The Investec Ashes 2013

Hughes seeks to repair confidence

Daniel Brettig in London

June 18, 2013

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Nuwan Kulasekera celebrates the wicket of Phil Hughes, Australia v Sri Lanka, Champions Trophy, Group A, The Oval, June 17, 2013
Phillip Hughes had a poor Champions Trophy, making 43 runs in three innings © ICC/Getty
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Phillip Hughes is adamant he can repair his shaken confidence in three warm-up matches ahead of the first Investec Ashes Test at Trent Bridge, starting with Australia A's fixture against Gloucestershire in Bristol from Friday.

A paltry return of 57 runs in five limited-overs innings on this England tour so far has not enhanced Hughes' claims to a spot in the Australian top order for the Test matches to come, particularly when they are added to his poor record against England - 154 runs at 17.11 in five Tests spread across the past two series - and a dire recent tour of India.

But the selectors' decision to send Hughes and Matthew Wade to Bristol to join Australia A will now afford Hughes a trio of first-class matches in which to strive for runs before the Test squad rolls into Nottingham. A century or three over the next two weeks would not only enhance Hughes' chances of retention in the Test team, but also send self-recriminating thoughts of a poor Champions Trophy to the back of his mind.

"I'm really looking forward to getting a couple training days in Bristol and starting Friday," Hughes said in London. "Hopefully spend a bit of time in the middle and get my mental game around the red ball now. It was disappointing to be knocked out and lose those games of cricket in the Champions Trophy, but that's behind us now, it's about moving on.

"We'll be disappointed for a day or two but it's all about the red ball now and we'll get into preparation. Behind the scenes in the nets now all my focus will be on the red ball. It can be at times tricky to juggle formats but the beauty of it is there's still a way to go before the Ashes and we've got some good cricket coming up to that first Test."

Largely due to a homespun batting technique that relies heavily on an uncluttered mind and an exceptional eye rather than precise footwork or a watertight defence, confidence is more critical to Hughes' chances of success than most. This contention is backed up by his penchant for scoring great swathes of runs on some days and looking like the bat is an alien object in his hands on others.

The latter state of affairs was in evidence at The Oval against Sri Lanka, where Hughes used the inside and outside edges far more often than the middle on his way to a fretful 13. He did not look like a batsman thinking clearly and simply about the task at hand. Nevertheless, Hughes argued that four years around international cricket now meant he would be far better prepared to do so when the Ashes begin than he had been on his previous visit to England in 2009.

"It's a tough one," Hughes said of keeping distractions from his mind at the batting crease. "The older you get the better you are at it, I think. You speak to players in the past and they sometimes say you mature at 28-29 years of age. One thing for me is I've still got age on my side. I've been very lucky to be around the international scene for four years, and I feel like I'm in a lot better space than I was four years ago. I feel like my game's come a long, and also mentally it's come along. I suppose it's a pleasing thing going forward, but day in day out I'm still looking to get better.

"One thing around the Ashes is huge hype, so it's about staying as calm as possible and wiping out as much media and outside influence as possible, and keeping a tight team unit. I remember the memories of four years ago and personally how disappointed I was and everyone was when we lost that series. That's in the back of my mind. As a kid growing up you want to win Ashes series and that's what we always talk about."

There was evidence of Hughes' gathering mental strength in India of all places, where he emerged from a nightmarish first two Tests to make a fighting 69 in Mohali then a battling 45 in Delhi. Those innings don't sound like much, but they showed rare persistence on a generally dysfunctional tour, and caught the approving eye of the Cricket Australia chief executive James Sutherland, among others. Hughes will need to repeat the trick over the next two weeks if he is to keep his Test spot.

Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here

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Posted by Front-Foot-Lunge on (June 20, 2013, 13:50 GMT)

England fans can't wait to see Hughes play again, because they know within half an hour at least the the score book will read 'Hughes c Prior b Anderson' for only around 15 or so runs. It's so predictable. It beggars belief he is the Australian number 3 and the only player considered good enough. As has been the case for every other Ashes in living memory, England have, and are still, outclassing Australia in Skill, Fitness, and basically 'every facet of the game' (as Ponting and Clarke had to concede many a match before). This time round however, Australia go into the Ashes in the middle of a desperate streak, with huge cracks in the squad, leadership and discipline problems, and look off the field as big a shambles as they do on it. England meanwhile, are just training hard, and winning well in the Champions Trophy. The gulf between these two Ashes rivals continues to remain massive.

Posted by Mandini on (June 20, 2013, 11:06 GMT)

In his last 41 test innings Hughes has averaged 27.55, not anywhere near good enough for a test 'batsman'. He is the shining beacon of the lack of judgement in our current selection panel. His selection may just be the indicator that CA no longer has it's focus on test cricket.

Posted by Macker60 on (June 20, 2013, 10:16 GMT)

Oh how short our memory's are, If I am not mistaken didn't Hughes Dominate in the English County last Season, And Corrected his Batting issues at the Same time, All in Swing conditions with the Duke Balls. I think he may surprise a few this series, along with 2 other batsmen who are performing in county cricket, Add Clarke to the Mix and with 4 fast bowls the Worse Being Watson, We may surprise England.

Posted by smudgeon on (June 20, 2013, 7:50 GMT)

I'm going to suggest my ideal starting XI Ashes (in batting order): Siddle, Rogers, Cosgrove, David Boon, Steve Waugh, Clarke, David Bowie, Siddle (to shore up the middle-order), James Pattinson, Jackson Bird, Peter Brock. Should see us right through to Old Trafford. Then I might rest Brockie and bring in Ryan Harris.

Posted by landl47 on (June 20, 2013, 3:00 GMT)

@Jono Makim: Yes, I do think that's the way Hughes will bat in test cricket, because after his first two games it's the way he has always batted in test cricket. England has owned him in the 5 tests he has played against them. As I said in my comment, I thought his technique had improved, but he was back to doing the same thing- playing cross-batted without moving his feet. Whatever the target or the format, if you play like that, you get out.

@Mitty2: quoting the FC averages of bowlers who have basically only played in Australian domestic cricket is irrelevant, because Australia has no top-class batsmen. Since the bunch in the test side are reckoned to be the best, how bad are the others? Aus fans keep plugging journeymen like Ferguson, Doolan, Shaun Marsh as test players- guys in their late twenties with FC averages in the 30s. Yes, it's just a bad patch and things will get better, but right now Aus has real problems with batting, which is why Hughes keeps getting picked.

Posted by ScottStevo on (June 19, 2013, 20:24 GMT)

@JobeWatson, I have no clue why, but I think Hughes will score runs in this series too. Absolutely no idea how I get to that conclusion, but I've already got a sneaky score lined up for that wager! @Hammond, and Cook was a walking wicket on a fishing frenzy against Australia and was on the verge of being dropped before some uber flat decks in Oz kick started his remarkable comeback. Fair play to the bloke, but he's proof that even those that look all at sea can get it together...

Posted by   on (June 19, 2013, 14:23 GMT)

One look at Hughes batting and you wonder how he made it to the international level. The fact that he piles up runs at domestic level with this kind of a technique and mental fragility reflects poorly on the quality of Shield level bowlers than on Hughes' talent. And the fact that Australia cannot even replace him reflects on a cupboard that is not just bare, but even the paint has been scraped off.

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Daniel Brettig Assistant editor Daniel Brettig had been a journalist for eight years when he joined ESPNcricinfo, but his fascination with cricket dates back to the early 1990s, when his dad helped him sneak into the family lounge room to watch the end of day-night World Series matches well past bedtime. Unapologetically passionate about indie music and the South Australian Redbacks, Daniel's chief cricketing achievement was to dismiss Wisden Almanack editor Lawrence Booth in the 2010 Ashes press match in Perth - a rare Australian victory that summer.
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