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