England v Australia, 3rd Investec Test, Old Trafford, 1st day August 1, 2013

Forgotten Phil watches his captain's mastery

Cast aside once again, Phillip Hughes sat in the pavilion and watched Michael Clarke play an elegant innings of the purest timing
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One full day watching Australia bat - a novelty in itself this series - and the mind kept wandering to the Australian dressing-room where Phillip Hughes sat watching too. Forgotten Phil. I was there in Durban when he made two hundreds in the match, a free spirit set free. I was there in Sydney when, on a difficult pitch, in a Sheffield Shield match that mattered, he made a hundred that lifted the heart. And I heard about a score of 90-odd in Hobart, on an impossible pitch, with which even the meanest critic could find no fault.

But these innings were four and five years ago. There have been further highlights since and many lowlights too. The Hughes we see today is a shadow of the stroke-maker back then. He has become a cricketer ripe for the sack, a sitting duck for a selectorial whim. What to do next lads, they wonder. Simple, drop Hughesy.

Of the great pities surrounding the Australian team right now, Hughes is the greatest. Rare talent is just that, rare. An eagle eye and fast hands need a calm and clear head to prosper. The unbeaten 81 at Trent Bridge was an excellent innings, thoughtful and inspirational. Because of it, the match might have been won. It is cruel to make him suffer for one poor match at Lord's.

Call it third-Test syndrome. Third Test, Ashes 2009; Hughes dropped. Third Test, Ashes 2010-11; Hughes recalled. Third Test, Ashes 2013; Hughes dropped. Up and down the order, in and out of the side. A whipping boy made more fragile still. The only way with Hughes is to run with it for a while. Here is your slot, Mr Hughes, fill it or be damned. The selectors should stick with him long enough to be sure, one or the other. The present situation is a head screw for everyone.

Therefore, the innings played by his captain, Michael Clarke, warrants greater than the usual respect. Clarke aches for Hughes, for he is a protégé of sorts. There is something of himself in the lad, another young talent out of the Western Sydney District Club who is chasing the world stage. But Clarke cannot make his runs for him and, now that he is no longer a selector, cannot ensure that he gets in the side either. It is the Australian captain's conundrum. On the one hand it is his team, on the other it is not.

On that point, it seems unlikely Clarke would have let David Warner disappear to southern Africa. But it was not for him to influence the decision. Now that he is back, in form and picked to play, where should he bat? That, apparently, is Clarke's decision. No. 6 is the choice.

Clarke's golden 2012 came from many an unpromising position. The team were three down for next to nothing more often than Bangladesh. He responded with a 300, a couple of doubles and some plain old hundreds. The scorebooks will tell you that the bloke at the other end was central to the completion of these marvellous innings. Mike Hussey at No. 6 was Clarke's godsend, his given, his death and taxes. Perhaps the captain thinks he can lead Warner to the same waters of certainty.

All of these things and more sit heavily on the captain. Ashes defeats are numbing and lead to recrimination, both of self and the whole. Six consecutive Test defeats is the stuff of legend, the most undesirable legend. Clarke has to sleep with this stuff on his mind and when he wakes it is still there. He has to talk to the press about the problem and about unravelling it. He must justify, explain, inform and inspire. He must pat backs and kick butts. He knows that a chunk of Australia still finds itself unable to trust him. He is accused of being divisive and political. And all the while, he must find a way to smile, to make runs and to keep an eye out for fellows such as Phil Hughes.

Martin Crowe used to call the peripherals "traffic". You cannot, he would say, bat with traffic. Yesterday Clarke proved the great Kiwi wrong. How Crowe must have loved this innings. An early scrap, an increasing presence, four singles from 96 to a hundred - no stress there - and a later flourish. It was an innings crafted by a beautifully straight bat, an elegant form and the purest timing. With him for 318 balls, three hours and 40 minutes and 174 runs was his Mike Hussey of the moment, Steve Smith, who played the Test match hand of his life. Smith is not an obvious choice to bat at No. 5 for Australia. He is fidgety, sometimes floppy. But he showed something substantial of his himself yesterday, something on which to build.

Clarke, of course, is an obvious choice to bat at No. 4. He needed one serious innings to convince himself of this. Of the truly great batsmen, Sachin Tendulkar, Greg Chappell and Graeme Pollock are three who were locked in at No. 4. From here you can make the play, rather than respond to it. You can go through the gears yourself while guiding others down your road. If this innings does nothing else, and god forbid that, it must ensure that Clarke is at No. 4 to stay. An order can be built around him at this time to look forward.

One day, Clarke will look back and privately evaluate his performances. The hundred he made against a rampant Andrew Flintoff at Lord's in 2009 will be high on his list but it came in a losing cause. The double in Adelaide against South Africa last November was a gem but led only to a painful draw. This one, this little unbeaten baby of his, just might lead to something more startling - a win against all odds. If that were so, it would reach No. 1 in his charts.

Mark Nicholas, the former Hampshire captain, presents the cricket on Channel 9 in Australia and Channel 5 in the UK

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • OzMongrel on August 2, 2013, 19:17 GMT

    Phil's time will come - he has too much talent in a team of mediocrity. He has changed his style and is a more rounded batsman than in 2009. Remember that Boof and the selectors are trying to protect the team from being flogged. Watto should be at 6, where all-rounders bat, or maybe 5. So what if he "likes" to open, we need him to bowl so he shouldn't open. Rogers is doing a job, Warner has proven himself as an opener, let's get serious and worry about the REAL hole that is first drop. Uzzie might be the guy, but if not Clarke needs to take it on and bat Uzzie at 4. I think that half of his problem is that he goes out to bat and has no trust, whereas if Clarkie was already there, his mindset would change. The home summer might be the time to unleash Ferguson.

  • jeauxx on August 1, 2013, 20:08 GMT

    Brilliant innings by Clarke today, and by far the best I've seen from Smith. A pleasure to watch among what has so far been a painful series, as an Australian.

    And I feel for Hughes. Simply an opener at the wrong time.

    1. Early in his career, when there was an opener's spot available to him, his temperament was up to the job but his technique wasn't, and it was exploited. 2. He seems to have adjusted his technique to deal with the moving ball on all its lengths (as proper openers should be able to) and now finds himself contending with Watson, Warner, Cowan, Rogers for the spot, and having to settle for a middle order position that doesn't suit his weakness against spin and lack of space at extra cover.

    'One day' seems to be the phrase with Phil, but I honestly believe that in the not-too-distant future, a (long-term) opener's position will open up for him to fill, and he will eventually make it his own.

  • Rumjuggers on August 2, 2013, 21:31 GMT

    As usual, a great article from Mr Nicholas. I've never really warmed to Clarke, but his performances over the last few years stamp his as one of Australia's greats ... the heart of Border, the grace of Chappell and the dominance of Ponting.

  • ScottStevo on August 2, 2013, 18:47 GMT

    @mondotv, not really sure what you're talking about as Hughes did nail shield cricket, which is why he keeps making it difficult not to select him when his run scoring ability at FC level is there for all to see. IN fact, he's prolific in FC cricket and is well ahead of any other. @salazar, Clarke's avg of around 52 after his length in the game already proves that he's not only world class, but amongst those considered the greats. Not saying he's a great, but if he continues in the same way he did in '12 and with scores like today, he's not far from it, mate. @Moppa, why would it be at the expense of Watson rather than Rogers, who let's be fair, is a temporary solution to our problems at the top of the order? Sorry, but Rogers has to go and we need to look forward and I think Rogers should've been replaced by Warner, despite his v good innings. This was a belter of a track and Hughes SHOULD feel aggrieved not to have had a chance to score well here...

  • xtrafalgarx on August 2, 2013, 18:03 GMT

    @RPShivkumar, Jees. Hughes is 24, a great talent that has the potential to be a really great batsman, Cowan is a 31 year oldd who just isn't good enough and never will be. I'm against this whole "you must score runs to be in the side" when your trying to BUILD a team not maintain one. Australia must strike a balance between trying to be competitive and potentially win this Ashes AND building towards the future.

    I Personally would have left Davey warner out of the side, and if i REALLY had to dtop anyone it would be Rogers, not because of performance but just future planning.

  • hyclass on August 2, 2013, 12:49 GMT

    I wonder when someone will privately discuss with him, what took place when Hughes joined the Ashes squad in '09. As good as they were, Flintoff & co. weren't in the same league as the SA attack that Hughes crushed. In his preceding 10 matches, Hughes had scored 1637 runs at 96 with 8 centuries on 3 continents, including almost 600 runs for Middlesex in 3 matches. He arrived for the Ashes with a Test ave of 69 & a 1st Class ave of 62. It was clear that his game had been significantly altered for the 1st Test. None of the bowling that challenged him from that point had done so previously. His mentor, DeCosta stated publicly that he was,'forced to prepare in a way that was unsuited to him.' Who ordered it? His hands and feet became slow and many of his scoring options evaporated. He's perished on the pyre of 'technique'since. A batsman needs only an attacking & defensive plan & the courage, skill & stamina to enact it. Technique is a diversion. I consider Hughes a rare genius & tragedy.

  • dutchy on August 2, 2013, 12:47 GMT

    David Hussey was hard done by. Brad Hodge was hard done by. Chris Rogers has been hard done by. Phil Hughes has not been hard done by.

  • mautan on August 2, 2013, 12:35 GMT

    Strange article. Rare Talent?? Based on two innings? why all this support? He has got 26 test matches and avgs 32! Out of his 49 test innngs, he has been out for single digits or in teens a whopping 27 times ( more than 50%). He is terrible in technique. He is a sitting duck against spin and pace. Do you have the same sympathy for Hodge, Law, D Hussey etc? Instead of Hughes, guys like Khawaja, Fergusson, Forrest or Voges should have got 26 test matches. Fortunately Aussies picked Smith over Hughes for this test and look what happened.

  • RohanMarkJay on August 2, 2013, 11:19 GMT

    Congratulations to Capt Micheal Clarke and Australia. This is the Australia we want to see. Sure they will never be as good as the side of the late 1990s, but this side is not as bad as was shown in the first two tests. They certainly are in my opinion equal in ability and cricketing skill with the current England side. Really we have two teams. England and Australia which are almost identical in strength. Really if Australia play well or to their potential they could beat England in the next three matches in close contests. Then Australia will have home advantage when they move to Australia. Australia always very well in their own conditions, cricketing arena's and their own passionate crowds, who love to see Australia win, especially against England. For an aussie every Ashes series is their own American revolutionary war against England.

  • brusselslion on August 2, 2013, 9:38 GMT

    @dunger.bob on (August 2, 2013, 7:09 GMT): "metro-sexual" and "Australian" mentioned in the same breathe. Jeez mate; you'll be telling me next that not all Australians live in the bush and fight crocs :)

  • OzMongrel on August 2, 2013, 19:17 GMT

    Phil's time will come - he has too much talent in a team of mediocrity. He has changed his style and is a more rounded batsman than in 2009. Remember that Boof and the selectors are trying to protect the team from being flogged. Watto should be at 6, where all-rounders bat, or maybe 5. So what if he "likes" to open, we need him to bowl so he shouldn't open. Rogers is doing a job, Warner has proven himself as an opener, let's get serious and worry about the REAL hole that is first drop. Uzzie might be the guy, but if not Clarke needs to take it on and bat Uzzie at 4. I think that half of his problem is that he goes out to bat and has no trust, whereas if Clarkie was already there, his mindset would change. The home summer might be the time to unleash Ferguson.

  • jeauxx on August 1, 2013, 20:08 GMT

    Brilliant innings by Clarke today, and by far the best I've seen from Smith. A pleasure to watch among what has so far been a painful series, as an Australian.

    And I feel for Hughes. Simply an opener at the wrong time.

    1. Early in his career, when there was an opener's spot available to him, his temperament was up to the job but his technique wasn't, and it was exploited. 2. He seems to have adjusted his technique to deal with the moving ball on all its lengths (as proper openers should be able to) and now finds himself contending with Watson, Warner, Cowan, Rogers for the spot, and having to settle for a middle order position that doesn't suit his weakness against spin and lack of space at extra cover.

    'One day' seems to be the phrase with Phil, but I honestly believe that in the not-too-distant future, a (long-term) opener's position will open up for him to fill, and he will eventually make it his own.

  • Rumjuggers on August 2, 2013, 21:31 GMT

    As usual, a great article from Mr Nicholas. I've never really warmed to Clarke, but his performances over the last few years stamp his as one of Australia's greats ... the heart of Border, the grace of Chappell and the dominance of Ponting.

  • ScottStevo on August 2, 2013, 18:47 GMT

    @mondotv, not really sure what you're talking about as Hughes did nail shield cricket, which is why he keeps making it difficult not to select him when his run scoring ability at FC level is there for all to see. IN fact, he's prolific in FC cricket and is well ahead of any other. @salazar, Clarke's avg of around 52 after his length in the game already proves that he's not only world class, but amongst those considered the greats. Not saying he's a great, but if he continues in the same way he did in '12 and with scores like today, he's not far from it, mate. @Moppa, why would it be at the expense of Watson rather than Rogers, who let's be fair, is a temporary solution to our problems at the top of the order? Sorry, but Rogers has to go and we need to look forward and I think Rogers should've been replaced by Warner, despite his v good innings. This was a belter of a track and Hughes SHOULD feel aggrieved not to have had a chance to score well here...

  • xtrafalgarx on August 2, 2013, 18:03 GMT

    @RPShivkumar, Jees. Hughes is 24, a great talent that has the potential to be a really great batsman, Cowan is a 31 year oldd who just isn't good enough and never will be. I'm against this whole "you must score runs to be in the side" when your trying to BUILD a team not maintain one. Australia must strike a balance between trying to be competitive and potentially win this Ashes AND building towards the future.

    I Personally would have left Davey warner out of the side, and if i REALLY had to dtop anyone it would be Rogers, not because of performance but just future planning.

  • hyclass on August 2, 2013, 12:49 GMT

    I wonder when someone will privately discuss with him, what took place when Hughes joined the Ashes squad in '09. As good as they were, Flintoff & co. weren't in the same league as the SA attack that Hughes crushed. In his preceding 10 matches, Hughes had scored 1637 runs at 96 with 8 centuries on 3 continents, including almost 600 runs for Middlesex in 3 matches. He arrived for the Ashes with a Test ave of 69 & a 1st Class ave of 62. It was clear that his game had been significantly altered for the 1st Test. None of the bowling that challenged him from that point had done so previously. His mentor, DeCosta stated publicly that he was,'forced to prepare in a way that was unsuited to him.' Who ordered it? His hands and feet became slow and many of his scoring options evaporated. He's perished on the pyre of 'technique'since. A batsman needs only an attacking & defensive plan & the courage, skill & stamina to enact it. Technique is a diversion. I consider Hughes a rare genius & tragedy.

  • dutchy on August 2, 2013, 12:47 GMT

    David Hussey was hard done by. Brad Hodge was hard done by. Chris Rogers has been hard done by. Phil Hughes has not been hard done by.

  • mautan on August 2, 2013, 12:35 GMT

    Strange article. Rare Talent?? Based on two innings? why all this support? He has got 26 test matches and avgs 32! Out of his 49 test innngs, he has been out for single digits or in teens a whopping 27 times ( more than 50%). He is terrible in technique. He is a sitting duck against spin and pace. Do you have the same sympathy for Hodge, Law, D Hussey etc? Instead of Hughes, guys like Khawaja, Fergusson, Forrest or Voges should have got 26 test matches. Fortunately Aussies picked Smith over Hughes for this test and look what happened.

  • RohanMarkJay on August 2, 2013, 11:19 GMT

    Congratulations to Capt Micheal Clarke and Australia. This is the Australia we want to see. Sure they will never be as good as the side of the late 1990s, but this side is not as bad as was shown in the first two tests. They certainly are in my opinion equal in ability and cricketing skill with the current England side. Really we have two teams. England and Australia which are almost identical in strength. Really if Australia play well or to their potential they could beat England in the next three matches in close contests. Then Australia will have home advantage when they move to Australia. Australia always very well in their own conditions, cricketing arena's and their own passionate crowds, who love to see Australia win, especially against England. For an aussie every Ashes series is their own American revolutionary war against England.

  • brusselslion on August 2, 2013, 9:38 GMT

    @dunger.bob on (August 2, 2013, 7:09 GMT): "metro-sexual" and "Australian" mentioned in the same breathe. Jeez mate; you'll be telling me next that not all Australians live in the bush and fight crocs :)

  • on August 2, 2013, 9:32 GMT

    England missed the opportunity to introduce Tremlett and Panesar into the attack.I venture to suggest that the scoreline at stumps would have been very different if our best bowling attack had played.

  • Frog1963 on August 2, 2013, 9:07 GMT

    Absolute disgrace, the treatment of Phil Hughes. He should be either opening in place of 20/20 Watson (not to mention test opening ability or lack there of) or still at number 6 (dropped for 20/20 brain deficient Dave) who should be watching from afar. The behaviour of both Warner and Watson over the past months should have seen both devoid of Australian contract and the most enjoyable privileges that avail high profile sporting representatives.

  • mondotv on August 2, 2013, 8:27 GMT

    I love Hughsie - he has the soul of Bradman, but unfortunately lacks the technique and concentration to back that up. He may just have the eye.

    He should have dominated shield cricket and forced his way into the test team. Instead he keeps getting picked on the back of mediocre performances. Selectors have to send the right message to prodigiously talented cricketers like Hughes - perform first, then we'll pick you to play for Australia. That would make him knuckle down and fulfil the promise that Mark Nicholas (and I) laments. Time will tell and maybe Phil Hughes should go and have a chat with Matt Hayden about how you earn a spot in the Aus test team.

  • CustomKid on August 2, 2013, 8:03 GMT

    salazar555 on (August 1, 2013, 22:40 GMT) - You my friend have the rosiest glasses of all on these boards. How about you give credit where it's due? That pitch might have been flat but it had a lot of bounce and that is the type of wickets Aussie like. England bowled very well, Clarke and Rogers batted exceptionally well to negate what was a good bowling performance. Don't just blame a dead track. It had good bounce and there was ample swing with the cloud cover too, just not much off the seam. I'm not a Clarke fan but if you have any doubts about his ability - get a copy of his first ton in Sri Lanka as skipper as well as the 100 he made in SA in the infamous all out for 45 second innings test. You won't see a better 100 period under those conditions against a genuine world class attack. What about last year I guess Almar and Kailis just got lucky a 2/600+?? Which they then took 20 poles on. ENG are good but not as good as you or a lot of your fans would believe.

  • RPShivkumar on August 2, 2013, 8:02 GMT

    The support for Phil Hughes is surprising. He had one good innings in the first test and 3 failures after that. He is not a very good player of spin and had a very poor series in India. In fact, cowan was discarded after just one failure in the first test despite doing quite well in India.

  • First_Drop on August 2, 2013, 7:39 GMT

    The problem with dropping Watto is that you also lose a bowler. He may not have taken many (any?) wickets this series (so far), but he has been better than useful in the past, and at the very least he holds up one end very well.

  • dunger.bob on August 2, 2013, 7:09 GMT

    Beautiful article. .. I think Clarke is thoughtful, fair, honest when he talks and altogether the very model of a modern metro-sexual. ... and that's his problem.

    He breaks the mould of the mono-syllabic but tough as old boot leather Aussie captain. .. Let's face it, if you got a relatively less hostile "frack you" out of Allen Border you would think he was in a rare good mood. .. Steve Waugh, Ricky Ponting, Ian Chappel .. not exactly the most diplomatic or suave characters.

    He's a great batsman and an excellent captain. . We (Aust) just need to grow up a bit and see him for what he actually is.

  • on August 2, 2013, 6:11 GMT

    yes, happy to have Hughes in for Watson. He is the new Graeme Yallop, the whipping boy. disgraceful selection.

    yes, Clarke's 151 was one of the best, as good as Hughes against the Windies in 81.

    (can the Watson bashers just cut out all the qualitative stuff. He's not a good team player. no fortitude. etc it's all rot. he's just not good enough. trying hard. just not good enough...)

  • disco_bob on August 2, 2013, 5:51 GMT

    Hughes' 81* should have given him enough in the bank to bat at 6 in this innings. I have no faith at all in Warner in this circumstance because he'll come out with the side in a good position but his destructive ego will ensure a low score. A big hundred on a road in Africa should not have been enough to supplant Hughes at no. 6 in this match and it will probably be the difference between winning and drawing.

  • on August 2, 2013, 5:34 GMT

    Have to agree with others here that Hughes belongs in the top 3, definitely his spot, not sure Ussie will be there long, or Watto!

    @Moppa, really well put mate!

    @Chris_P, yeah, look he was always talented for mine, but now he has come with a huge amount of composure to back it up. His 50 at Trent Bridge was a very noteworthy knock I thought, coming as it did with Aus teetering on the edge. Just needs to go out now and make it a big one, the signs are there though that he is hungry for bigger scores now with two tons in the tour matches to date, this is really promising for mine. His excellent fielding and potential with the ball give him that extra dimension on top, I know he wants to be selected as a batsman first and foremost and thats fine for mine, but when you get on surfaces like this and you have the opportunity to bowl last then he becomes a great option to have, a joker in the pack if you will, this match could and should be huge for him, perhaps the making of him.

  • PrasPunter on August 2, 2013, 5:33 GMT

    @Hassan, absolutely - get away with Watson - he just doesn't belong there. Nic Maddinson is young, among his runs and time to groom him. Get him for the ODIs against india - time to move on from Watson.

  • SamRoy on August 2, 2013, 4:46 GMT

    Mark you mentioned 2nd and 3rd best Clarke innings. How can you forget his best? The 151 against South Africa at Cape Town in 2011. Where he was pitted against Steyn, Philander and Morkel (except for Anderson, England doesn't have another seamer of that class) on an extremely green and sometimes up and down wicket.

  • dashe on August 2, 2013, 4:24 GMT

    Phil Hughes was great at #6 played the innings of his life. Then we move him up to 4 he fails and we drop him. Australian Selection Policy is very baffling. Lets not be foole dby Australias perfromance today lets talk after 5 days.

  • bobagorof on August 2, 2013, 4:23 GMT

    I have some sympathy for Hughes, but the fact remains that he has been dropped, repeatedly, for being inconsistent. Yes, he scored 81* in the first Test and put together a face-saving partnership when the rest of the order (bar Smith and Agar) failed. But since then he was dismissed three times, for a total of 2 runs. If he had managed to get to 20, 30 or even 40 in those innings, he would have kept his spot. All batsmen go through ups and downs an no-one scores in every innings, but since 2009 Hughes has only managed consecutive scored of 20+ 7 times. Only once has he gone past 20 in three consecutive innings, back in 2010. With a brittle batting order, that is not a record for continued selection. I hope he's able to nail down a spot, I really do - but he has no-one to blame but himself if he doesn't.

  • on August 2, 2013, 4:08 GMT

    Phillip Hughes career reminds you of VVS Laxman so far. Just like VVS, he has been shunted up and down the order and made a scapegoat. Of course VVS was technically superior. He needs to make up his mind, play a couple of solid innings and then put his foot down (just like VVS did and decided he will never open in tests again). Before that it would be helpful if he can tighten up his technique to play spin. If he cannot improve on that, the only slot open for him is as an opener.

  • dwblurb on August 2, 2013, 3:36 GMT

    Hughes will be back, quite possibly before the current tour is over. It was unfortunate that, having made a score in the first Test at six, he was shuffled up to four in the second for no apparent reason. Hopefully next time round the selectors will allow him to settle in one position, wherever in the order that may be.

  • Chris_Howard on August 2, 2013, 3:31 GMT

    Since the start of last summer, Hughes has scored 484 runs at an average of 28.9, with 4 half centuries. Watson has scored 380 at an average of 23.7 with one half century.

    So guess who got dropped for this Test? Hughes, of course, because the selectors have a Watson obsession.

  • on August 2, 2013, 3:00 GMT

    Really sympathise with Hughes. I thought Lehmann's reasoning was so far off the mark in that he needs to convert his scores to big scores. Hello! This campaign Hughes has a score over 50, overall Hughes has three hundreds from his 20 odd tests. Watson has less hundreds from nearly double the amount of tests. Last tour, Hughes got shafted so Hussey could stay in the side, now he gets shafted again to keep Watson in the side. Favouritsm still reigns supreme in CA.

  • Moppa on August 2, 2013, 2:29 GMT

    Part of the Hughes conundrum is that he is weak against spin, particularly off-spin. Perhaps, he can do OK against spin if he has a start (against pace) under his belt. This inevitably takes you to the conclusion that he must return to the opener's spot and be given an extended run (assuming you concur with Nicholas' view that he is a rare talent, and forget about technique). For mine, this would be at the (permanent) expense of Watson, who has spent two years proving decisively that he doesn't have the mental capacity for Test cricket. Speaking of mental, I think Hughes' renaissance, if it happens, will also be mental, not technical. The key is to leave the right balls (e.g. Bresnan's ball at Lords that he nicked) and hit the right balls. That judgement can come with confidence, not with endless technical meddling. People can say that Hughes is, like Watson, mentally fragile, which he is, but he has an innate appetite for hundreds, which Watson doesn't.

  • CustomKid on August 2, 2013, 2:18 GMT

    @ Wefinishthis on (August 1, 2013, 21:14 GMT) - I'm with you man, that is the best hundred I've seen period. I'm an Aussie but not a huge Clarke fan as people manager, he's a good tactician and a great batsman but that knock was something I imagine a sobers or pollock doing (way before my time).

    Team in trouble on green viper pitch and you've got the best bowling attack licking their lips trying to rip you apart. It was a spell binding innings for the very reasons you mention above.

    Regardless of the loss- deep down I think Clarke would rate it his best despite the loss.

  • Barnesy4444 on August 2, 2013, 1:56 GMT

    I've been a supporter of Smith since I watched him play spin beautifully during that 92 in India. He is a middle order player, and batting 5/6 is where he belongs. Hughes is an opener, he belongs in the top 3, no lower. Smith would be useless opening, so why try to turn Hughes into a middle order batsman?

  • Barnesy4444 on August 2, 2013, 1:30 GMT

    I agree Mark. Hughes is a rare talent and has been managed poorly going back to 2009. As a 21 year old he was dropped when in-form, then selected when out of form (leading to Guptil/Martin dismissals).

    They selected him at 3 against S.L. where he averaged 50, found a way to score runs in India, made lots of runs in the lead up games for the Ashes yet got moved out of number 3, why? Hughes is an opener, he should be in the top 3, no lower.

    All he can do is keep making runs which he is doing, FC average over 60 this tour. At the same stage of Hayden's test career (as a 30 year old) he was averaging about 25!

  • on August 2, 2013, 1:16 GMT

    Australia need to stop experimenting with Watson. He doesn't have the fortitude for Test Cricket.

  • Dangertroy on August 2, 2013, 0:53 GMT

    The big problem for Hughes is that the side has no way of carrying an underperforming batsman. When he was first introduced to the side, the top six contained Katich, Clarke, Hussey and Ponting. That was a lineup that could carry a batsman trying to find his feet at international level. That is how Joe Root has been able to mature in the current England team, and why Collingwood wasn't dropped during the last ashes series.

    But with the current team, Hughes had no margin for error. I think dropping him during the 2009 ashes series was a mistake, a compromise to save Mitchell Johnson, and it scarred Hughes. Since then, his technique has been constantly tinkered with, and the notion that he doesn't belong at international level embedded. He is a talented batsman, ugly to watch, but with a knack for getting runs. He can become a great if the team has room to let him develop, but this team has too many players in the same boat.

  • Markus971 on August 2, 2013, 0:29 GMT

    Pleasant surprise M.Clarke batting at 4! hope your health remains sound!! - Well done S.Smith! I think your game is "now" at a place where U can be considered for Test selection, hope to C U bowling this game as well. - M.Nicholas I agree P.Hughes is Class! & I still believe P.Hughes should've been at 3, today! (in S.Smiths place).. & in the team for the remainder of this series!

  • Paul_Rampley on August 2, 2013, 0:29 GMT

    @Fleming mitch well said mate, i think we have the batting order right now for the series, i would leave it as it is for the rest of the series and show faith to the folks in their positions

  • Bilbo on August 2, 2013, 0:00 GMT

    The writer of this article seems to think Hughes has ability. I think he might have missed that famous period in India when Hughes faced about 55 balls for no runs and 5 dismissals. He has looked similarly impotent against Swann in this series. Any batsman whose ONLY response to a bowler is to try to defend grimly without even the slightest intent to score - as was certainly the case in the 2nd test - has no place on the Test match arena. If the guy has all the talent this article suggests, perhaps he needs to expand his game. For now, however, Hughes is a walking wicket: 2 gullies and a backward point to the quicks and he must get out, and sooner rather than later. You don't need any fieldsmen at all with a good spinner bowling; he will get himself out every time, bowled, lbw or caught-behind. Not even close to a Test batsman!

  • Iddo555 on August 1, 2013, 22:40 GMT

    Take your rose tinted glasses off Nicholas, The reason Smith is there with Clarke is that he got lucky, 3 times. It was a flat track on day 1 and a track you would expect any decent batsman to get runs on. Clarke is a decent batsman and we would expect him to get runs on that, if he hadn't have got runs then the media would have been calling for his head, the headlines would have been 'he's too old', 'he can't concentrate with a bad back', 'the pressure is getting too much for him'. Yes, the vultures would have swooped in and feasted. Lets not get carried away either one way or the other, Clarke is not ready for the scrap heap like some would say, neither is he a a legend of the game. He is a good batsmen who scored runs on a flat track on day 1 like we would expect any good batsman to do.

  • Chris_P on August 1, 2013, 22:17 GMT

    @Jono Makim. I have been watching Smith's re-invention of a batsman for 2 years now, he has put in the hard yards, worked very hard on his batting & I have commented on how well he was batting at shield level. His T20 form actually suffered as a result but personally, I am glad he has stuck to his plan & has paid off. Clarke's effort was top shelf, how anyone can say he isn't up there still astounds me. There is still a lot of this test to be played out though.

  • W.G.Dis-Grace on August 1, 2013, 21:57 GMT

    I wish the Steve Smith link to his profile was correct. Sort it out cricinfo. Apart from that, nice piece Sir Nicholas.

  • Jagger on August 1, 2013, 21:42 GMT

    When Starc bowls on this pitch, Swann will have some massive rough to bowl into to the right handers.

  • ScottStevo on August 1, 2013, 21:23 GMT

    The decision to drop Hughes was idiotic. Warner shouldn't be on this tour after his numerous failings with the bat and off field actions. One innings in an A game somehow warrants being "in form"? Hughes played well in the first test and has been on the wrong end of some tight calls. I agree in that we need to stick with Hughes and find out one way or the other if he's going to cut it at this level. Now we've deprived him his chance to prove his worth once and for all. Personally, if Warner was going to be selected it should've been Rogers dropped for up till today, he's not done much, is 35 and a bad selection in the first place as a stop gap until someone proves worthy. In fact, of all the batsmen Smith had been the worst, yet because he is right handed, and could possibly steal a wicket or two on the odd occasion, he was retained. As for Clarke, why does it matter where he bats so long as he scores runs and not running out of partners? IT DOESN'T as long as he's comfy and scoring.

  • gtr800 on August 1, 2013, 21:19 GMT

    It's really harsh on Hughes to be dropped after he was experimented in every possible batting position throughout this tour. I feel its tough to place him in that squad. But if he keeps at it I'm sure his talent will shine through.

  • Wefinishthis on August 1, 2013, 21:14 GMT

    Hands down Clarke's best hundred was his 151 against South Africa in Cape Town that ended in a losing cause. The reason being that this was against the quality of two of the greats in Steyn and Philander in their home country in difficult batting conditions when the only other scores in double-digits were 44, 20 and 20. He was also still new to the captaincy at that stage and had enormous pressure on him. Since that hundred, he proved he can score anywhere against anyone and improved his average from a mid-high 40's (ie a very good player) to a low 50's player (ie a great player) in a short space of time. Since then, he's been able to be talked about in the same breath as Chappell, Ponting, Waugh, Hussey, Hayden and Border.

  • on August 1, 2013, 20:14 GMT

    Its hard not to feel a little for Hughes, i'd agree. Gotta be objective though, he just isn't a finished test batsmen yet. Perhaps he never will be but he's still just 24 and has time on his side, his frailties against spin though make it hard to pick him on these tracks, Khawaja too could be placed in the same bracket. I just can't find any confidence in either of them right now. Not sure what to think of Smith, he is the ugly duckling of the trio but he is a mile in front when it comes to playing spin, combining very well with Clarke here to keep Swann out after he must have been very high spirited with a couple of early wickets, no mean feat!

    What do you say about Clarke, he put on a master class against Swann today and it will do Smith a lot of good to watch from the other end. If he gets another run of form on like he did against SA he will frustrate the English bowlers no end, and it wouldn't appear to be that difficult!

  • Flemo_Gilly on August 1, 2013, 19:53 GMT

    Its tough for Hughes to be dropped but i was leaning towards picking Warner as well. We now have a lineup where we have the right openers, our best number 3 in Khawaja and Clarke moving up to 4 with Smith in the middle order. Warner can be like Gilchirst at 6.

  • on August 1, 2013, 19:45 GMT

    For long have been an ardent admirer of Mark Nicholas- but this article surpasses anything of his written or said - terrific ! May I ask, though, whether Captain Clarke may not be more responsibly prolific at position # 3 ?

  • on August 1, 2013, 19:45 GMT

    For long have been an ardent admirer of Mark Nicholas- but this article surpasses anything of his written or said - terrific ! May I ask, though, whether Captain Clarke may not be more responsibly prolific at position # 3 ?

  • Flemo_Gilly on August 1, 2013, 19:53 GMT

    Its tough for Hughes to be dropped but i was leaning towards picking Warner as well. We now have a lineup where we have the right openers, our best number 3 in Khawaja and Clarke moving up to 4 with Smith in the middle order. Warner can be like Gilchirst at 6.

  • on August 1, 2013, 20:14 GMT

    Its hard not to feel a little for Hughes, i'd agree. Gotta be objective though, he just isn't a finished test batsmen yet. Perhaps he never will be but he's still just 24 and has time on his side, his frailties against spin though make it hard to pick him on these tracks, Khawaja too could be placed in the same bracket. I just can't find any confidence in either of them right now. Not sure what to think of Smith, he is the ugly duckling of the trio but he is a mile in front when it comes to playing spin, combining very well with Clarke here to keep Swann out after he must have been very high spirited with a couple of early wickets, no mean feat!

    What do you say about Clarke, he put on a master class against Swann today and it will do Smith a lot of good to watch from the other end. If he gets another run of form on like he did against SA he will frustrate the English bowlers no end, and it wouldn't appear to be that difficult!

  • Wefinishthis on August 1, 2013, 21:14 GMT

    Hands down Clarke's best hundred was his 151 against South Africa in Cape Town that ended in a losing cause. The reason being that this was against the quality of two of the greats in Steyn and Philander in their home country in difficult batting conditions when the only other scores in double-digits were 44, 20 and 20. He was also still new to the captaincy at that stage and had enormous pressure on him. Since that hundred, he proved he can score anywhere against anyone and improved his average from a mid-high 40's (ie a very good player) to a low 50's player (ie a great player) in a short space of time. Since then, he's been able to be talked about in the same breath as Chappell, Ponting, Waugh, Hussey, Hayden and Border.

  • gtr800 on August 1, 2013, 21:19 GMT

    It's really harsh on Hughes to be dropped after he was experimented in every possible batting position throughout this tour. I feel its tough to place him in that squad. But if he keeps at it I'm sure his talent will shine through.

  • ScottStevo on August 1, 2013, 21:23 GMT

    The decision to drop Hughes was idiotic. Warner shouldn't be on this tour after his numerous failings with the bat and off field actions. One innings in an A game somehow warrants being "in form"? Hughes played well in the first test and has been on the wrong end of some tight calls. I agree in that we need to stick with Hughes and find out one way or the other if he's going to cut it at this level. Now we've deprived him his chance to prove his worth once and for all. Personally, if Warner was going to be selected it should've been Rogers dropped for up till today, he's not done much, is 35 and a bad selection in the first place as a stop gap until someone proves worthy. In fact, of all the batsmen Smith had been the worst, yet because he is right handed, and could possibly steal a wicket or two on the odd occasion, he was retained. As for Clarke, why does it matter where he bats so long as he scores runs and not running out of partners? IT DOESN'T as long as he's comfy and scoring.

  • Jagger on August 1, 2013, 21:42 GMT

    When Starc bowls on this pitch, Swann will have some massive rough to bowl into to the right handers.

  • W.G.Dis-Grace on August 1, 2013, 21:57 GMT

    I wish the Steve Smith link to his profile was correct. Sort it out cricinfo. Apart from that, nice piece Sir Nicholas.

  • Chris_P on August 1, 2013, 22:17 GMT

    @Jono Makim. I have been watching Smith's re-invention of a batsman for 2 years now, he has put in the hard yards, worked very hard on his batting & I have commented on how well he was batting at shield level. His T20 form actually suffered as a result but personally, I am glad he has stuck to his plan & has paid off. Clarke's effort was top shelf, how anyone can say he isn't up there still astounds me. There is still a lot of this test to be played out though.

  • Iddo555 on August 1, 2013, 22:40 GMT

    Take your rose tinted glasses off Nicholas, The reason Smith is there with Clarke is that he got lucky, 3 times. It was a flat track on day 1 and a track you would expect any decent batsman to get runs on. Clarke is a decent batsman and we would expect him to get runs on that, if he hadn't have got runs then the media would have been calling for his head, the headlines would have been 'he's too old', 'he can't concentrate with a bad back', 'the pressure is getting too much for him'. Yes, the vultures would have swooped in and feasted. Lets not get carried away either one way or the other, Clarke is not ready for the scrap heap like some would say, neither is he a a legend of the game. He is a good batsmen who scored runs on a flat track on day 1 like we would expect any good batsman to do.