Australia have their 'Phil', and how
Don Bradman on Friday. George Headley on Sunday. It's a shame Test matches don't span three innings per team or Phillip Hughes could have tried to knock off Garfield Sobers on Tuesday. But his Test career is only eight days old. He's got to leave himself some challenges for the future.
Hughes closed the third day at Kingsmead unbeaten on 136. Two days after he slotted in above Bradman on the list of Australia's youngest Test centurions, he became the youngest man to score a century in each innings of a Test, beating the previous record-holder Headley, who was 20 years and 267 days old when he destroyed England at Georgetown in 1930.
"It's very exciting," Hughes said after stumps, his voice soft and respectful. "I didn't actually know about that record until I walked into the sheds and a couple of guys mentioned it but it was one very special moment."
Hughes has been so composed in the opening stages of his international career that it is hard to believe that four months ago he was a teenager. A healthy Simon Katich-like stubble adds to the impression that he is older than his 20 years and 98 days, as does his insistence that he is Phillip, not Phil. But more than anything it's his mature cricketing outlook that creates a deceptive air of experience.
Apart from the aberration of his ugly and nervy fourth-ball duck in the first innings at the Wanderers, Hughes has proven to be completely unintimidated by what should have been a fearsome fast-bowling attack of Dale Steyn, Makhaya Ntini and Morne Morkel. And just for good measure, the quick and bouncy Kingsmead pitch made his job less than simple in the second innings.
It was pleasing for Australia that Hughes adapted to the harder conditions after being blessed with a beautiful batting surface on the first morning. Whereas Hughes' first Test century came at a wonderfully entertaining strike-rate of 76, that figure dropped to 45 for his second hundred as greater concentration was required.
"Today I thought [Paul] Harris bowled beautifully into the rough, a few balls spitting here and there, and going everywhere really," Hughes said. "I knew if I just kept going and batting there was a big one for the taking. I had to be very patient and just a few overs here and there sit on him and go from there."
Sit on Harris he did. And on the other bowlers. Hughes took 169 deliveries to go from 50 to 100 as he toughed it and was nearly overtaken by his captain Ricky Ponting, who had given Hughes a 24-run headstart. Hughes still played his shots and cut and drove with precision but there was none of the flashiness of racing through the nineties in four balls, as he had done on Friday.
This time he spent 28 deliveries getting from 90 to triple-figures, defending the good balls and patiently waiting for a chance to pounce. When it came with a slash over the cordon off Morne Morkel, Hughes and his partner Michael Hussey high-fived as they took off for a run.
Australia's coach Tim Nielsen said after Hughes' second-innings 75 in Johannesburg that he was a young man who learnt "by the minute" and it was a statement that will frighten opposition teams considering the high base from which he has started. His quick adaptation was on display in Durban, where he appeared far more in control against short stuff from Steyn and Morkel compared to the Wanderers, where he looked to be backing away when balls were aimed at his head.
His family has a banana farm and Hughes even looked slightly banana-shaped when he bent back to miss a couple of fizzing Steyn bouncers. Importantly, his feet were often planted and never did he back down. It was exactly what was expected by those who know Hughes best, including his parents Greg and Virginia, who saw their son make a forgettable duck at the Wanderers before flying home to Macksville in northern New South Wales.
It's a town with a population of just over 2000 and it's fair to say Hughes is the king of Macksville. After his efforts over the past three days he can also lay claim to being Prince Phillip of Kingsmead.
Brydon Coverdale is a staff writer at Cricinfo