Test spot beckons for Phillip Hughes
Phillip Hughes might be in the form of his life, but he is sitting out of Australia A's second four-day match against Zimbabwe. Hughes has made two hundreds from his four innings on the tour of Zimbabwe and is expected to partner Shane Watson when Australia head to Sri Lanka for a Test series beginning in late August.
The demotion of Simon Katich has left Hughes as the logical replacement, and although he struggled to have any impact when he replaced the injured Katich during the Ashes, he finished the summer with Sheffield Shield scores of 54, 115, 138 and 93. However, he was left out of Australia A's side for the Harare match that started on Thursday - the last game of the trip - with David Warner and Aaron Finch listed to open.
Greg Chappell is the selector on duty and he must feel he has seen enough of Hughes to know that he is the man for the Test spot. However, Hughes spoke to ESPNcricinfo earlier in the week, before the Australia A team was finalised, and he was putting all thoughts of Test cricket out of his mind and wanted to make the most of his good form in Zimbabwe.
"That's out of my mind at the moment," Hughes said of replacing Katich in the Test team. "I just want to do the best I can with Australia A in this series. The biggest thing I want to do is just be the most consistent player I can be. Whatever happens, happens. Anything else is out of my hands."
As Hughes knows only too well, it doesn't take much to turn a man's form from good to bad. He made a century in each innings of his second Test, in Durban in early 2009, but later that year was axed in the middle of an Ashes series. It was only late last summer when he started to regain his touch, after some words of advice from his batting coach Neil d'Costa.
"I had a slow start to last season but at the back end of the season I felt like I hit the ball as well as I've ever hit the ball in my whole career," Hughes said. "That was a good feeling, to finish the season off strong and to carry that form into the Australia A series has been great.
"I just wasn't scoring runs. I was getting a lot of starts for New South Wales and not going on with them, which was quite frustrating at the time. Then I was selected in the Australian side and played the three Ashes Tests and again I didn't convert the starts into big scores, which was disappointing.
"But at the back end of the season I did some work with my coach Neil d'Costa. He's been great with me over the last few years. He was a huge help with me getting back into the runs. It's a funny game, you can open the batting and you'll feel like you're in the form of your life, then you go out in the middle and nick a couple and you're behind the eight-ball. So you just want to keep things as simple as possible and not complicate that."
Hughes, 22, has ten Tests to his name but hasn't added another century since that momentous performance at Kingsmead against South Africa. The Sri Lanka tour will be followed by another trip to South Africa, and Hughes can cement his place as Katich's replacement if he makes the most of both of those series.
Australia have not played Test cricket in Sri Lanka since 2004, when Hughes was 15, and he knows that playing Sri Lanka in their own conditions will be one of the biggest challenges in world cricket. He said it had been good to be tested by the slower pitches in Zimbabwe over the past few weeks.
"The conditions have been a little different," he said. "The wickets have been slower than they are in Australia, so you've just got to adapt to conditions as quick as you can."
Unfortunately for Hughes, it won't be him adapting to conditions when the Australians bat in Harare over the weekend. Now he can start thinking about wearing the baggy green in Sri Lanka.
Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo