England v Australia, 3rd npower Test, Edgbaston July 30, 2009

Hughes confirms axing on Twitter


Phillip Hughes has confirmed his axing from the Australian XI for Edgbaston via a posting on the social networking site, Twitter. After a string of modest totals prompted by a susceptibility to short-pitched bowling, Hughes was dropped for Shane Watson in the most surprising selection move of the Ashes series to date.

"Disappointed not to be on the field with the lads today," Hughes posted several hours before the Australian team announcement. "Will be supporting the guys, it's a BIG test match 4 us. Thanks 4 all the support!"

Hughes managed 36, 4 and 17 at Sophia Gardens and Lord's, and posted scratchy innings of 10 and 68 in the most recent tour match against Northamptonshire. He had been expected to retain his place in the Australian starting XI on the back of his sublime debut series in South Africa, during which he posted centuries in both innings of the Durban Test, but fundamental flaws in his technique have prompted the selectors to act.

It is understood Watson will open the Australian innings in what represents a substantial gamble for the tourists. Despite impressive innings of 84 and 50 against Northants, Watson posseses a modest Test average (19.76) and has never batted higher than No. 6 in the five-day game. He has posted single-digit totals in his last four Test innings.

Watson has experienced moderate success batting higher in the order for Queensland, but has fared better opening the batting for the Australian one-day side. He has posted ODI centuries at the top of the order for Australia in the past year, having worked with Greg Chappell, the Australian centre of excellence coach, to tighten his technique.

Still, the move to replace Hughes with Watson comes as a shock on the eve of the third Test. Hughes, 20, arrived in England amid much fanfare following his prolific tour of South Africa (415 runs at 69.16) and a similarly successful stint with Middlesex (574 runs at 143.50). Hughes achieved the latter feat in just five innings, including three centuries, bettering Don Bradman's impressive start to his maiden first-class stint in England - 566 runs in five innings in 1930.

Any move to install Watson as Australia's new opener would also come as a surprise, given the quality of top-order candidates around the country. Chris Rogers, who played a solitary Test against India two years ago, has scored 408 runs at 45.33 for Derbyshire in 2009, following on from his successful debut season with Victoria. And Phil Jaques, who has reportedly recovered from a second round of back surgery, scored a century in his last Test innings and averages a robust 47.47 in 11 Test innings.

Evidence of the selectors' stunning move was on display at Australia's final pre-match training session at Edgbaston's indoor nets centre on Wednesday. Watson batted with tremendous intent during an extended net session with Tim Nielsen, the Australian coach. Several pundits had speculated the all-rounder could slot in for Marcus North at No. 6, but he will now be posted higher up the order as Australia seek to level the Ashes series.

"In the end, all I can do is perform and see what the selectors are going to do with the team," Watson said during the tour match at Northampton. "I'm not targeting one specific spot. I've just got to go out there and perform when I get the opportunity and see what happens.

"I feel like I've got the game and the technique and the mental side of things in the order to be able to give myself the best chance to combat [England's fast bowlers]. They're some of the best bowlers in the world and it's one of the biggest challenges you could really face in world cricket facing those guys with a brand-new ball on a fresh pitch. But I feel like I've got the game to handle that and it would be an awesome to challenge to have that opportunity."

England will undoubtedly view the move as vindication for their tight, short-pitched tactics to Hughes. South Africa also attempted to bounce the diminutive opener earlier this year, but offered him too much width and paid a heavy price.

Speaking to FoxSports prior to his axing, Hughes said he was enjoying the challenge of batting against Andrew Flintoff, who had dismissed him in two of his three innings on tour. "I see it as a challenge and it definitely has been, he's bowling beautifully, I suppose their whole unit has been coming out pretty well and you've got to really adapt to that," he said.

"I'm not going to change things right now, halfway through a series and I won't. There's things that I will be adapting to, a couple of things I want to change. I'm a little bit disappointed about not playing well in the first Tests but I can turn things around."

It is understood Australia will retain the same bowling attack from the opening two Tests of the series, albeit with Mitchell Johnson bowling at first-change, and Peter Siddle and Ben Hilfenhaus taking the new ball. The move will come as a desperate disappointment to Stuart Clark, who has performed strongly in all three tour matches and was hoping to force his way into the Australian XI for Edgbaston.

Alex Brown is deputy editor of Cricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Adrian on July 30, 2009, 19:04 GMT

    I love Watson as Australia's only true all-rounder and am very happy to see him in the side, predictably at the expense of Hughes. One issue though is that Watson should be batting at 4, not opening. Hussey should be opening instead. North is in Watson's spot as the "all-rounder". It is all a bit mixed up. The big surprise, though, is that Stuart Clark is *STILL* not in the side. That is somewhat unbelievable. Hauritz has a dislocated finger, Siddle is a bit all over the place and Johnson, well, he is bowling like Gillespie in '05. Yet in spite of all of that, with 3 viable options to drop so that Clark, the number 4 bowler in the world, could play, there was no room for him. I also hate that Manou gets his debut, when he shouldn't have even been on tour. Hartley! When is Australia going to go with a real wicket keeper and play Hartley?

  • paul on July 30, 2009, 16:27 GMT

    Where's Chris Rogers? Australia lost the last Ashes series in England because of bad selections - they didn't play Stuart McGill, even though he was in the squad. Chris Rogers isn't even in the squad - the selectors should be sacked!

  • Wanderer on July 30, 2009, 15:29 GMT

    Twitter, what a twatter. Back in my day we kept inside news to ourselves and did as we were told. Not cry about it on the internets.

  • usman on July 30, 2009, 15:14 GMT

    It's a stopgap measure. Hughes has, in essence, paid the price for the ineffectiveness of Johnson as the bowling reserves had to be propped up, and Watson was the ideal guy for the task as he can open the batting too lending Aussies an extra bowler although at the cost of a specialist opener.

  • Grant on July 30, 2009, 14:35 GMT

    Very suprising, reminiscent of English selection policy in the 90's. (Dropping newish players, potentially destroying their confidence). Hussey should have been dropped before hughes in this situation if recent form is anything to go on.

  • cricfan06964670 on July 30, 2009, 14:04 GMT

    Hey Brownie, that Watson to open campaign that I started on the Tonk last year finally bore fruit! Not sure Hughes was my target - maybe the grown up thing would have been to keep him in the team but drop him to 6 for a year or two... but another big, last chance for Watson. 37 years ago it was his namesake and better allrounder Graeme Watson who was opening the batting and bowling (in tour games) for Australia on an Ashes tour.

    I was remarking that North might have been dropped for Watson (with the latter to open and Hughes to be at 6 - although Hussey deserves to go, too), because, with the benefit of hindsight and some cruelty, North scored too slow at Cardiff and we needed 10 more overs. and that made his innings the equivalent of Collingwood's Adelaide... when I realised that this week it's Collingwood v Adelaide! you had to be there. or not.

    ps make the rain stop, or I'll call John Fogerty.


  • Stuart on July 30, 2009, 13:20 GMT

    Bringing Watson in for this test match was very predictable and sensible, although it seems to mean that Clark has even less likelihood of playing if Johnson plays. Axing Hughes was less predictable. But using Watson as the replacement opener just seems incredibly potty to me. Hussey would be far better suited to the opener role, with Watson coming in at 7, straight after Haddin, with Clarke, North and Haddin moving one up the order from the Lord's XI.

  • VaRUN on July 30, 2009, 13:14 GMT

    There is a reason why Ricky Ponting does NOT want Hughes in the side. Even when Huighes was about to get selected for Ashes, Ponting said that " Ashes was not the time to experiment with young blood". He wanted average openers who can score some runs and take the shine off the ball.

    Ponting is insecure that Hughes who is just 20 will knock off the 10,000 odd runs he has scored in about 8 or 9 years and he will not be the highest run scorer for Australia or in test cricket. But I definitely think Hughes will become the highest number of test run scorer in about 12 years and he will beat Sachin Tendulkar.

  • Andrew on July 30, 2009, 12:48 GMT

    Australia's batting is not a problem. Hughes will come good, he's got the tallent, he's basically been a bit unlucky and a bit rash, bad move to drop him. The bowling is the problem, Johnson's wickets are more luck coming from unpredictability, he's a bit quick and catches a few batsmen off guard, but when was the last wicket he got from wearing a batsman down. Clark should be in, he is tight and get's enough variation to take wickets, especially in England, he would be good in combination with Hauritz. Ponting needs to learn from past mistakes, not get his back up when all doesn't go his way.

  • Graeme on July 30, 2009, 12:40 GMT

    This is madness!!?? To start with Bollinger was not selected ( shades of Mike Whitney) and the excuse is that the fast bowlers selected by Oz did the job in Sth Africa. Stuart Clark was injured - give us a break - he would ( or should) have been the first selected. The Andrew Symonds mystery is not all explained either. It seems to me that the " old mates" aspect of Oz cricket is alive and well. God bless the sponsors but give me a maverick who is test quality - who is directing the selectors??!! Punter needs some help to toughen up the captaincy - this job has been beyond many a champion player. Have a good hard look at the Oz selectors and the captaincy Cricket Oz - this " model" is wrong.

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