Hughes century as Worcestershire take hold
Warwickshire 19 for 3 trail Worcestershire 246 (Hughes 135) by 227 runs
A defiant century from Phil Hughes helped Worcestershire stay in contention on the first day of their Championship match against local rivals Warwickshire. Hughes became the first Worcestershire batsman to carry his bat since Stephen Moore did so on the same ground in 2008 and was one of only two men to pass 20 during a day in which 13 wickets fell.
Perhaps Hughes felt he had unfinished business at Edgbaston. It was here ahead of the Edgbaston Test of 2009 that Hughes was dropped from the Australian Test team. Having had his weakness against the short ball mercilessly exposed by Andrew Flintoff, Hughes announced his omission on twitter, and has never fully nailed down a spot. In 23 subsequent Test innings he has passed 50 just three times.
He had, until now, struggled to excel for Worcestershire, too. He had impressed in limited-overs cricket, but seven previous Championship innings had brought just two half centuries. Here he looked every inch a Test player. On a dry pitch that had been used for the previous night's limited-overs game, Hughes dealt with a strong attack with impressive flair and composure.
There was just one moment that hinted at his previous troubles against the short ball. In Boyd Rankin's first over Hughes, on 40, edged a brute of a delivery that demanded a stroke but reared sharply only to see Tim Ambrose, the Warwickshire keeper, equally surprised by the pace and the ball elude him on its way to the boundary.
Rankin lacked the consistency to exploit any weakness, however, and Hughes dealt with Jeetan Patel's turn - and there was surprising turn for a day one pitch - Keith Barker's swing - no easy task - and Chris Wright's tight lines, pace and gradual movement with apparent ease. It was his first century since September last year.
"It's nice to get to three figures," Hughes said afterwards. "I've not done it for a while. I didn't play in the Big Bash as I had some technical things I wanted to work on and I didn't make it on the Aussie A tour. But Worcestershire is a fantastic club to play for and I'm really enjoying playing in all three formats of the game.
"The last couple of weeks have seen us playing on the quickest wickets I've seen this season and I've been tested by a few flying around my ears. But I feel I'm a better player now. I've had some ups and downs, but I'm only 23 so I have age on my side."
Worcestershire were grateful for his contribution. Having dropped Jack Shantry, Richard Jones and James Cameron from the team that were thrashed by Sussex, they brought in Chris Russell, Joe Leach and Brett D'Oliveria for their Championship debuts. They made 22 between them and Worcestershire lost their last five wickets for the addition of just seven runs in 46 balls. Hughes, unable to keep the strike, faced only eight of them.
There was a time, when Vikram Solanki and Hughes were adding 124 together for the fourth wicket, when it appeared Worcestershire might set a far more challenging first innings total. Solanki, timing the ball as few can, produced some outrageously fine strokes: he got off the mark with a crunching pull off Rankin, before later driving the same bowler over extra-cover, slog-sweeping Patel and forcing Wright off the back foot. Batting looked almost too easy for him until he obligingly swung a slog-sweep directly to the man on the square leg boundary..
None of their colleagues lingered for long. Daryl Mitchell, set up by away swing, was beaten by natural variation and missed a straight one; Matt Pardoe was drawn into wafting at one well outside off; Moeen Ali was surprised by Rankin's pace and both Leach and D'Oliveria paid the price for feeling for deliveries outside off stump. Patel, after bowling poorly to start, cleaned up the tail, but was slightly flattered by his figures.
Patel, the spinner recalled to the New Zealand squad for their tour of India, hopes to return to Championship duty ahead of Warwickshire's penultimate match of the season against Worcestershire at New Road. It may be more realistic, however, to expect him back for the final game against Nottinghamshire.
Worcestershire hit back in the dying minutes of the day. Russell, who impressed in the two-day match against South Africa and whose slingy action bears some resemblance to Graham Dilley and Chris Silverwood, worked up decent pace and bowled admirably straight in trapping Ian Westwood, stuck in the crease and playing across a straight one, leg before. At the other end Alan Richardson nipped one back into a half-forward Varun Chopra before William Porterfield was very well held at slip at tentatively prodding at one angled across him.
Warwickshire have made a habit of rebuilding through their lower order this season, but are without Chris Woakes, who is on England Lions duty, while Jim Troughton was off the pitch for much of the day due to flu-like symptoms.
George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo