Sri Lanka in Australia 2012-13

Hughes seeks runs to match his desire

Daniel Brettig in Hobart

December 11, 2012

Comments: 46 | Text size: A | A

Phillip Hughes slashes through the off side, Victoria v South Australia, Sheffield Shield, Melbourne, 3rd day, November 25, 2012
Phil Hughes: "The confidence is high. The big reason [for that] is scoring runs for South Australia in Shield cricket" © Getty Images
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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

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Posted by hyclass 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.

Posted by Peterincanada on (December 13, 2012, 16:30 GMT)

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

Posted by ozwriter 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.

Posted by zenboomerang 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...

Posted by Buckers410 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

Posted by hycIass 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.

Posted by Edwards_Anderson 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.

Posted by Mary_786 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.

Posted by popcorn 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.

Posted by Meety 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.

Posted by   on (December 12, 2012, 10:22 GMT)

Hughes has to carry on with Chanderpaul's crouching legacy :-)

Posted by hyclass on (December 12, 2012, 8:27 GMT)

I think everyone will be holding their breath with Hughes. Regardless of his 'new' game plan, his hands look far slower than against SA in '09 which was a hallmark of his success. Id also keep a close eye on his S/R. When it falls below 50 for more than a handful of overs,it usually signals his demise. When in control, his natural S/R is around 60-62 over a long innings. Ive also noticed he doesnt start well when not out over night, something Id like to see him rectify. He may have made 126 against this attack at last start, but this isnt the flat pitches and fast outfields of SL. All sides have struggled in Tas on an inconsistent wicket that shows big movement early on. The first innings scores have been notoriously low. Id expect bowling first to be an advantage. Hughes record suggests he should have been given a run in the ODI side before now.Thats a traditional soft landing. Possibly his ave throwing and catching have told against him, but I'd rather have him than Forrest any day.

Posted by hyclass on (December 12, 2012, 8:12 GMT)

Like others here, I've long been a fan of Hughes and was disgusted at his treatment in Eng in '09. It was De Costa, his long time mentor who mentioned then that he had been forced to prepare differently when he joined the Ashes squad.At that point, he had scored 1637 runs in his previous 10 games at 96 with 8 x 100s on 3 continents.Regardless of technique,which is far less relevant than game plan, one wonders how often thats been accomplished recently. It sent him on a fools errand to prove his technical proficiency at the expense of concentrating on run scoring, which naturally fell away. Of his 5 Test scores before dropping following his twin 100s in SA, 3 were in the 30's, one was 17 given out caught Strauss that bounced and one was 4 gloved down the leg side. Only his 1st Test 36 was edged to slip. Yet that was the reason given. Its never made any sense and started a witch hunt which has left him a nervous wreck. I'm not sure he's ready this time. He's not yet the player he was.

Posted by SICHO on (December 12, 2012, 7:18 GMT)

With this crippled Oz top four, SL might have a chance. All they need is to get one between Clarke and Hussey early.

Posted by   on (December 12, 2012, 6:57 GMT)

As a selector... if you compare the stats... Hughes - 17 matches, 32 Innings... Average: 34.58 Khawaja - 6 matches, 11 innings... Average: 29.22 .... If you gave Khawaja 10 more matches.... I am sure his average would be over 40...... What is the common factor: Last Test - Australia v New Zealand at Hobart, Dec 9-12, 2011....

Posted by electric_loco_WAP4 on (December 12, 2012, 5:32 GMT)

Without doubt the most naturally talented left hand opener bat in tests in all the teams international. Just about time that he utilises to full effect with teams like SL and make a couple of big 100s. Once he gets that belief he had in his debut he is just going to unstoppable going to the Ashes.

Posted by   on (December 12, 2012, 5:23 GMT)

Really Mr Brettig? "Readier"[sic]?

Posted by landl47 on (December 12, 2012, 4:58 GMT)

It will be easy to tell whether Hughes has fixed (or at least improved) his technique. His problem was playing with a crooked bat at balls going across him. To fix that, he needs to take guard, or use a trigger movement, to get his head in line with the off stump. From there he can judge the line, leave the ball if it is wide of the off stump and play it straight or work it away on the leg side if it is on the stumps. So just look at where his head is; within a few balls you'll be able to tell whether he's on the off stump. If he's still hanging back on leg stump, expect his struggles to continue. If his head is in the right place (in every sense), then he only has to stop flashing at balls wide on the off side and he'll be in a position to make a ton of runs.

If it works for him, he should explain it to David Warner, who has exactly the same problem.

Posted by popcorn on (December 12, 2012, 4:44 GMT)

Phil Hughes has been given TOO MUCH of a LONG ROPE - TOO MANY CHANCES needlessly,at the cost of a FAR BETTER PLAYER - Usman Khawaja.

Posted by subbass on (December 12, 2012, 4:05 GMT)

Hope he does well. Would love him at the top of the order for the Ashes as would most by fellow poms. So, I wish you good luck Phil ! :p

Posted by markgixxer750 on (December 12, 2012, 3:19 GMT)

I literally Laughed Out Loud when I read the other day that Hughes had been selected to replace Ponting. All I can say is c'mon The Ashes.....

Posted by Jaffa79 on (December 12, 2012, 2:16 GMT)

The short leg fielder should watch his toes when Hughes is batting.

Posted by funkybluesman on (December 12, 2012, 2:00 GMT)

Hughes was dropped prematurely the first time. He'd had a couple of out's, but at that point was still averaging over 50 in tests. When he was given his second chance the selectors likely picked him because they knew they'd dropped him prematurely, but they picked him when his form was not good.

I think too many people got into Phil's head and had him second-guessing himself. Batting is largely instinctual. You don't have time for a long think as the ball is travelling down the pitch. When people question your technique and you start thinking about trying to do things differently it totally messes you up.

It was good that he took time to get away from everything and work on his technique so he could be settled in his head about what he was doing as much as to work out technical flaws, and then play plenty of first class cricket to bed it all down.

Wouldn't be surprised if Hughes finishes with 10,000+ test runs averaging over 50.

Posted by BG4cricket on (December 12, 2012, 0:37 GMT)

I am really pleased for Hughes to get this opportunity and I really hope he succeeds. Having watched a few innings of his this year he looks more rounded with a better range of shots on the leg side and an improved sense of what to leave and play on the off side, helped no doubt by the better range of shots he has now. His numbers this year, combined with his overall first class and Test record, clearly show he is the best guy. I'm not sold on Doolan yet and feel he needs to show more scores over a longer period, Burns looks promising but simply hasn't scored enough runs and likewise with Ferguson. Khawaja is next in line for me but the missing link is being able to rotate strike. This year he is playing more shots which is good but against quality attacks he needs to get off strike to avoid building pressure and he hasn't shown this - when he does he will get his chance but my feel is a new no 6 could end up being Smith if he gets a few more scores as Huss probably has only 1 yr left.

Posted by Meety on (December 12, 2012, 0:37 GMT)

I would prefer if Hughes doesn't give anymore interviews until after the 1st Test. The only Ozzy in recent times that has been able to walk the walk after talking the talk was Cowan at the Gabba, (IMO - Pup doesn't big note himself). I am happy for Hughes to have shown the desire to re-build his game, whilst Hughes 1.0 was very good, it reminded me a little bit of Keplar Wessels when he played for Oz in the 80s, pitch it on off (or outside) & it was 4 runs, bowl closer to the body & he was awkward. Hughes 1.0 was probably always going to have a problem at some point in the future (Wessells remodelled himself after leaving Oz), Hughes 2.0 was too many cooks spoiling the broth - too much advice trying to make him too orthodox. I have my fingers crossed Hughes 3.0 is the real deal, Oz can't really wait around for 4.0!

Posted by Kolpak1989 on (December 12, 2012, 0:01 GMT)

It will be great to see Hughes get set in test cricket before we send him over to Old Blightey to bring the Poms back down to Earth. Fingers crossed he has a good series against Sri Lanka. I'll be watching him at the G on Boxing Day!

Posted by Marcio on (December 11, 2012, 23:55 GMT)

Good luck to him. The Hobart wicket will be a good test of his technique. It amazes me how dull many of the comments coming from the Old Dart are. It's like people over there just aren't quite bright enough to be able to grasp the idea of IMPROVEMENT. It's a mindboggling concept I know, but it has happened before - even Cook and Anderson were considered ordinary not that long ago after repeated failures. Those Poms, however, are bright enough to be able to cherry pick the worst possible stats from amongst the many good. One described Hughes' season at Worc as " decidedly low key". Even that Dufas knows PH topped the T20 averages, scored heavily in the one dayers (I saw one superb 100), and only a few end of season low scores dented a pretty good first-class run. And its not like county cricket is the benchmark of first-class cricket. AUS has a much better crop of fast bowlers at that level, and Hughes has averaged over 50 this season against them.

Posted by RandyOZ on (December 11, 2012, 23:23 GMT)

Probably the next big thing in test cricket. Will absolutely carve up the weak attacks of England and Sri Lanka.

Posted by   on (December 11, 2012, 22:52 GMT)

P Hughes Caught Jayawrdene Bowled Kulasekera. Pencil it in now.

Posted by   on (December 11, 2012, 22:17 GMT)

Agree with Barnesy, hughes should never have been dropped! Hes a talent that the Australians need for the future, and surely the coaching team at test level should have been able to help him develop his technique? Hope he makes a ton, good luck Phil!

Posted by Herath-UK on (December 11, 2012, 19:33 GMT)

Haven't the selectors done damage to Hughes by revealing his omssion from the SA series.Hope Sri Lanka will surprise the Aussies as they did in SA when all the chips were down. Ranil Herath - Kent

Posted by Peterincanada on (December 11, 2012, 18:35 GMT)

Living in Canada, I haven't seen a lot of Hughes. I am interested in knowing why he was always nicking to slip. Was he not presenting the full face of the bat, was he not getting forward in defence or did he not know where his off stump was? All these things can be corrected with practice and concentration. All I hear about is his flawed technique but nobody goes into any detail. It seems to me that most posters are just parrottig someone else's opinion without really knowing. I would appreciate any comments.

Posted by gerrardl on (December 11, 2012, 17:22 GMT)

Overrated... Reckon he'll struggle against SL. Just don't think he has the mettle for test cricket. Good first class player - ends there.

Posted by DylanBrah on (December 11, 2012, 15:15 GMT)

Go Hughes. Do us proud mate.

Posted by flobas on (December 11, 2012, 15:05 GMT)

I understand any scepticism behind Hughes, his inclusion in the test side and whether he has indeed improved his leg side game etc. I also understand the criticism on the selectors regarding Khawaja's omission etc. What I can't understand at all is why Hughes has never been considered for the one-day and 20 over team by the selectors. He has by far the best figures of any aussie batsman in the shorter formats and still he has not been given a single game unlike players like Forest, Paine etc. whose numbers are at least mediocre

Posted by hris on (December 11, 2012, 15:05 GMT)

For all his flaws, he is still the best we have. No one can convince me that doolan, quiney or ferguson deserve this more. Thats rubbish. Khawaja and Burns are next in line.

Posted by jonesy2 on (December 11, 2012, 14:38 GMT)

another point is that his one day batting is incredible, he should be straight into the ODI team along with finch. averages over 48 in list a games, as an opener/no 3 that is unheard of

Posted by jonesy2 on (December 11, 2012, 14:33 GMT)

mark my words. this guy is literally twice the player he was a year ago. good luck hughesy, keep working, the sky is the limit

Posted by   on (December 11, 2012, 14:13 GMT)

i think another great player is going under preparation.he is the player to watchout in india and ashes back to back

Posted by Barnesy4444 on (December 11, 2012, 13:41 GMT)

I would love to see Hughes make another century in each innings. Although if he makes a double in the first innings he may only get one bat! He should never had been dropped in 2009. He was in great form. When he was given another 'chance' shortly after he didn't know whether to hit or defend, even to his favourite cut shot! Show them what you're made of Hughesy. I haven't been this excited about a young batsman since 1996.

Posted by Beertjie on (December 11, 2012, 11:13 GMT)

Good luck Hughes. I just hope, though, the NSP don't push Cummins back into the team before he's had time to work on his bowling fitness. All these things take time and I pray they haven't been too hasty with Hughes. There can be only so many chances a talented player is given.

Posted by Essex_Man on (December 11, 2012, 11:12 GMT)

Memo to the world's gully fielders: Get in plenty of catching practice!

Posted by Digimont on (December 11, 2012, 11:05 GMT)

I hope for his sake he isn't caught at second slip for a few in his first innings back. I predict there will be little patience with him from the public and the selectors.

Posted by vj_gooner on (December 11, 2012, 10:48 GMT)

We want to see the Phil Hughes of Durban 2009 again! Good luck Phil!

Posted by PrasPunter on (December 11, 2012, 10:47 GMT)

"Hughes has skipped the inaugural Big Bash League to spend more time tinkering with his technique," - for sure this bloke means business. And just shows how much he cares for and respects the Baggy Green. Go Hughesy !! Make us proud by doing what Punter did to the team over the years and take us to new heights !! God bless Aus !!

Posted by   on (December 11, 2012, 10:47 GMT)

So glad Hughsey is back in the side! Now give the fella a decent run of games and he has the potential to be one of the greats

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Daniel Brettig Assistant editor Daniel Brettig had been a journalist for eight years when he joined ESPNcricinfo, but his fascination with cricket dates back to the early 1990s, when his dad helped him sneak into the family lounge room to watch the end of day-night World Series matches well past bedtime. Unapologetically passionate about indie music and the South Australian Redbacks, Daniel's chief cricketing achievement was to dismiss Wisden Almanack editor Lawrence Booth in the 2010 Ashes press match in Perth - a rare Australian victory that summer.
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