Australia's captain Steven Smith has taken the responsibility for New South Wales' (NSW) contentious decision to drop last season's leading Sheffield Shield run-maker Ed Cowan, stating that he wished to see more of the younger left-hander Daniel Hughes ahead of the international season.
While not an official NSW selector, Smith said he had involvement in the call alongside the coach Trent Johnston, with all state coaches and talent managers aware of the wider philosophies underpinning Shield selection and the search for youthful talent capable of playing for Australia. Key to the decision was the fact that Smith himself has seen little of the 28-year-old Hughes as a batsman, due to his own international commitments.
"I did have an involvement and it's a tough selection, definitely," Smith said when launching his new book, The Journey, in Sydney. "Ed was a fantastic player last year he played beautifully but with Davey [Warner] and I back in the team, it's always been the way at NSW with guys coming back and unfortunately people have to miss out and on this occasion it's Ed. We've opted for Daniel Hughes to play at No.6.
"He's been in terrific form in the JLT Cup, he scored 200 in grade cricket on Saturday and I think he's a player potentially for the future, so it's a good opportunity for him to play with the likes of myself and Davey. Learn a little bit off us and the way we prepare and a good chance for me to see him play as well.
"I think I've only played in one game with him in the game after Hobart here the SCG last year, so good opportunity for me to see him and unfortunately on this occasion it's Ed that misses out. But I've told him myself that when he comes back into the team when we all go [to play Tests], he has to continue to set the standard and do what he did so well last year, because he did have a very good year."
Smith made it clear that he felt Hughes was a player of international potential, which factored into the decision. "I think he does [look like an international player], yeah. He's 28 years old," Smith said. "He's coming to his prime in terms of age and batsmen. He looks like he has a very good technique. He plays the new ball well as we've seen in one-day cricket and it'll be interesting to see how he goes against some good pink-ball bowlers in Adelaide, in [Chadd] Sayers, [Daniel] Worrall and Kane Richardson. Good opportunity for him.
"Whether I'm playing or playing a Test match and watching scores, I'm always looking at what guys are doing in state cricket. Always trying to find the next best players to come in and play in the Australian team. I certainly have my eye out."
Looking ahead to the shape of the Test team to face England in the Ashes next month, Smith said he was looking for big runs from players capable of filling the uncertain No. 6 berth in the batting order, whether an allrounder or not. As an on-field captain, Smith will be hopeful the emerging player can also bowl serviceable seam overs, but made it clear that runs were the priority.
"I think first and foremost we need our best six batters playing. It's going to be important to get some runs out of that position. It'd be good if they could bowl but in the end it's down to having the best six batters," he said. "Preferably [a seamer], but we'll wait and see. We've got these two Shield games until it's picked and a third game for some guys to put their name up there. Hopefully we see some big scores.
"It's a great little preparation for the international guys, three shield games before the first Test hasn't happened for a long time. But also a good opportunity for a few guys to stand up, knowing there might be a few positions up for grabs, it puts a little bit of pressure on and we like seeing guys perform under pressure, so hopefully a few guys step up and really 'bash the lights out'."
A source of great excitement for Smith arrived on the weekend, when he faced Mitchell Starc in the nets at Sydney Church of England Grammar School on the North Shore. "I faced Mitchell at Shore School on Saturday and he was swinging the ball, which is fantastic," Smith said. "Left-armers that bowl at good pace and swing the ball are a great weapon, so let's hope he can keep doing that.
"With the pink ball it certainly was. The white ball probably only swings for two overs, maybe three at the start of a game, so it's hard to get a real gauge on that. But the red ball and the pink ball usually swing for a little bit longer. It's a big weapon to have if he's swinging them back into the right-handers."