Australia in South Africa 2013-14

Phillip Hughes plays the long game

Daniel Brettig

February 7, 2014

Comments: 40 | Text size: A | A

Phillip Hughes takes the applause for a spectacular century, South Africa v Australia, 2nd Test, Durban, 1st day, March 6, 2009
Twin centuries in Durban in 2009 will always be fond memories for Phillip Hughes © AFP
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Players/Officials: Phillip Hughes
Series/Tournaments: Australia tour of South Africa
Teams: Australia

At the start of his mid-life novel Big Sur, Jack Kerouac wrestled with the perception created by the runaway success of On the Road. "All over America high school and college kids are thinking Jack Kerouac is 26 years old and on the road hitch-hiking, while there I am, almost 40 years old, bored and jaded..."

Phillip Hughes' first visit to South Africa in 2009 created a similar difficulty. Those transcendent days five years ago had him clattering Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel and co to all parts of Johannesburg and Durban, earning breathless raves like this one from Angus Fraser: "It is an unfair comparison to make at his stage of career but I feel he is a bit like Brian Lara."

It was unfair. It still is. All over Australia and South Africa cricket followers think Hughes is 20 years old, fearless and outside leg stump cutting, when he is actually past 25, wizened and cautious about a future far less certain than it seemed when he posted his second century of a triumphant Kingsmead Test match. The young man in a hurry is now an older one slightly less so, clear in his memories of that first tour but eager to move beyond them.

"It's definitely a tour I'll never, ever forget. It was my first time on the big stage and receiving my baggy green from Ricky Ponting on the morning of the first Test in Jo'burg, and they're times I'll cherish for the rest of my life," Hughes told ESPNcricinfo. "To be only 20 at that stage was something that was really exciting at the time, and five years down the track it all happened very fast.

"I was young and fresh and coming off quite a solid season for New South Wales then in four-day cricket, so I had confidence behind me with the four-day form. To jump up to the next level is very different, but I didn't think a lot and just went out there and played with freedom. That series it happened to come off. I like to look forward and not back, those are fond memories I'll always remember, but I love to look forward."

Hughes' return to South Africa for a third visit after 2009 and 2011 very nearly did not happen. Despite a prolific start to the Sheffield Shield season for South Australia, fulfilling the wishes of the selectors after they dropped him during last year's Ashes series in England, Hughes was left out for Shaun Marsh, who had usurped him less by runs than by appearances, with perhaps the faintest whiff of T20 form taken into consideration due to the lopsided summer schedule.

"It can be challenging with the formats but that's how it is in this day and age, the more cricket you play in all forms and the more you can learn to adapt quicker," Hughes said. "I've found that - coming off Big Bash doesn't really matter because at the back of my mind I still had red ball there, and the red ball form with SA meant the confidence was still high."

When the squad was announced, Hughes was momentarily stunned, and sought sanctuary on his family's Macksville banana farm in country New South Wales. It is a place of familiar refuge for Hughes, like the cabin that Kerouac returns to three times over the course of Big Sur. He returned to Sydney briefly for the Allan Border Medal, at which he spoke at some length with the national coach Darren Lehmann about where he stood.

"When it comes from a selector and coach it's a pleasing thing," Hughes said. "When it comes from outside it doesn't mean as much but it means a lot from a selector or head coach. When I didn't get picked Darren and I had a really good chat about things in Sydney and he was really good about things moving forward and gave me really good confidence. When I walked away from that chat I felt really good about things."

As much as these words helped, Hughes remained uncertain about what lay ahead, and returned to Macksville. It was there that news of Marsh's latest leg muscle injury reached him, closely followed by a call from the national selector John Inverarity to say he was now on standby for South Africa. Having returned to Adelaide for some hopeful net sessions, confirmation of his flight to the republic followed soon after.

"That's the career of a sportsman I suppose," he said. "I've been through a lot of highs and lows through my career and it's about pushing forward. In the first place not getting selected here you're disappointed, but the next day you've got to move forward and look to get better. I got a few days back home with the family and spent some quality time on the farm.

"Then I got a call from John Inverarity that I was on standby so I ducked back to South Australia and prepared just in case I was coming here. It was really unfortunate for Shaun with his injury and I called him before I came over here. But I suppose that's sport, and it's given myself an opportunity to come over and be with the squad."

Largely as a result of his 2009 exploits, Hughes has always carried an expectation with him that he will flower again with similarly spectacular effect. His struggles in England later that year, against New Zealand in 2011, in India in 2013 and at Lord's later that same year have been weighed against the sense that no young batsman with Hughes' appetite for hundreds will forever languish in the shadow of his first series.

Such thoughts have at times clouded Hughes, as his bush technique has faced no end of examinations and his confidence has ebbed and flowed across seasons, states and continents. But he has now reached an age and a mindset that is less concerned by attaining his former peak than working assiduously and methodically to build a platform for the next one. Not playing a Test on this tour, for instance, would not bother him, provided he stays in the frame.

"I'm very realistic going forward and just being in this squad is where I need to be," Hughes said. "Playing or not playing I'm happy to be in the squad and helping out the guys wherever needed. It doesn't bother me about what happens here, I'm not looking too far ahead.

"Consistency is a big thing for me having been in and out of the team. When I get another crack I really want to try to be as consistent as I possibly can be. I feel the red ball cricket for South Australia has definitely been my most consistent season so far, which is pleasing, and that's something I'll continue to improve on. If I do get a crack hopefully I can cement myself in the team down the track. For now though I'm happy to be here in the squad."

Kerouac never did manage to transcend the impact of On the Road, and has been remembered forever as the 26-year-old hitch hiker he grew tired of embodying. Hughes has much work ahead to improve on his first series, but he now seems far less hurried about doing so, and less troubled by a desire to match up to his younger self.

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

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© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Posted by DragonCricketer on (February 11, 2014, 21:45 GMT)

only a few hours to go now before they toss and Hughes gets his first of three centuries for the series.

Posted by jonesy2 on (February 10, 2014, 11:11 GMT)

he didn't struggle in England in 09 he was disgracefully dropped for no reason. then he apparently struggled at lords, so one test match warrants being dropped now does it? if the selectors had stuck with him from his debut which they should've done we would have about 3000 test runs at an average of about 45 by now and everyone would be saying how dangerous he is going to be for south Africa in this series. well im saying it, if he plays he will be one of the main reasons Australia wins this series.

Posted by   on (February 10, 2014, 1:02 GMT)

This series will determine one of two things. Are Australia on the improve or are the Poms as bad as they looked. This South African team is perfect and there is no way Australia can beat them in this series. Every strength we have, South Africa are stronger (well they are number 1 in the world - by a long way - for a reason). Fast bowling, batting. SA will win the series, but if Australia can put up a good performance and make it a close contest it will show there are some good days ahead for Aussie supporters, but if we concede the series meekly, then it just means our recent enjoyment of the Ashes victory was purely because of how poor England are.

Posted by HatsforBats on (February 9, 2014, 20:34 GMT)

@ Vleis, is that the same Cummins who took 6/79 whilst working Kallis over like a pro and hit the winning runs at Wanderers? I think he's earned the right to have an opinion. I can really see the relevance of some hit & giggle stats too.

Posted by Barnesy4444 on (February 9, 2014, 9:29 GMT)

pat-one-back, you are correct. He should have been persisted with in England in 2009 and he would have still worked out a way to score a lot of runs. He was dropped, told to change his technique and of course it totally stuffed him up.

Then he was a surprise selection when hopelessly out of form resulting in the much vaunted C. Guptill, B Martin.

Hughes is much more talented than both Warner and Smith. When he finally is treated the way he should be he will end up as one of Australia's greats.

Posted by Ragav999 on (February 8, 2014, 6:20 GMT)

@pat_one_back: Great to read your comment on (February 8, 2014, 0:27 GMT). If Hughes can handle all that the selectors put him through so far, Test cricket must be a walk in the park for him. I hope he is given a full series with Lehmann extending the same kind of support that he did to George Bailey.

Posted by pat_one_back on (February 8, 2014, 0:27 GMT)

Superior in ability to his NSW peers Warner & Smith, Hughes development has been so clumsily derailed it beggars belief. Through a dark era of Mickey's corporate brand "high performance" theory, Hilditch's ageist, indecisive, impatient and desperate get rich quick selection strategies (sorry missed ego placating ie "Twatto"- not sure who first posted it but like it). Had the lad been given an honest chance to bat through England as his record and talent permitted he'd have adapted naturally like scarily talented young batsmen do. Alas, no, trash him, remodel him recant and select him in his worst ever domestic form against NZ as if to justify his first axing, recant yet again but only after the real contest against a team (SA) he's enjoyed success against for 'his own protection' and then make an opener bat at 3 & 6 and drop him again as highest run scorer on a poor ashes tour. Surprised he hasn't taken up tennis, or moved to Eng...

Posted by CM1000 on (February 7, 2014, 15:00 GMT)

The Aussies do carry on with way too much talk before series for my liking (although the journalists and those trying to sell tickets for the matches no doubt love all the quotes and media exposure). But the main reason they do it of course is to try to get into the opposition's head, and they seem to have had success with those tactics against South Africa a lot of the time in the past. As big favourites for this series given the vast difference in batting quality and experience, South Africa will no doubt be under huge pressure and expectation to finally beat Australia at home for the first time since anyone can remember. Australia will no doubt be playing on that, particularly against a team with a history of some major chokes.

Posted by NALINWIJ on (February 7, 2014, 14:35 GMT)

This is his make or break series but I believe like Johnson he will make it happens especially from no.5 position. Also worth noting another spectacular starter Mendis has taken 6 wickets as we speak. Australia does not have the depth in batting so it is important that someone as promising as Hughes rises to the challenge and remains an option for the top order if someone falters or retires.

Posted by Sir_Ivor on (February 7, 2014, 14:18 GMT)

Every batsman moves in a certain way when he sees a ball coming. That cannot be changed very much I think. So if Hughes has indeed change so much I can only feel happy for him because he is a likeable fellow !

Posted by ModernUmpiresPlz on (February 7, 2014, 14:11 GMT)

@dunger.bob It was a good all round performance in the home ashes, the problem for me was it was at home. With Warner, Watson and Smith in the top 5 it's pretty easy to see why our top order collapses so often, but Warner and Smith still have loads of room for improvement and they're still very young. I just want to see some genuine improvement from them against a proper world class attack that will come at them all day.

The majority of Clarke's dismissals are either very early in his innings or a delivery that is somewhere between too good and completely unplayable. The rest you often feel could get out any time, off any delivery, even when they're on 70 runs and just hit a flowing cover drive right out of the middle. That's the real difference for me. I have heart palpitations every time Watson moves his front pad.

Posted by Vleis on (February 7, 2014, 12:18 GMT)

Didn't Pat Cummins say that the Saffer batsmen were scared of Mitch last time they met, despite us winning the series and Mitch producing a Bradman-like bowling average. Well, the same Pat has just conceded 47 runs off 4 overs in the BB final - even Alfonso Thomas conceded only 23 in 4 overs (and took two wickets). Maybe these Aussies will learn to do their talking on the pitch, but then again, maybe not!:-)

Posted by   on (February 7, 2014, 12:04 GMT)

@Lyndon McPaul. I hear you. Henriques would be a fine replacement for Watson, those two (2 - it's 2 more than 0, just so you know) first-class centuries would make him an obvious candidate. Plus, his test bowling average of 77.50 (note decimal point) certainly puts him in the Sobers league.

If you are looking for a person who calls themselves an allrounder, and you seem to crave one, maybe elevate Mitch Johnson (not that I would, but you want Henriques at 6 after all as an 'allrounder'). Otherwise your man might be Dan Christian, an allrounder steadily improving himself to reach sub-mediocre. I think the man you really want is Mitch Marsh, actually. It's a shame Ben Cutting doesn't call himself an allrounder.

You must be South African.

Posted by StarveTheLizard on (February 7, 2014, 11:53 GMT)

A couple of people have suggested North and Henriques as possible inclusions. North was given the extend run that Hughes should have been given. He failed consistently. Henriques is really not test all-rounder class. Love him or hate him, I think we are stuck with Watson - and we will miss him when he's gone.

Posted by Barnesy4444 on (February 7, 2014, 11:20 GMT)

There is no doubt in my mind if Australia had better selectors rather than Hilditch et al back in 2009 Hughes would have been persisted with. He would not have been forced to change his technique. I'm sure by now he would have played about 60 tests and be averaging over 45 as an opener and scored something like 13 centuries.

But was those same selectors who forced the in-form Hayden to retire so they could select Hughes in the first place.............

Hughes is now 25 and sorted out these problems. This is the second phase of his career, it is a fresh start for him. A clean slate. Boof recognises the talent and will not let it be destroyed they way Hilditch did.

Posted by dunger.bob on (February 7, 2014, 10:59 GMT)

@ ModernUmpiresPlz: One of the best things about the Ashes for me was that we didn't actually rely on Clarke that much for a change. I think we hit 10 centuries but as far as I can remember Pup only hit 2. The work load was shared around and of course Hads had a blinder at 7. .. I fully take your point though and agree. Just one or two more genuine class acts with the bat and we'll be a much more bankable prospect. As it is we're a bit boom or bust.

Posted by Rebel_Who_Follows_All_The_Rules on (February 7, 2014, 10:43 GMT)

@rickyvoncanterbury:Well to be honest,any batsman from any country will struggle against ''fast swinging balls'' so to single out batsmen from the subcont. is a bit unfair.What really magnifies our problems is the fact that we have a joke of a bowling ''attack''(Indian in this case).Aus on the other hand have the second best bowling attack in the world,add to that, the fact that Kallis has retired, Alviro's form is iffy, Amla is short of runs,SA don't have a spinner worth mentioning and JP is still living off what he did in AUS ages ago,so taking all this into account,I think AUS have got a pretty fair chance of victory.It will,all of course depend on how the batsmen go.I think the best approach for them would be to know where their off stump is,be prepared to leave anything outside off,frustate the SA bowlers keep them in the field for 100 overs minimum (in doing so, you also chip away at the bowlers gas tank) and make them come to you instead of going at them.Easier said then done!!!

Posted by rickyvoncanterbury on (February 7, 2014, 10:00 GMT)

I would like to know what our friends from the sub continent think, because if anyone knows the problems batsman face with fast swinging bouncing balls... it is them.

Posted by ModernUmpiresPlz on (February 7, 2014, 9:59 GMT)

@Kalpesh If only Australia really did have solid batsmen. We have one, Clarke. If we had one more I think South Africans might rate us a real chance, but all things being equal you can see why they're confident. SA have AB/Amla, India have Pujara/Kohli. What we wouldn't give for another batsman whose name could sit comfortably alongside Clarke. We'd be in serious contention for top spot if that were the case.

As it stands Australia's batting is more hope for the best than solid. So I'm going to hope for the best, if we manage to fall on the good side it's going to be a hell of a series and no matter what side you're on that's got to be what you want to see. The SA batting lineup chasing 280 for a win against the Australian attack on the 5th day is a mouth watering prospect for all concerned, hopefully our hit and miss batting can make it possible. If that happens I actually don't care who wins.

Posted by   on (February 7, 2014, 9:08 GMT)

@ Samroy and which left handed batsmen has no problem playing away swinging deliveries just outside their off stump ? its fine to say someone has a weakness but when its the same weakness every batsman in the world has, your comment bears no weight

Posted by Beertjie on (February 7, 2014, 8:38 GMT)

You've nailed it @dunger.bob. Whatever the stats say (and will say), test cricket is different. Take your chances and it will be revealed in your test average. Fail at this level but continue to produce fabulous figures in first-class cricket and you become a replica of the 'new' Aus. batting coordinator, Graeme Hick!

Posted by   on (February 7, 2014, 8:36 GMT)

This is going to the series for 2014 two teams who have fast bowlers solid batsman sharp fielders and batsmen who can handle short fast stuff .All put together its going to be a great battle

Posted by Sir_Francis on (February 7, 2014, 7:33 GMT)

He can play. I hope he gets a chance and is consistent because we need a few young bats to establish themselves. I won't forget that Kingmead test in a hurry. Especially the first ton.

Posted by SamRoy on (February 7, 2014, 6:49 GMT)

Right arm bowlers need to get some inswing (away swing for Hughes) on good length pitching on middle and leg and moving across Hughes. Hughes' old avatar will give catching practice to slips. (It will still be the same unless he has improved his technique and knowledge of his off-stump a lot. He went to Adelaide to bat on that flat pitch. He should have gone to Hobart and played on that dicey pitch to improve his game not looking for easy runs at Adelaide. When you have a problem, address it rather than running away from it-- key to success not just in cricket but in life. I am not saying he is not talented (his hand-eye co-ordination is comparable to Sehwag, Gilly and Jayasuriya) but the guy has had issues playing swing in swinging conditions, seam in seaming conditions and spin in spinning conditions just like Marsh and Yuvraj)

Posted by dunger.bob on (February 7, 2014, 6:46 GMT)

I've hardly seen any vision of Hughes batting since the England tour but his numbers in FC cricket have been excellent. Hopefully he's worked out how to score off his hip or down the ground on the leg side because I reckons that's his big problem. Bowlers soon discovered that by keeping it tight into his body he couldn't hit the ball off the square or even hit it at all. He'd get bogged down and they'd feed him something to hit outside off, he'd pin his ears back and nick it. Or miss a half volley and get pinned on his crease. Or run someone out going for a third. Or do some other crazy thing and get himself out in new and innovative ways.

If Hughes can work out a way to rotate the strike better his run rate will improve, his confidence will grow and he won't be half as easy to bowl to as he has been. C'mon Phil, show us something on your fourth and maybe final opportunity.

Posted by JimmySA on (February 7, 2014, 6:03 GMT)

After watching Phillip Hughes play in his first few test matches I thought Aus had found a Bradman #2. Have been watching him since then and nothing has really gone that way. Very unfortunate, but a player with lots of potential.

Posted by JAYAKUMARVIJAYA on (February 7, 2014, 5:51 GMT)

from that movement he is throw away from the team.but he has good temperament to play critical situation . i hope he can play well in this tour as like 2009.. Enjoy Huges play for your country..

Posted by Cricmaths123 on (February 7, 2014, 5:14 GMT)

My 11 for the 1st test: 1. Warner 2. Rogers 3. Hughes/Doolan(whoever plays better in the warm up match will play) 4. Clarke 5. S.Smith 6. Watson 7. Haddin 8. Johnson 9. Harris 10. Siddle 11. Lyon/Pattinson (depending on the conditions one of them will play).

Posted by   on (February 7, 2014, 4:15 GMT)

admit it or not HUGHES & NORTH are the most underrated player in Australian cricket team..... In ashes bailey constantly failing at number 5, but they haven't change the squad because it's a winning side... But if England scores 350+ runs in any of the 1st innings , then Australia realize the depth of their batting .... Now in south africa, when there is a clash of two TITANS they turn to the Shaun Marsh who is a complete limited over player instead of HUGHES & NORTH,,,. Very happy to see Hughes comes back to test side,would be more pleasure if North comes too... Now with this Australian fierce bowling attack & this kind of mature bating line up( not mention number 3, shane watson wouldn't deserve that spot), Cricket Australia will able to triumph over South Africa again.....

Posted by Trapper439 on (February 7, 2014, 3:58 GMT)

Only a handful of Tests after scoring those twin hundreds in Durban, against Steyn, Ntini, and Morkel, he was dumped by the Australian selectors due to a supposed weakness against the short ball. Surely if it was a real weakness then Steyn of all people would have been able to exploit it.

I honestly think that if he'd been persevered with he would have gotten through that form slump and come out a better player for it. Hilditch and the other selectors of the time have a lot to answer for in my opinion, because Hughes could have gone from strength to strength instead of becoming the nervous and scratchy batsman he is today.

Posted by   on (February 7, 2014, 3:15 GMT)

You have the talent, and now the mindset and maturity to go forward ! Go Hughesy !

Posted by   on (February 7, 2014, 3:08 GMT)

There is a lot of confusion in the Australian team because of Watson's position at 3 coupled with his allrounderstatus and this is how the selectors should handle it. Put Moises Henriques in at 6 so he can take over all of Shane Watson's bowling responsibilities and then hold Shane Watson accountable for his runs at 3 and runs alone. If (and probably when) he fails then I'm sure Hughes will be a lot more solid number 3 and the whole strength of our batting will improve. So henriques for Bailey to bowl all of Watson's overs and Hughes for Watson if and when he fails.

Posted by victortrumpet on (February 7, 2014, 2:30 GMT)

Hughes' troubles are all in the mind, just like Watson, just like Marsh...and seemingly as intractable. As my Indian friends say, "first world mental problems", the neuroses of the haves....

Posted by ShutTheGate on (February 7, 2014, 2:16 GMT)

If he does get a crack I think he'll have to make the most of it. I can't see him getting another go if he fails. I think this will be his fourth shot.

Posted by mike_b on (February 7, 2014, 1:38 GMT)

Two players performed brilliantly & won us the 2009 series against SA. Mitch Johnson and Phil Hughes. After that series I expected both to go on & have stella careers.Yet they have both struggled with their own personal form dips & demons. I can't help but wonder if CA are somewhat responsible for not assisting these two unique & special talents in the way that was required by their amazing yet fragile abilities. In that 3 game series Mitch took 16 wickets at 25 & topped the batting averages (89) scoring a century & a 90. Hughes after a 4 ball duck in his debut innings, scored a 75 in the second innings of the first test.He then cracked two 100s (one being a 160) to win us the second test & the series. This was as a 20 year old against Steyn, Ntini, Morkel and Kallis! Mitch,as we know, has finally lived up to his promise.Can't we help Hughes do the same? His feats as a 20 y.o. mustn't be forgotten nor dismissed as a fluke.They speak of a rare, & as yet, unfulfilled talent.

Posted by badyon on (February 7, 2014, 1:30 GMT)

Play Hughes at 3, Doolan at 6. A lot better than putting up with Watson making 26 runs and getting 1 wicket each test.

Posted by android_user on (February 7, 2014, 1:28 GMT)

he wont survive the south African onslaught this time around

Posted by   on (February 7, 2014, 1:26 GMT)

Hughes has been "figured out" by the international bowling fraternity a long time ago. Difficult to see him reap the kind of batting rewards against any half decent international bowling attack. At what position do you put a "batsman" who has a weakness against pace, is clueless against swing and a dead duck against spin? Slip cordon, get ready- here comes Hughes!

Posted by DragonCricketer on (February 7, 2014, 1:24 GMT)

Come on Mr Lehman, put him in for the 1st test. He is soooo hungry, disciplined, talented, willing to work hard on his technique. I would have given up by now. Runs speak louder than words.

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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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