SL Board XI v Australians, Colombo August 24, 2011

This time, Hughes will do it his way


Phillip Hughes is determined to play his own way against Sri Lanka, having learnt that even the best-intentioned coaching advice can lead to muddled thoughts and meagre scores.

As he prepares to partner Shane Watson following the traumatic removal of Simon Katich from the list of Cricket Australia contracts, Hughes is honing more or less the same technique he took into his debut against South Africa in early 2009.

That series, in which Hughes topped the Australian aggregates and blazed two centuries to help a young side to an unexpected series win, did not dissuade observers from tinkering with the idiosyncratic technique that reaped those rewards.

He has cut a more orthodox but less-convincing figure at the international batting crease ever since, starting with the Ashes series later that year in which a couple of hot spells from Andrew Flintoff were enough to see Hughes jettisoned after only two Tests.

"Through that time there were a lot of people who came in to try to give advice, but I just had to go back to my game and play the way I've always played," Hughes said. "I might've gone off it a little bit, but that's all part of learning and the experience of it all. There are things I'm going to have to tinker with, with my technique, but as a whole I'll keep it how I've always played."

During the last Ashes series Hughes was chosen to replace the injured Katich, and retained for three Tests, when clearly short of runs and confidence. Picked when he should have been dropped, and dropped when he should have been picked, Hughes sought solace in the advice of his first mentor, Neil D'Costa, who is now employed at a cricket academy in Nagpur.

"I worked even harder in the nets - the Ashes series was disappointing, so I went back and just worked harder and Neil D'Costa flew from India back to Australia and we spent time together," Hughes said. "We got down to the nets basically every day for two weeks, a couple hours a day, worked as hard as I've ever worked, and things turned around.

"I hadn't seen Neil for a fair few months - he'd been in India - and it was just good to have someone there who's been there [for me] the whole way; [and for me to] to come back to Australia and work as hard as possible with Neil. He knows my game quite well now and he's been coach/mentor the last five or six years for me, so getting back was good and beneficial."

The balance seems finally to have been redressed ahead of the Test series between Australia and Sri Lanka, for Hughes enters the tour having carved out a handsome tally of runs for New South Wales and Australia A since the Ashes. Reflecting on the last summer, Hughes agreed he might have been helped by more runs behind him when he walked out to bat in the third Test in Perth.

"It would've been better, but I was excited when I did get selected, and to play the last three Ashes Tests was a huge thrill, but also disappointing … it would've been nice to get more runs, no doubt about that," Hughes said. "I wasn't in the best form then, I was in better form towards the back-end of the season, but that's cricket; especially opening the batting you knick off a few times and you get a few starts and you want to make those into big scores. It wasn't to be in the Ashes series."

While extremely angry about the manner of his exit, Katich bore no ill-will towards Hughes, and the pair remain on good terms in a relationship that began when the younger batsman was a teenager in the NSW squad.

"My debut game for Australia [in South Africa] was with Simon, and I'll always remember the time Simon gave me back in NSW when I was only 17-18, going into the squad and what he did personally for me," Hughes said. "I did [feel sorry for him], that was a while ago now, decisions that people have got to make, and I'm not one of those, I've just got to control what I can control, but it was disappointing and I was feeling for Simon at the time."

Sorrow for Katich had been preceded by some shock, for Hughes had fully expected Katich to regain his place at the top of the batting order following an Achilles injury. He publicly stated that his goal was to be the reserve batsman on tour.

"I've said that for the last couple of years when I got dropped," Hughes said. "I've always wanted to be that spare batsman on tour and be that next guy in. I've been lucky enough the last couple of years on tour to be that spare batsman, and now comes the opportunity I've always wanted. [After] getting dropped I'd get itchier and more keen to get back in there, knowing I've had a taste of Test cricket."

That hunger will now be sated, although in conditions far removed from anything Hughes has encountered at Test level before. He has spoken a lot to Ricky Ponting, Michael Clarke and the assistant coach Justin Langer about handling spin, seeking out the kind of advice that will help, not hinder, his latest tilt at international batsmanship.

"I've played on the subcontinent before but not for Australia. I've been to India a lot but it's different - it's Test cricket, and it's going to be tough, we all know that," Hughes said. "But that's why we've got guys like Pup [Clarke] and Punter [Ponting] in our team.

"They faced spin bowling beautifully in the one-day games so I've spoken to them as much as possible … but it's about getting out there and doing the work. I'm a huge fan of Justin, he's a great coach, so I'll just go out and do as much work as possible, and hopefully it pays off."

Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Meety on August 26, 2011, 3:19 GMT

    @DazTaylor - mate assuming SL will attempt to ball short to him, the problem is there is not many bowlers in SL that will trouble him, the other factor is he is playing this test series on the back of a mountain of runs. @Manesha Madi. - Hughes won't have to face Malinga. @Martin Crowther - mate that's like saying the Great IAN BELL is not Test Match material 5 years ago! Bell underachieved, (arguably still does), he is now written up as basically a modern great, difference between the two, is essentially Bell has been backed to succeed whereas Hughes wasn't. Hughes is showing signs that a return to form is occurring & runs should flow & I have complete confidence that the next time he plays England he'll rectify his stats against them!

  • VivGilchrist on August 25, 2011, 12:00 GMT

    Hughes is class, he is flashy, he will disappoint, but he will also score big, score fast, and turn games in a session. He is worth it.

  • Trapper439 on August 25, 2011, 11:07 GMT

    Hughes scored hundreds in both innings of a Test v South Africa. And then he got dropped a few Tests later, because he'd supposedly failed against the short ball vs Flintoff. I watched Hilditch's career. If that wasn't a case of self-righteous projection from Hilditch then I don't know what could be. Hughes should never have been dropped during the 2009 Ashes. That was just pure cowardice from a selector (Hilditch) who should have learned from himself being at the centre of things when, basically, Steve Waugh replaced him in an underperforming team. Steve Waugh took around three years to blossom and perform in the role. Hughes took about three weeks. And Hilditch wasn't good against the short balls, either. I'm so glad Hilditch is gone. I'm not saying Hughes is a great player, I'm saying that Hilditch is no student of history, even though he'd lived through it, and I'm glad he's going back to whatever it is he does in civvies. Bye, Andrew, you did your best, but you won't be missed.

  • dummy4fb on August 25, 2011, 9:25 GMT

    I don't see Hughes as a test match player. He plays too carefree and often gets himself out as England showed in the ashes down under and in 2009. I think Hughes technique is more suited to the one day game and I think he should open with Watson in the 50 over games. In terms of Shaun marsh I think the Australian selectors have got it wrong with where marsh should bat in the order in tests and odi's. Marsh should open with Watson in the tests and bat at 5 and 6 in the odi's. Marsh has made most of his big scores in odi's batting at 5 and 6 and has shown he is a strong sensible hitter down the order. Something they have missed since Michael Bevan was in the team. Place kawaja at no.6 in tests and let him develop.

  • dummy4fb on August 25, 2011, 9:03 GMT

    RandyOZ@ I think you better think twice cause the lankans went down less than 200 due to errors which their batsman application at do you think it will happen in Test too....well let bat and Ball do the talking...and for Hughe's you are talikng about his record overall ...but not in subcontinent ...well I hope he can survive Malnga over..??? get over it mate....he is just 22 and lot to do???

  • dummy4fb on August 25, 2011, 6:57 GMT

    Australia's batting depth is slowly being rebuilt. They have Hughes in the test side and he has the potential to be a very good test match player. There is David Warner who now averages over 50 in 1st class cricket and has experience with australia A and for Australia in T20's and ODI's. Chris Lynn is another promising talent. Shuan Marsh looks the good and Khawaja has scored runs consistently in state games and has a great technique for test cricket. Adam Voges and Mark Cosgrove have been impressive of late as well. So there is plenty of decent batting talents available and steve smith is not part of it, he has a poor technique and is just a hacker, that doesnt work in test cricket.

  • DazTaylor on August 25, 2011, 6:38 GMT

    Shame - SL need to bowl him plenty of short stuff and his top score will be in the 30's, maximum.

  • hyclass on August 25, 2011, 6:12 GMT

    People rubbishing Hughes technique?Again?Grow up!Hughes failed in tests because Nielsen made unworkable changes to his technique,including removing his trigger back foot movement and altering his back foot defence,totally unbalancing his game and game plan.It began BEFORE the Lions game on the '09 tour.Up to that point,he had 1637 runs at 96 with 8 centuries on 3 continents in 10 games.Two were against Steyn,Ntini,Morkel and a highly experienced SA attack.The England attack was weaker,particluarly Harmison.This was all accomplished using his own technique.Watch Hughes115 and 160 v SA Youtube if you doubt it.Every occassion since,when he has played for Australia,it has been with Nielsen looking over his shoulder.The whole point of this article is Hughes reverting to his own way of doing it,after chats with DeCosta.He has 557 runs at 92 in 3 games with 3 centuries and a 4th list A century.Hes basically telling Nielsen where to go.I hope this Review and Clarke as captain have freed him.

  • cricfan55187723 on August 25, 2011, 4:32 GMT

    If he's scoring runs like he has been in the Australia A games and at the end of the last Sheffield shield season, then play him. But if he's not scoring runs like before the Ashes, then don't play him.

    People seem to be writing him off a bit quickly. Now i'm not the biggest fan of Hughes. Because of his technique he still has a huge question mark over him, but let's remember that he is only 22 so there is still a lot of time for him to work on his game.

  • Meety on August 25, 2011, 3:10 GMT

    @ SFay -he probably has him mixed up with Warner! LOL!

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