Hughes learns the Langer way
Phillip Hughes has found out the hard way how Justin Langer sweated and fought to play 105 Tests. Hughes has just lived the Langer lifestyle for three days but now believes he could hardly be better prepared to return to the Test team after seven matches spread over four series and an imposing record of 615 runs at 51.25.
Whether that happens in India in October, or during the Ashes campaign this summer, or in another series some time in the future, the decision is out of Hughes' hands. He knows there is only one focus for him in the immediate future - to score so many runs for New South Wales that selection will take care of itself.
At 21, Hughes knows that he has time on his side and a national selection panel eager to promote him after he was dumped during last year's Ashes but he is not willing to risk being unprepared when his name is finally called. "He knows how to score runs but he has an outstanding work ethic and has a fighter's attitude," Langer said.
"He has a run-maker's instinct but he is also working to build a technical base for the next 15 years, not just the coming summer. He is only 21 and has a great record but he knows there are plenty of areas he can get better. How exciting is that?"
Battered and sore after three gruelling days, Hughes was still elated by the experience. It involved dawn boxing sessions and beach running, three daily net sessions against a bowling machine pounding 150kph deliveries into his rib cage, Langer's old favourite of a century of 20m sprints and then nights spent at the Langer dinner table where the philosophies of life and cricket were dissected. He paid his own way to Perth and stayed with the Langer family at their City Beach home.
Langer remains Australia's batting coach but has a job description that involves being as much a mentor and inspiration as technical adviser. "I've got to know Justin better and better over the past 18 months and given that my [dislocated] shoulder is now 100%, it was a good time to get over here and work on a few things and get some tough practice under my belt," Hughes said. "It was pretty hard work, much harder than I anticipated, but Justin played 105 Tests so that shows there is a clear reward if you do the work."
Hughes will shortly travel to Hampshire to play the final three matches and while his sessions with Langer were to arm him for the county stint, his trip involved a broader range of experiences. "I worked on some specific things and just general batting but it was also just great to spend three days with him and talk about every day life," Hughes said. "The passion that he has got for sport and life is simply fantastic.
"For every question I asked him, he asked me one back. He played 105 Tests so there were plenty of things about that experience to talk about but he also reinforced how important it was to have a good balance off the field. It was not just about scoring runs but having respect for the game and respect for your opposition."
Hughes arrived with a bang against South Africa last year, scoring twin centuries in his second match, but like Langer and a host of other cricketers, was dropped and forced to address the technical and mental issues hindering his progress. Langer had several phases in his career but finished so strongly that he was one of only seven players to score 5000 runs in the final five years of his career.
John Townsend is The West Australian's chief cricket writer