Phillip Hughes joins South Australia
Phillip Hughes has quit New South Wales and joined South Australia in the first major interstate move of the domestic contracting window. The signing of Hughes is a significant boost for the Redbacks, who did not win a Sheffield Shield match last summer and continued to rely heavily on their captain Michael Klinger for top-order runs.
It will also add to the changing nature of the New South Wales batting order, with the former captain Simon Katich and the veteran opener Phil Jaques having both retired from the Blues after last season. Last summer, New South Wales were bursting with quality openers, with Katich, Hughes, Jaques, David Warner, Shane Watson and Nic Maddinson all part of their squad.
But in 2012-13, they will be scratching around for a new opening combination, with Watson and Warner likely to spend most of the season on international duty and another potential opener, Usman Khawaja, also considering an interstate move. The Blues were one of the states most affected by the slashing of the number of national contracts as Hughes, Khawaja, Brett Lee, Doug Bollinger, Nathan Hauritz and Steven Smith all lost their Cricket Australia deals last week.
Hughes, 23, has decided a move to Adelaide will help him in his push to regain a place in Australia's Test side, after he was axed following the home series against New Zealand last season. Hughes was replaced by Ed Cowan in the national setup and while Cowan has shown promise, there could be an opening at the top of the order within the next year if he doesn't begin turning his starts into substantial scores.
"The next two years are the most critical in my cricket career and I'm not going to leave any stone unturned to make sure I put myself back into contention to play again for Australia," Hughes said. "Missing a Cricket Australia contract this year is not the end of the world. In fact, in lots of ways it's a new beginning."
Hughes burst on to the domestic scene in Australia at the age of 18, and in 38 first-class appearances for New South Wales he has scored 3360 runs at 52.50. He has also enjoyed a productive month with Worcestershire this year, having started the season with two one-day hundreds and continued with strong form in the Twenty20 competition.
"The [Worcestershire] organisation, their support of me and my ability to focus 100% on my game has been a real eye-opener and my form with the bat has obviously benefited from it," Hughes said. "That's what I expect the move to Adelaide to also do for me, and I can't wait to get there and settle in."
Hughes said he had enormous respect for his former Australia coach Tim Nielsen, who is now the head coach of the Emerging Redbacks programme, and the South Australia director of cricket Jamie Cox, who as a former national selector played a role in Hughes' emergence as an international batsman. Cox said the addition of Hughes was a major boost for the South Australia squad.
"It is fantastic for us to bring in someone of Phillip's quality, and it works hand in hand with the opportunity that he is also looking for," Cox said. "His record here at Adelaide Oval [two centuries and a fifty in three first-class games], playing against South Australia, is very good and we believe he will be a great asset for us at the top of the order. He is an extremely hard-working cricketer who wants to succeed at the highest level again, and we believe that his determination and focus will be a great example for our young cricketers."
The state associations have until the end of next week to finalise their contract lists for next summer, a process that was delayed by the protracted pay talks between Cricket Australia and the Australian Cricketers' Association. In other potential moves, Hauritz and Khawaja have both been linked with Queensland, while Western Australia confirmed they have approached the Tasmania wicketkeepers Tim Paine and Tom Triffitt.
The Warriors are searching for a gloveman to replace Luke Ronchi, who moved to New Zealand at the end of last summer. The Western Australia coach Lachie Stevens told the Age that Michael Johnson, who kept wicket in five Shield matches last summer, had not been offered a new contract.
Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here