January 26, 2014

The divergent paths of Kohli and Hughes

They are the same age, but one is now a recognised international star while the other has lost his way after an impressive start

Two batsmen, born just days apart, are now light years apart in their cricket ambitions.

Virat Kohli is a certified international star, now occupying Sachin Tendulkar's coveted No. 4 spot in India's Test side and with all the credentials of a future Indian captain. Phil Hughes, on the other hand, is relegated to state duties, having been left out of the touring party for South Africa and dropped from the Australian one-day side. His only consolation is the thought of piling up first-class runs - which he does with monotonous regularity - to soothe his wounds.

This is a far cry from just a few years ago. Both players were born in November 1988, but Hughes matured more quickly than Kohli.

By the time he had played four Test innings - prior to his 21st birthday - Hughes had amassed two centuries. Kohli didn't play four Test innings until he was nearly 23, and none of those knocks exceeded 30.

Kohli's breakthrough came in a Test on the notorious WACA pitch. A difficult, bouncy strip to handle even for local batsmen, it was deemed a nightmare for Indian batsmen. But for Kohli it became his field of dreams. He scored 44 and 75 and hasn't looked back as an international batsman.

Having coped with the most extreme of conditions, he then scored his first Test century in the next innings, at the picturesque Adelaide Oval. He has accumulated another four since, at venues as disparate as Bangalore and the Bullring in Johannesburg. Adelaide might be the most scenic of his Test century venues but the Wanderers ranks up there with the WACA in importance on a touring batsman's CV.

It was meritorious runs on a lively WACA pitch that gave Kohli belief as a Test player. It was his hundred at the Wanderers, against a top-rated attack, that confirmed he was a player of great class.

While the WACA was kind to Kohli, another prestigious venue, Lord's, has been disastrous for Hughes. He has had two Tests and four innings at the famous ground for a top score of 17 - and that's the good news. Following each Lord's fixture he has been dropped, and since the second omission, he hasn't been sighted at Test level despite Australia's top order malfunctioning regularly.

Cricket life has been difficult for Hughes. He has been shuffled in the order since his early days as a pure opener, but in reality that's his spot. He first caught the eye while making rapid progress through the grades as a young opener who consistently scored centuries.

However, following yet another setback in his Test career, he decided to revamp his technique. In retrospect, this may have been a mistake, because in making himself a little less vulnerable around the off stump, one of his greatest attributes was diminished.

Previously Hughes had worried new-ball bowlers. They knew he could be troubled around the off stump but they were also aware that a slight mistake on their part would cost them dearly. Since the alteration to his technique he has lost that "fear factor".

Kohli, on the other hand, has remained strong-minded in his approach to batting. Just the other day, after making an ODI century in New Zealand, he defiantly stated: "I think even [before leaving] the ball on a bouncer, it is very important to want to hit the ball."

Kohli's simple approach to batting - thinking primarily about scoring - has stood many a fine player in good stead. In the mind-game battle, Kohli has progressed while Hughes has regressed.

Nevertheless, the fate of both players could also be explained by a variance in selection policies between the two countries. After years of subservience to senior batsmen, India have finally been forced to become more youthful, and it's paying dividends. Conversely Australia, who used to depend heavily on young batsmen, have now veered away from that policy and are placing a lot of faith in more experienced players.

Kohli and Hughes - a case of two batsmen and two philosophies moving in divergent directions.

Former Australia captain Ian Chappell is now a cricket commentator for Channel 9, and a columnist

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Sean on January 30, 2014, 1:31 GMT

    @Gautam N. Shenoy... The shield game is where our test bowlers come from - also regarded among the best in the world.The recent shield saw the return of all test bowlers in preparation for the ashes - these are types of bowlers an inform Hughes scored century after century against. The tour of India was a low spot not only for Hughes but the whole team Watson averaged 16.5, Warner who averaged 25, Smith who averaged 26 and Cowan averaged 32. Hughes does have an issue against spin and needs to use his feet more - but I am sure he will address this over time. Hughes was subsequently dropped in after the second test in the following Ashes tour when he failed against the spin of Swann. At that time he had just scored an unbeaten 81 in the previous test and had amassed more runs than any other Australian on tour 436 at an average of 62. One of few Australian batsmen to bounce back from the disappointing tour of India. A bit unfair.

  • Dummy4 on January 29, 2014, 23:20 GMT

    @TheBigBoodha -- I think I get what you mean about Kohli being a huge twit with a chip on his shoulder. But his genius is that he can turn this into "mental toughness". He'd make good Aussie.

  • Dummy4 on January 29, 2014, 14:05 GMT

    @Shetto: Those tons he scored what seems like ages back is probably beginner's luck. One swallow (or two) does not a summer make. He was then figured out by the international bowlers and has struggled since then. He has been given plenty of chances to go through the whole series (India series where Aus lost 4-0 was an example) but his presence in the XI gave reassurance to the opposition than the Aussies. The further he is kept from an international Aussie side, the better for them. I am really really surprised that domestic Australian bowlers haven't been able to sort him out even now because even now he is scoring runs. Tells us there is a gulf of difference in Shield and international quality bowlers.

  • Sean on January 29, 2014, 4:37 GMT

    Put simply, Phil Hughes has been worked out by the international bowling union- I dont' think the best bowlers in the world Steyn, Morkel, Philander have been able to work him out. It also works the other way - batsmen can work out bowlers and given the chance, Phil Hughes is one of those players that can accumulate big totals by adapting his game to bowlers and stituations - The signs are all there that he could be a player that is marked for greatness.

  • Sean on January 29, 2014, 1:04 GMT

    He has a weakness against pace and clueless against swing - If this was so, he would not have made centuries against the best fast bowlers in the world and on their home soil in South Africa. If Hughes was allowed to play out a series like other players were allowed to against England I am sure he would still be playing for Australia. The current policy where they are favouring older batsmen over younger ones may work in the short term, but Australia may quickly find itself back where it started when these guys start to retire - not a good policy - time for Australia to go for youth and that's one thing that Hughes has on his side is youth. All Hughes has to do is keep making runs and I think players like Rodgers will be under tremendous pressure to keep their spot - would not like to be in Rodgers shoes - he never looks comfortable or confident at the crease - A complete contrast to Haddin who has nothing to lose and seems to be enjoying his last couple years at the top.

  • Bludging on January 29, 2014, 0:27 GMT

    Put simply, Phil Hughes has been worked out by the international bowling union.

    His cards are marked, move along. Give the next batch a go.

  • David on January 28, 2014, 11:46 GMT

    Sometimes I wonder if they left Hughes out because he may upset the team dynamics, Whats he like coming back into a team a 4th time. He has played more tests or similar than half the team. Would he have a chip on his shoulder? Why have they left him out? Hughes has been in a good space as well, And scored red ball runs.

  • Dummy4 on January 28, 2014, 4:59 GMT

    Regarding Hughes, the question is, where do you hide a batsman who has a weakness against pace, is clueless against swing and a dead duck against spin? And has anyone noticed how Australia's fortunes have changed for the better once he was dropped for good (After the English Ashes)?

  • Brady on January 28, 2014, 3:35 GMT

    Under an examination of pure FC statistics, Hughes is the best under-30 candidate batsmen in Australia. That seems unlikely to change in the next few years. I am still shocked that he was not selected ahead of Marsh for the SA tour. Reading between the lines, I think the selectors want him to complete more FC cricket.

  • Simon on January 28, 2014, 3:21 GMT

    The big difference.....Kohli has a technique to get him through the good balls, which come more frequently in Internationals.

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