Hughes retraces Lehmann's footsteps
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