn good run for our money ! 40 wickets in the series - not bad ! I remember when he was brought on in the second innings at Trent Bridge , ' advising ' Ponting on the field placements , he all but caused our batsmen to panic in the modest run-chase of 120 something ; in one of the many 'what ifs' of that whole series , just imagine what might have happened in the Oz run-chase at Edgbaston if Warnie hadn't trodden on his wicket like that ? Stil , his comments seem contradictary and unhelpful ' Yes , I have no doubt I could make a comebck but frankly it's just too much trouble ' or so I read it . Cheers !

  • Bis on December 7, 2012, 13:54 GMT

    @Hammond you say that Warne " couldn't do it against England in 2005" - what more do you expect him to do than take 40 wickets in 5 tests? Australia would settle for half that now.

  • Russell on December 7, 2012, 13:07 GMT

    This must be a joke right? Is this the best they can find to replace Ponting? Aussie top order is going to be a real problem for the Ashes. Get Huss in at 3 and Clarke in at 4. Watson at 6.

  • Geoffrey on December 7, 2012, 12:38 GMT

    Hughes is as technically inept as most of the young Aussie batsmen. One quick glance at a video of him batting and any international bowler knows exactly where not to bowl to him, and where to cramp him up, get him chopping on or nicking to the keeper. Saying that, he is a far better option than Ricking, may he retire in peace. The panic in the Aussie camp is obvious by the way that Warne's name is being bandied about like a potential saviour. If he couldn't do it against England in 2005, no way he can do it 8 years later. Funny thought though.

  • Graham on December 7, 2012, 12:23 GMT

    Essex man - I'm guessing you bought all 5 days against South Africa last year and dont want to make that mistake again.

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