County news May 16, 2012

Hughes ready to begin again


Once more, Phillip Hughes is setting off overseas with optimism, ambition and the promise of a new technique. Once more, he is doing so after a wretched Australian season that exposed his frailties at the top level of the game. Soon all will see whether the Hughes of 2012 is indeed a batsman entering maturity, or the same harried young figure who played his most recent Test match in Hobart last November and subsequently slipped from international contention.

In 2010-11, Hughes was one of many Ashes casualties, and last year he became the very public rabbit of Chris Martin and Martin Guptill. These episodes were preceded, of course, by the 2009 Ashes, when the Australia selectors dropped Hughes in mid-series only two Tests after he had completed his first Test assignment with honours in South Africa.

Much as he did in 2011, this year Hughes retreated first to his family property in Macksville, then convened with his longtime batting coach Neil D'Costa, the only man with whom he is prepared to discuss matters of technique. Their handiwork will be tested out in England, via an extended county stint with Worcestershire. Though still only 23, Hughes wants to break out of the pattern that has so far defined his young career.

"That is a big test and I'm looking forward to it," Hughes said, of the prospect of facing the seaming ball in England. "I've been over to county cricket two times before, this is my third, first time at Worcester and my biggest stint: three-and-a-half months, there's a lot of cricket to be played, and I can't wait to be over there in totally different conditions to here.

"[I've done] a lot of work in the nets. After the season finished with NSW I had a bit of downtime and went back to the country with my family, just to get away from everything. I got back to Sydney for a lot of one-on-one coaching with Neil D'Costa in the nets, a lot of fitness work as well."

Hughes is presently a long way back in the queue for Australian places, a fact demonstrated when he was deemed surplus to the Australia A squad that will also be playing first-class matches in the latter part of the northern summer. But he is aware of his standing as one of few young batsmen in the country to show the focus required for long innings, and also aware that dual Ashes series lurk beyond the horizon in 2013.

"The Ashes series is a long way down the track, but I know personally that in the game of cricket things can change very quickly," Hughes said. "I've been in and out of the side a couple times now and it is tough when you first get dropped. I suppose the second time I'd been there and done that before and I just worked as hard as possible.

"Going back to NSW and state cricket I didn't get the runs I'd have liked, but I got a few starts and I went okay without going great. The big thing now for me is to go to England for three and a half months and play three forms of the game, get out into the centre, make as many runs [as I can] and hopefully cement myself again, I want those runs behind me."

Hughes will soon find out if his technique, which has been tinkered and tweaked by D'Costa over several off-seasons, has emerged from the squared-up mess it appeared to be against New Zealand. A reputation as a "nicker" will precede Hughes in England, but he said bowlers expecting to employ their slips cordons may be surprised by his methods this time around.

"I think so," he said, when asked if people will see the difference. "That's why I'm very keen to get to England. Three and a half months is a lot of cricket and I know I've changed a couple things. I'm keen to get over there, test them out and see how they go. There were times [when the old method worked], depending on different conditions and where I am as well.

"But I've got to keep working on my game, it's as simple as that when you're at the top level. I've played a few Tests now, but it's testing times at the top and everyone knows that - you'd be silly not to keep working on your game. Everyone from around the country always is, and the best players are always tinkering with their game and working at it, and that's what I'm doing."

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

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Andrew on May 20, 2012, 1:04 GMT

    @hyclass on (May 19 2012, 03:49 AM GMT) - well said. Concur 100% regarding Hughes. Still has plenty of time to rediscover himself & have a long career.

  • Christopher on May 19, 2012, 3:49 GMT

    Here is my recommendation for PJ Hughes.You're a square of the wicket player who hits down the ground when line and length dictate and works to leg occasionally. You were peerless in 09 in Shield,SA & County for Middlesex,playing your own game.You held at that time The Steve Waugh medal,Young Bradman medal,Shield Player of the Year,were in Wisden with a number of records that still stand and Test,1st class averages and strike rates in the 60s.Nothing that changed that game has made it better. At no time would you have made the changes forced on you by a sociopathic Nielsen and then a well meaning Langer,if you'd understood the implications. Langer had a traditional technique.When he played square,it opened him up,making him worse.You were always a square of the wicket player.Your back-foot trigger movement brought your front shoulder around and transferred weight into your shots. Your unique grip,like Bradman,kept the ball on the ground and gave you great control.Go back to being you.

  • Christopher on May 19, 2012, 3:39 GMT

    Any comment on Hughes game from the time he joined the Ashes squad in 09,onwards,is an observation,not of his game or character,but of the those that he was forced to adopt under Nielsen,which has continued to prevent his resurgence. Lets put the technique myth,used to persecute such players,to bed for good. Chanderpaul,whose technique bears no resemblance to the text book,averages 50 in Test cricket and was the leading run scorer in the last series. All a batsman needs to succeed, is an attacking plan,a defensive plan and the concentration,physical capability and stamina to execute it.Its irrelevent whether Hughes dominates through the off-side.Thats where good bowlers bowl.If Hughes uses his original technique,the one that Shield,County & SA bowlers failed to overcome,he will be seen to have regressed and not selected. If he uses the Langer approach,he stands little chance of being the force that he once was.His natural scoring rate,as with Ponting,is close to 60.He fails below 50.

  • Christopher on May 19, 2012, 3:23 GMT

    He came into the 09 Ashes with 1690 runs and 8 centuries at 96 in just 10 games, on 3 continents,including 4 scores in the 190s. In deference to @jmcilhinney, I believe his allegiance to D'Costa is symptomatic of his extreme lack of trust of those he encountered in the CA system,rather than any statement on D'Costas quality. In 09, D'Costa publicly stated that when Hughes joined the Ashes squad,he was forced to prepare in a manner that was different to the one with which he'd had all his success. He was forced by the coach to play short balls differently,to be more defensive,to remove his back foot trigger movement to leg,to change his grip and to play straighter. He was left with a half and half technique and a game plan that was hopeless. His original game was genius. It didn't need modifying.Nielsen stated publicly that Hughes hadnt been expected to do so well in SA and that Watson was pencilled in as his pre-Ashes opener.Nielsen was behind his changed game.You figure it out.

  • rob on May 18, 2012, 8:49 GMT

    It's a bit hard to believe, but Justin Langer started out as a wanna-be dashing middle order batsman ! .. he was given a go early, self destructed before you can say "snick" and disappeared for about 4 years, .. until we needed a dependable left handed opener which is what he had re-invented his game to become in the meantime ... I suppose a comment should have a point, so mine is that Justin Langer is one fella who actually does know something about modifying your technique and becoming a better player. .. not that personal experience equates directly to being a good coach. .. anyway, good luck Phillip. This year would be a great time to score a mountain of runs and start piling the pressure up. ... I'm sure your good mates from the mother country would just looovvee to see you again in 2013.. .. if you really are the player so many "good judges" keep saying you are, 24 or so is a middle of the road age to start showing it. Come on mate, if you've got it, let's see it now.

  • Andrew on May 18, 2012, 4:21 GMT

    @Sriraj G.S - I am pretty sure that up until the Oz tour, the great Dravid had a statistically low occurence of getting bowled for a player of that length of career. So I think the monica of "The Wall" was earnt on many levels. I think the fact that he was bowled so often in the Oz test series (not inc being bowled off a no-ball as well), made him take an honest look at himself. @Gavin Stevensen re: Cowan. His average is not good enough atm. The answer to your question depends on to what extent the selectors think that he is LIKELY to change the occurence of 100s & increase his ave. People are quick to bag his efforts - listing his opponents have been weak Indian & WI sides, however, India's bowling was reasonable from Khan & Yadav & the WIndies series was a low scoring series where scoring runs was tough. So what does that mean? Just that his ave may not be the deciding factor on whether he gets another crack against the Saffas this summer.

  • Dummy4 on May 17, 2012, 23:41 GMT

    @jmcilhinney: If you hop onto YouTube, (maybe CSB's channel) you will find a long video with a montage of Dravid being dismissed bowled throughout his career. Looking at all of them actually gives the impression he was always susceptible to the ball nipping in form off stump and he was called 'The Wall' more for grinding down bowlers patiently rather than protecting his stumps.

  • John on May 17, 2012, 15:19 GMT

    @Cummins_Hazlewood on (May 17 2012, 13:37 PM GMT), yes, Dravid did show a weakness in the most recent series against Australia... and he retired immediately afterwards.

  • Dummy4 on May 17, 2012, 14:31 GMT

    How long will Ed Cowan be around if he doesn't score hundreds ? He's averaging a very average 30 odd in Tests, which is not good enough in Tests. I think Phil Hughes and David Warner at the top of the order would be great to watch. With Khawaja at 3. Put Watson at six where he should be.

  • Rakesh on May 17, 2012, 13:37 GMT

    Hughes have the weakness but at the same time he has some amazing cricketing shots. There are too much written and said about his one mode of dismissal but even likes of Dravid had the weakness, even Dravid was continuously bowled in recent tour. I hope Hughes works on his weakness and get it sorted because he have the mantel to succeed at the top level.

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