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September 25, 2012
Sometime last summer both fell out of their prams - dropped from the Test team - and struggled to cope with the repercussions of demotion when playing for a New South Wales side that was battling to function effectively.
Each spent much of the winter in England, where Hughes played for Worcestershire in division one while Khawaja helped Derbyshire to promotion out of division two. They have now returned to Australia and are getting acquainted with new surrounds. Next week they will meet as foes, when Queensland host South Australia at the Gabba.
Khawaja had a move to Queensland in his thoughts well before season 2011-12 ended, and Hughes had always admired South Australia's languid lifestyle and Adelaide Oval's friendly pitch, even if he did not confirm his departure from Sydney until well after the summer's end.
Both can point to past success at their new home grounds. Khawaja notched his first Sheffield Shield century at the Gabba in early 2009, and added another the following summer. Its pace off the wicket will be a useful ally to his back foot game, while the prospect of early swing and seam does not appear to perturb him.
"I scored my first century here, and I scored another century the next year," Khawaja said in Brisbane. "So I've enjoyed the Gabba, it's a place where it's tough cricket but you can score runs too if you get in. I enjoy the wicket here, it's got a bit of pace in it - challenging but also rewarding at the same time.
"I came up to Queensland cricket because one I felt like I needed a fresh start, two I wanted to win, and I felt like being here gave me the best chance to enjoy my cricket, start afresh, and hopefully I'm here to help contribute to Queensland cricket winning as many competitions as we can. If I can put my hand up and contribute to the team that will help."
For Hughes, Adelaide's rhythms are closer to those of his Macksville home in country NSW than Sydney's hustle and bustle were ever likely to be. The Adelaide Oval pitch is also amenable to his bush technique, as an aggregate of 475 at 118.75 in three matches can attest. If the Oval's conditions do not force Hughes to answer the questions posed by New Zealand's Chris Martin on testier surfaces last summer, they should help him gather confidence, a critical element to his early international success in South Africa.
"I've been here a few times for a week or two here and there, and I love the place," Hughes said of Adelaide. "I'm originally from the country in NSW, so I'm that down-to-earth type bloke, more laid-back and I think it provides that here, and that's one thing I looked into as well. The place is a lot quieter than Sydney, it's a lot easier to get around, as I've already found out, and I'm looking forward to it.
"I love Adelaide Oval, I've played there a few times now and hopefully I can get as many runs as possible, it can be good for batting at times and once you're in on any wicket you want to make good scores. Hopefully I can do that."
Neither Hughes nor Khawaja won many points for their attitude upon returning to the NSW dressing room last summer, as they pondered what might have been with Australia rather more readily than they contributed to the Blues' faltering season. Khawaja has the chance to rehabilitate his game and his place in the team room under the tutelage of Darren Lehmann, who helmed a Bulls Shield victory in his first season as coach. The past examples of Ryan Harris and Peter Forrest are helpful.
"They did a lot of hard work to be where they are, they didn't just come here and let it happen, so there's nothing certain about now that I've moved up here my career's going to go to the next level, the next stage," Khawaja said. "I've got a lot of hard work in front of me and there's going to be a lot of tough times for me to get through. I'm just here to be honest to enjoy my cricket, have fun and the rest will take care of itself.
"Darren's been great, just like everyone else, they've all really made me feel welcome, which is probably the toughest thing coming to a new place. I've talked to Darren here and there, been at the Centre of Excellence the last couple of years, and I've known him for a good four or five years now, so I know what he's all about and he's just a guy who loves his cricket."
Hughes, meanwhile, showed a willingness to open up to new advice in England, working attentively with Worcs' coach Steve Rhodes where previously he had listened only to the technical advice of his long-time mentor Neil D'Costa, to the exclusion of all others. Darren Berry, the Redbacks' coach, will hope for a similar level of openness.
"Steve was good, he's a hard working coach, and I found his work ethic was outstanding, and from the day I got there he made me feel very welcome," Hughes said. "We got to the nets and he was quite simple on a lot of things, for me that's a good thing, and through the four months he was very supportive of me.
"I just want to be the most consistent player I possibly can be in all three forms of the game. It can be tough to juggle all the formats and hopefully through the season I can score as many runs in all the formats that I can."
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets hereFeeds: Daniel Brettig
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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