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March 12, 2009
Angus Fraser has dismissed as "xenophobic" fears that the signing of Phillip Hughes for Middlesex this season will enhance Australia's chances of winning the Ashes. Hughes this week became the youngest player in Test history to post a century in each innings of a match, and confirmed himself the long-term successor to Matthew Hayden atop Australian batting order.
Fraser, Middlesex's new director of cricket, first learned of Hughes' ability last year when speaking with officials from the Western Suburbs club in Sydney. The former England fast bowler had initially contacted Wests, for whom he played several seasons, to check on the progress of the Middlesex batsman Nick Compton, but conversation soon turned to the club's then-teenage batting prodigy.
Fraser resisted the temptation to sign Hughes as a Kolpak player - he holds an Italian passport - and will instead employ him until the side's regular overseas player, Murali Kartik, arrives in the country. "I thought about it for a while, and then Andrew Strauss was made (England) captain, so it seemed unlikely I would see anything of him throughout the start of the season," Fraser said. "And then Owais Shah looked like he would either be playing for England or in the IPL, so our need for a batsman increased."
Fraser was critical of those who have accused Middlesex of providing succour to a key Australian batsman ahead of a home Ashes series. "To them, I say, 'Grow up.'," he said. "What should the ECB do next summer? Abolish all comforts for the Australians ahead of the Ashes? Put them in dirty hotels and make them travel on a rickety, old school bus with springs coming out of the seats? No, you want a situation like in 2005, where you had two teams at the top of their games battling each other, and hopefully England coming out on top. Surely you want the best playing the best, and I see no problem with England taking on a well-prepared Australian side.
"Realistically, Phil Hughes turned down the chance to go to the IPL because he wants to be a fantastic player for the Australian Test team. You have to respect a player with that kind of thinking. It is xenophobic thinking to suggest that we shouldn't have signed him because it is an Ashes year. I think he will bring many great qualities to our side."
Fraser was in the Sky pundit's chair for much of Hughes' debut Test series, and was intrigued to note his unorthodox, off-side technique. "He must see the length so early," he said. "It's a technique I have not really seen before. I imagine a lot of fast bowlers over time have watched him step to leg and thought, 'I'll jam this up him', but he has just survived the most difficult assignment imaginable in facing Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel on their home pitches. Those are harder pitches and bowlers than he will face in England."