The Investec Ashes 2013 June 30, 2013

Hughes retraces Lehmann's footsteps

Hughes has one thing in common with his coach - unorthodoxy. But Lehmann's presence should be useful in helping the left-hander deal with spin

Phillip Hughes was not yet in school when Darren Lehmann had already learned to deal with the sorts of criticism so often attached to that most fascinating, entertaining and occasionally infuriating of batsman: the unorthodox left-hander. Now as Australia's new coach, Lehmann is ideally placed to help Hughes deal with troubles against spin bowling that have become the latest of a series of mountains for the younger man to climb.

Much like Hughes, Lehmann's technique and choices of mentors were questioned. His chances of making it as an international cricketer were dismissed out of hand for reasons like "he plays half his matches in Adelaide", "looks jumpy against pace" and even the odd allegation of "scores too quickly". Unlike Hughes, those critiques helped stop Lehmann from playing international cricket until his first-class career was a decade old.

Both share a ravenous appetite for run-scoring and a knack for making hundreds. Hughes in fact outstrips Lehmann in his early aptitude for doing so - by the age of 24, Lehmann had 17 first-class hundreds to Hughes' 21, none of them in Tests. But one major point of difference is their relative comfort when facing spin. Lehmann was near peerless at his best; Hughes is near shot-less at his worst.

"Obviously he's only just come in recently but I'll be talking to him day in and day out about especially spin," Hughes said. "Because he really dominated spin bowling through his whole career so it's something we can all keep working on and he'll be fantastic for that.

"I studied him when I was younger, I loved watching him play, and I think the aggressive way he went about it is something I try and do as well and a number of the boys in the team model our games around. So it's good to have him around and he's really putting us into that positive frame of mind."

Positivity is important to Hughes more than most. An improved capability against spin, and the denial of negative or survival-oriented thoughts will be critical if Hughes is to bat down that order, as he was commissioned to do in the first innings at Taunton.

"I really enjoyed batting at No.5 and then obviously 3 [in the second innings], but it's only a number next to your name and I've always said that I don't really mind where I bat," Hughes said. "It's just about opportunity really and about performing. I think it's a good thing giving everyone a go in different positions just to see. I've been lucky enough to go from opener all the way down to 5 now so it's a good thing. It's only something you can continue to work on."

One point of progress during Hughes' innings of 76* and 50 against Somerset was his ability to rotate the strike against the spin of George Dockrell. There were well-struck sixes too, but the singles were more instructive as to Hughes' best chance of thriving against Graeme Swann, not allowing England's No. 1 spinner to work him over.

"Yeah it's nice to get off strike, doesn't matter who you're really facing especially at the start of your innings to work into it," Hughes said. "They kept changing the field and you want to try and manipulate that as much as possible. I thought he bowled quite well, there was a fair bit of rough outside off stump, so it was nice to get to the other end today against a spinner and on a dry pitch."

Hughes and the rest of the tourists have now settled in Worcestershire, which in 2012 proved a critical juncture for him after a horrid summer in Australia that began with "caught Guptill, bowled Martin" and ended with his departure from New South Wales. Much as Lehmann's international prospects only gathered momentum after he ventured to Yorkshire and proved his ability to play on a greater variety of surfaces, Hughes' horizons were broadened at Worcester, not least by their coach Steve Rhodes.

"It was nice to get away from a lot of things and go out there and enjoy my cricket and the four or five months I was there, it was times I'll never forget," Hughes said. "I speak to Rhodesy a fair bit and I can't wait to catch up with him again, and have a few chats along the way. But they've been real good and he really gave me that freedom to go out there and express myself.

"It's a bit like my second home. They really looked after me there for the four or five months I spent there, it was really good for my confidence 12 months back, and I'll be meeting with all the guys over the next few days and catch up for dinner. They made me feel welcome when I was there and it's going to be good to see some mates."

No doubt Lehmann can relate to that, too.

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

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Scott on July 1, 2013, 11:22 GMT

    @landl47, and you demonstrate a common Eng failure of analysis; the failure to read what was written. I stated that Swann's record vs Australia is pretty ordinary - which it is! As stated by others, Swann's record in 09 was similar to that of Hauritz who wasn't selected to play on the only useful deck, according to you, in that series. One of these players is lauded as the greatest and the other labelled useless. Overrated is an understatement for this bloke! The only real alarming stat for Aus vs Swann is that his record against left handers is far, far superior to his fairly ordinary record against right handers.

  • Daryl on July 1, 2013, 10:54 GMT

    Im going to be straight to the point here, I dont think Swans offies will bother Hughes or any of the Aussies who played in India. No matter what the curators do there is no way that any of the pitches will look like roland gaross center cour,t as they did in India. With the way Hughes progressed on those clay courts puts him in good stead to whack little Swanny out of the park. Prepare dry pitches at your own peril England.

  • mukesh on July 1, 2013, 9:36 GMT

    I would love to see philip hughes succeed against England , 21 first class centuries before the age of 24 suggest something special , but he needs to tighten up his game a bit , spin is a weakness but i think the way he played against India towards the end of test series suggested good improvement ,in fact he was bit unfortunate to be on the wrong side of umpiring decisions in at least 2 innings

  • Tim on July 1, 2013, 9:27 GMT

    Hughes' debut series was incredible and I remember him impudently planting Dale Steyn in Kingsmead's new stand a few times. Helped win them the series. Highlights his descent when you think that he was not picked in the first match of last years Aussie homes series against the same attack. Undoubtedly a very talented player, but I am sure the English seam attack will be licking their lips at the prospect of bowling to him. I can see him hitting some superb cuts and drives before being caught in the cordon for 30 to 40 runs.

  • Lewis on July 1, 2013, 4:15 GMT

    He has alot of work to do against spin and swing bowling, this series will prove if he is ready, i fear he might not be.

  • Brady on July 1, 2013, 3:04 GMT

    It's encouraging to hear Hughes talking about getting more singles. His main problem now is that he has trained himself to go to the cut shot too often. I am sure that he thinks that he needs to score and immediately goes for the big cut. Focusing on low risk singles is the way forward against spin for both Hughes and Warner. Knock it around and get a few singles - cause the field to change and then cash in on the short ball outside of off-stump.

  • Rod on July 1, 2013, 2:15 GMT

    Ny recollection is that Hughes made a blistering start to his test career. Then other teams figured out he couldn't play swing very well, so he got dropped. Then he got picked again, and other teams figured out he wan't very good against spin either. So what is good aginst except attacks like the Somerset second XI? Maybe he's getting it figured out, but we'll have to wait to see if he can do it at the top level consistently.

    Also, it's worth remember that "Boof", the role model, wasn't good enough to make it into the great Australian teams till right at the end of his career. He's hardly one of the greats of Australian cricket, though I would admit that England would have been more than delighted to have had someone of his ability at that time.

  • Peter on July 1, 2013, 0:43 GMT

    I was fortunate to watch him come into the first class stage at a very young age & he was unbelievable against all types of bowling, his form leading him to be selected against Steyn & Co in South Africa. Somehow or somewhere, some batting "coach" fiddled around with his technique because he looked ungainly & he looked nothing like the player he was when he was a freewheeling batsman. Let's not forget, most of his early games were played on the spin friendly SCG pitch where his use of feet was admirable. I saw glimplss of it in the 3rd test against India. Granted, he has a long way to go, but, with all the runs & centuries has already scored at a young age would suggest there is plenty of talent there, he is just not showing it all.

  • Lester on June 30, 2013, 21:29 GMT

    The biggest thing about huges and all other batsmen really, is not talent or technique. Hughes has go loads of talent, and i really like the guy. having a brilliant, traditional sound technique is also not essential. Whats essential, especially in batting is being mentally strong. give me a guy with a doubful technique and talent with great mental strength over a guy with a weak mind/mentality and great technique and talent. to be able to push on when scoring is not easy, without playing loose shots and getting out and keeping yourself 'under control' is all mental. and i rekon this is something that could be improved a bit in our aussie side. and i rekon lehmann will do it.

  • mukesh on June 30, 2013, 18:28 GMT

    I think somewhere in the back of their mind this England team is afraid of Aussie fast bowlers , they know how dangerous Starc / Pattinson / Harris (if he is playing) will be on a seaming and swinging pitch, so they went for plan B- prepare turning pitches , England definitely have the edge in spin department with 2 good spinners and batsmen who can play spin better , CT pitches were all offering good turn