Hayden tips Hughes for 'enormous career'
Matthew Hayden, the former Australia opener, appears more upset with Phillip Hughes' quick demotion from the Test team than the man himself. While Hughes was disappointed and vowed to fight back following his sacking after the Lord's Test, Hayden carried a "heavy heart" after a player of such quality had been shifted aside in only five games.
"I'm very proud and honoured about what he's been able to achieve in the short time he's been opener," Hayden told Cricinfo. "With a heavy heart we've seen only very temporarily the conclusion to Phil's opening life. In my opinion he's got a long career ahead of him. With extreme talent, perseverance and great support around him, I think he'll have an enormous career in the future."
Hayden and Justin Langer have both spoken to Hughes since the left-hander was dropped, and he has also relied heavily on his experienced current team-mates for support. He is speaking strongly and staying "positive", one of his favourite words, and has come to terms with the decision.
"They've been great for me," Hughes said of Hayden and Langer. "They've said a few things: stay focussed, it's up to you, and there are going to be tough times around the corner. This is only one."
People are lining up to offer help and he has taken a lot from the experiences of Michael Clarke and Simon Katich, his New South Wales mates, who experienced similar starts to their careers before being dropped and returning as more successful batsmen. "If you look through a lot of the guys who have played at this level, they have come back very positive, bigger and better and mentally strong," he said during the team's final rest day in Leeds.
"It's something I like to talk about with the guys playing now. Michael Clarke has been great. He's been dropped and look where he's at now. It's the same with Ricky Ponting, Simon Katich, all those guys."
The main problem for Hughes during his two Ashes Tests was he failed to adapt to the short ball. He scored 57 runs at Sophia Gardens and Lord's and was dismissed in ugly fashion each time, with most of his problems coming against Andrew Flintoff. He knows he will be a target with lifting balls into his body, but is confident he can deal with the threats of bowlers in the first-class and international arenas.
"I'll be fine," he said confidently. "I've had it all the way through, starting at 12 years of age. I used to play against men when I was young - I was only short - and they've always bowled short at me. I'm sure I am going to cop a lot of that. I'm going to stay strong and keep playing my game."
He has discussed a few technical changes with Tim Nielsen, but neither the Australian coach nor the player want to reveal them. They will involve not getting his shoulders closed off when bowlers are aiming at his chest and trying to be more still at impact.
Steve Harmison was the first to exploit Hughes' unusual technique in the early tour game at Worcester, forcing him to fend two catches to the cordon. He was then caught by Matt Prior or Andrew Strauss, the first slip, during his three Test innings.
When considering his method he thinks back to how he coped with Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel and Makhaya Ntini during his debut series, which included twin centuries in his second Test. "They came very hard at me there and that was only a couple of months down the track - they bowled very short at me," he said. "There's not much different but at the end of the day I got dropped and I'm going to stay very positive. I'm going to keep the way I play, but in saying that there's a lot of things I'm going to keep working on."
Despite the setbacks and the strong form of his replacement Shane Watson, who has scored three consecutive half-centuries, Hughes hopes his tour isn't over. He hasn't been picked in the limited-overs squads and will head back to New South Wales after the decider at The Oval, which starts on August 20.
"There are still two more games left - a tour game and the last Test," he said. "I'm not thinking my tour's over. I'm going to stay positive and go into every game preparing to play." A lot of strange things have happened on this trip already, but it will take something unexpected for Hughes to gain a quick recall.
Peter English is the Australasia editor of Cricinfo