England v Australia, 1st Investec Test, Trent Bridge, 2nd day July 11, 2013

Hughes comes of age

In his new brief at No. 6, Phillip Hughes showed an improved technique and greater awareness of his team's needs to register a first Ashes fifty
19

One of the recurring themes of Michael Hussey's career was that many of his finest innings were overshadowed by someone else. Whether it was Michael Clarke cracking 329 not out against India or 259 and 230 against South Africa or Adam Gilchrist murdering England in his 102 at the WACA ground in 2006, Hussey was often cast as a minor character in his own life story. Possessing a tremendous ability to complement the batsman at the other end in whatever way was most required, Hussey thrived on partnerships, even if it meant playing the accomplice to Jason Gillespie when he had the cheek to turn a nightwatchman's shift into 201 against Bangladesh.

So it was for Phillip Hughes on a day of dreams at Trent Bridge. While Ashton Agar produced a performance that no one who witnessed it will ever forget, Hughes quietly crafted an innings that was arguably the best and most significant of his Test career. If Agar's display was one of the most striking examples of a selection hunch rewarding its architects, then Hughes' effort offered vindication of his retention in the team after a dire tour of India, as well as a remarkably promising glimpse of his batting future.

Where Agar walked out to bat with few expectations to live up to, and doubtless even fewer plans to counter among England's bowlers, Hughes faced up to opponents who had twice threatened to wreck him as an international batsman even before he had matured as a man. Five Ashes Tests spread across two series had reaped a meagre 154 runs at 17.11. Hughes' highest score in that time was 36. No wonder there was a quite palpable sense of English anticipation among the Nottingham crowd when he walked out to bat at 53 for 4 on the first evening.

Such a feeling had to be shared by James Anderson, Steven Finn, Stuart Broad and Graeme Swann. After all, Hughes had been turned from a bright young batting hope to a jittery mess on his first encounter with England in 2009, and then skittered nervously and fruitlessly around the crease in Australia two years later. Nothing, it seemed, had underlined Australian flaws and English superiority more than the sight of Hughes struggling for traction against the aforementioned bowlers.

But Hughes has travelled far in his journey from boy to man since then, moving from New South Wales to South Australia, regaining confidence during a stint with Worcestershire last year, and finally accepting a commission to move down the batting order to No. 6. This change was most significant, changing Hughes' role from that of a top-order dasher to a more considered job holding the team's mid-section together. It was tested out during the tour matches, and a string of healthy scores suggested Hughes would be comfortable reacting to the circumstances that confronted him.

In his first attempt at the role, the scenario was dire indeed. Four wickets down for very little, the Dukes ball swinging and seaming, the crowd baying for more wickets, the Nottingham light dull and augmented by electricity. Accompanying Hughes in the middle was none other than Steven Smith, another young man from NSW who had been a figure of English ridicule in 2010-11. Both had tightened their techniques and bolstered their confidence since then, and both would go some way to proving it by establishing a stand that bridged evening with morning.

Hughes would lose Smith soon after the team tally had passed 100, amid another bewitching spell from Anderson. The wickets tumbled quickly, Australian groans matched by English glee. But for the first time, Hughes was not part of the procession. He survived, batting grimly but near enough to neatly, playing many balls under his nose and occasionally stretching out to drive. Leg-side deflections not in his repertoire two years ago allowed him to get off strike at regular intervals. And after the trials of India, Swann's spin and flight was handled in the kind of manner Steve Waugh fended off short balls for most of his 168 Tests - not much style, but plenty of guts.

A mere nine runs after Smith had fallen, Hughes was joined by Agar. The liquidation of the lower order had been swift and brutal. In his partner, Hughes perhaps saw a little of his younger self, Agar not knowing the fear or self-doubt that invariably envelops a cricketer when the first troughs of form and performance are encountered. The pair had never batted together before, and Hughes initially followed the received wisdom of most batsmen with the tail by attempting to farm the strike. How they must have chuckled about that later.

As time ticked by, however, Hughes began to show the kind of awareness that had made Hussey such a fine batting partner. Witnessing Agar's accomplishment, he did not worry about trying to dominate, and played comfortably in a most unexpected slipstream. Agar sprinted to his half-century in 50 balls; Hughes fought gamely to his in 94. He spread his wings a little more from that moment, driving and cutting through the off side with plenty of vigour but greater control than his younger self had demonstrated when commencing so boldly in South Africa. England, for the first time in their encounters with Hughes, did not appear entirely sure of how to dismiss him. Given what had gone before this was some achievement.

Ultimately, Agar would fall two runs short of his century, leaving Hughes 19 shy of his own. He offered a consoling word and pat on the back for Agar, before standing aside in respect to allow the 19-year-old wonder his moment of adulation from a crowd still getting to know him. Though they may not have noticed, those assembled at Trent Bridge had also witnessed a new man at the other end. The dancing, struggling, edging Hughes of the past was nowhere to be seen. In his place stood a batsman of far greater composure. Agar had earned a revered place in history, but he could not have done so without Hughes. Hussey would have been proud.

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

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Sadip on July 12, 2013, 9:34 GMT

    A batsman with lots of patience and cool head....It was a great batting display shown with No. 11 batsman...!! His presence in non-strike end was also one of the great performance of No. 11 batsman in strike...which was awesome...!!

  • SlipsGlance on July 12, 2013, 9:47 GMT

    @Henrik Lovén, those 336 first-class runs from 16 innings include six not outs, three 50s and two match-winning tail-end partnerships. So it's not just die hard, parochial fanatics who might think the kid is a better #11 bat than 99% of Test debutants. I take your main point that he was picked as a bowler with a lot of natural promise, not as an all-rounder. But John Inverarity for one knows exactly what he can do with the bat.

  • on July 12, 2013, 9:46 GMT

    If England can, somehow manage to amass 280+ odd runs from their 2nd innings it will be game over for Australia, but it wont be easy to get 280 runs. They will have to really dig deep and prize their wickets, even more so after the Ausies, somehow, managed to get J. Trott for a duck.

  • neo-galactico on July 12, 2013, 7:52 GMT

    To be harsh to Hughes in the time when the wickets were tumbling on the other end he was coating and not looking to protect the tail. Granted, the Oz tail can all bat but he's the batsman and was suppose to take control of the situation rather than take singles every 1st ball of a new over so could finish the innings with an * next to his name. That said, Agar surprised everyone and Hughes supported him well although he still could've rotated the strike better against Swann. Two days into the Ashes and they've been good thus far with a couple of twists... Bring on Day 3.

  • on July 12, 2013, 6:42 GMT

    Erm...

    Agar's display never was "one of the most striking examples of a selection hunch rewarding its architects". He was selected as a bowler, neither batsman nor all-rounder, and the architects must have been as utterly and pleasantly surprised as everyone else (bar possibly the England team and a few die hard, parochial fanatics) that a player with 336 first-class runs from 16 innings at a strike rate of 49.26 suddenly transforms into the team's top scorer and main destroyer with what to all intents and purposes bar name is a century at a run a ball from number 11. As surprises go, Agar's display as a batsman is up there with India comfortably beating the West Indies in the 1983 World Cup final.

  • disco_bob on July 12, 2013, 5:12 GMT

    England will probably retain the Ashes with a 2-2 scoreline, but by the time the return match begins in 4 months, our young guns (hopefully including Khawaja) will be battle ready to bring the the Urn back to its rightful home.

  • Dr.Qwert on July 12, 2013, 4:00 GMT

    It's amazing what an openning (top order) bat can bring to the middle order, both reviving form and the composure. When going well there's noone better to be facing the second new ball, when not going well they can grind it out an survive. Easily the other comparison you can make to Hussey. But also Ponting and Katich in their early career.

    Truly think it's also the best place for Warner when he gets back, to be 5 or 6, although the big hole at the moment is the number 3 role.

  • landl47 on July 12, 2013, 2:27 GMT

    England's tactics from the seam bowlers baffled me. Anderson and Finn seemed to want to bowl very straight to him, getting him to play off his legs. That might work to restrict his scoring, but it won't get him out.

    When Broad came on, very late in the innings, in his first over he bowled the perfect ball to Hughes- a good-length ball pitching on off-stump and moving away. Hughes duly edged it to second slip as he has done so frequently in the past (ct. Guptill b. Martin). The problem was that Cook had taken second slip out and the ball sailed through at ideal catchable height and went for 4.

    If England gives up a couple of fours as Hughes drives at balls moving across him, so what? Sooner or later, and history suggests sooner, he'll get one doing a bit more and it will be a catch in the slips. What you DON'T do with Hughes is drop short or bowl at his legs, except to set him up. England did both today.

    As for Swann, this was day 2. It'll be a different story on day 4.

  • on July 12, 2013, 0:32 GMT

    Another man who would be proud is 1 DC Boon, remember his struggles in 85 & 86-87 and consider his relative fame in his home market, he was an even bigger hero in Tassie than Hughes was to youngsters in NSW early in his career (which in this era of hype is saying something). Coping with the pats on the back while translating the undoubted talent into consistent runs takes time and mental strength and Hughes displayed the latter in spades today. Let's hope the selectors continue to give him the former ... if they do then hopefully Hughes can deliver the sort of returns Boonie did in 89 and beyond

  • Dangertroy on July 11, 2013, 23:12 GMT

    Good work Mr Brettig, I'm glad someone chose to highlight Hughes contribution. I was initially cringing, think that Agar looked much more comfortable as a batsman,but Hughes coped with the pressure and let his partner shine. Once he got the sense that Agar was ok, he played his part, rotating the strike and keeping pressure on the bowlers. This should boost his confidence for the rest of the series.

  • Sadip on July 12, 2013, 9:34 GMT

    A batsman with lots of patience and cool head....It was a great batting display shown with No. 11 batsman...!! His presence in non-strike end was also one of the great performance of No. 11 batsman in strike...which was awesome...!!

  • SlipsGlance on July 12, 2013, 9:47 GMT

    @Henrik Lovén, those 336 first-class runs from 16 innings include six not outs, three 50s and two match-winning tail-end partnerships. So it's not just die hard, parochial fanatics who might think the kid is a better #11 bat than 99% of Test debutants. I take your main point that he was picked as a bowler with a lot of natural promise, not as an all-rounder. But John Inverarity for one knows exactly what he can do with the bat.

  • on July 12, 2013, 9:46 GMT

    If England can, somehow manage to amass 280+ odd runs from their 2nd innings it will be game over for Australia, but it wont be easy to get 280 runs. They will have to really dig deep and prize their wickets, even more so after the Ausies, somehow, managed to get J. Trott for a duck.

  • neo-galactico on July 12, 2013, 7:52 GMT

    To be harsh to Hughes in the time when the wickets were tumbling on the other end he was coating and not looking to protect the tail. Granted, the Oz tail can all bat but he's the batsman and was suppose to take control of the situation rather than take singles every 1st ball of a new over so could finish the innings with an * next to his name. That said, Agar surprised everyone and Hughes supported him well although he still could've rotated the strike better against Swann. Two days into the Ashes and they've been good thus far with a couple of twists... Bring on Day 3.

  • on July 12, 2013, 6:42 GMT

    Erm...

    Agar's display never was "one of the most striking examples of a selection hunch rewarding its architects". He was selected as a bowler, neither batsman nor all-rounder, and the architects must have been as utterly and pleasantly surprised as everyone else (bar possibly the England team and a few die hard, parochial fanatics) that a player with 336 first-class runs from 16 innings at a strike rate of 49.26 suddenly transforms into the team's top scorer and main destroyer with what to all intents and purposes bar name is a century at a run a ball from number 11. As surprises go, Agar's display as a batsman is up there with India comfortably beating the West Indies in the 1983 World Cup final.

  • disco_bob on July 12, 2013, 5:12 GMT

    England will probably retain the Ashes with a 2-2 scoreline, but by the time the return match begins in 4 months, our young guns (hopefully including Khawaja) will be battle ready to bring the the Urn back to its rightful home.

  • Dr.Qwert on July 12, 2013, 4:00 GMT

    It's amazing what an openning (top order) bat can bring to the middle order, both reviving form and the composure. When going well there's noone better to be facing the second new ball, when not going well they can grind it out an survive. Easily the other comparison you can make to Hussey. But also Ponting and Katich in their early career.

    Truly think it's also the best place for Warner when he gets back, to be 5 or 6, although the big hole at the moment is the number 3 role.

  • landl47 on July 12, 2013, 2:27 GMT

    England's tactics from the seam bowlers baffled me. Anderson and Finn seemed to want to bowl very straight to him, getting him to play off his legs. That might work to restrict his scoring, but it won't get him out.

    When Broad came on, very late in the innings, in his first over he bowled the perfect ball to Hughes- a good-length ball pitching on off-stump and moving away. Hughes duly edged it to second slip as he has done so frequently in the past (ct. Guptill b. Martin). The problem was that Cook had taken second slip out and the ball sailed through at ideal catchable height and went for 4.

    If England gives up a couple of fours as Hughes drives at balls moving across him, so what? Sooner or later, and history suggests sooner, he'll get one doing a bit more and it will be a catch in the slips. What you DON'T do with Hughes is drop short or bowl at his legs, except to set him up. England did both today.

    As for Swann, this was day 2. It'll be a different story on day 4.

  • on July 12, 2013, 0:32 GMT

    Another man who would be proud is 1 DC Boon, remember his struggles in 85 & 86-87 and consider his relative fame in his home market, he was an even bigger hero in Tassie than Hughes was to youngsters in NSW early in his career (which in this era of hype is saying something). Coping with the pats on the back while translating the undoubted talent into consistent runs takes time and mental strength and Hughes displayed the latter in spades today. Let's hope the selectors continue to give him the former ... if they do then hopefully Hughes can deliver the sort of returns Boonie did in 89 and beyond

  • Dangertroy on July 11, 2013, 23:12 GMT

    Good work Mr Brettig, I'm glad someone chose to highlight Hughes contribution. I was initially cringing, think that Agar looked much more comfortable as a batsman,but Hughes coped with the pressure and let his partner shine. Once he got the sense that Agar was ok, he played his part, rotating the strike and keeping pressure on the bowlers. This should boost his confidence for the rest of the series.

  • Batmanindallas on July 11, 2013, 22:56 GMT

    Wait let us not bring the bands out yet...HUghes has deceived a lot to be convinced that one innings is a turnaround for the good

  • Chris_P on July 11, 2013, 22:32 GMT

    @R_U_4_REAL_NICK . If the evidence is there & changes have occurred, there is no harm in changing though processes about anything. Hughes had to change from where he was, he made the effort, we all saw how he performed at both Shield & one day level so he deserves a pat on the back. I watched him when he first came onto the scene & he was sensational, the person who fiddled with his technique is the person I have no time for.

  • Bonehead_maz on July 11, 2013, 21:46 GMT

    The wonderful thing about this from an Australian perspective, is it started with Smith, Hughes and Agar carried it on, and then it was gilded by Starc. I think one or two of them are 24 already :). Time for Pattinson to complete the youngsters rise.

  • johnnycash on July 11, 2013, 20:30 GMT

    Phil Hughes' playing of Graeme Swan was the most pleasing aspect for me.It easn't easy today,and definately not last night with Steve Smith,but he showed some composure that was needed against a swinging and also turning ball.I beleive Swan tried too hard to dart them out,and maybe needed a bit more flight. Good to see some fight in the game and a long way to go in this game.

  • Peterincanada on July 11, 2013, 20:08 GMT

    A fine thought provoking article. You are so right. Hughes was a fast scorer when on top but did not know how to survive when the going was tough. He took a lot of abuse from those who hailed him as the next Bradman four years ago but ridiculed him when the failures came. I felt sorry for the enormous pressure and mental strife that Hughes has endured and hoped he would somehow succeed. After horrible early failures inIndia it seemed to turn around somewhat at the end of the tour. This innings showed a different Hughes, a mentally strong Hughes who survived the tough going and then began to pull out the strokes and flourish. Lets hope this is just the start for he has a lot to offer.

  • R_U_4_REAL_NICK on July 11, 2013, 20:02 GMT

    There's a bit of catch-22 with Hughes tactics today. A lot of Aus. fans were quite angry with him for exposing the tail-enders too much, and thereby accelerating the mini-collapse; that is, until, a certain young Agar came out and proved there weren't so many demons in either the pitch or England's attack as the top order had seemingly conveyed. However, had Agar got out early too, would Hughes's innings today been applauded so?

    As a consistent Hughes critic, it pains me to say: the boy done well.

  • TenDonebyaShooter on July 11, 2013, 19:49 GMT

    Ahead of the last Ashes series in England, Hughes, who had recently played his first few tests and made a couple of test tons, prepared by playing a stint of county cricket for Middlesex and stacked up loads of runs. I recall a certain G. Miller whining in advance of that series about how Middlesex were treacherously helping the old enemy. Since then, to date, in Ashes tests, Hughes has struggled and England have held the advantage. Hughes did much the same ahead of this series, playing for Worcestershire, with more indifferent degrees of success. And yet what did we get ahead of the Ashes series this time? Not a tweet moaning about treachery from Miller or the English media, the latter being too busy talking up their own recent debutant wonder-boy-opener Joe Root. And what do we find after two days? While Root has failed, Hughes' batting success has played a key role in the game. The England players have not been complacent, but I think some of their selectors and media have

  • on July 11, 2013, 19:39 GMT

    Yes I think Hughes is on the right track now, he looked good on comeback against Sri Lanka I thought, I'd never been convinced before hand but after he played in that series I thought he'd turned a corner. India was obviously a let down but Ricky Ponting amongst others have had even worse series there. Obviously he needs to keep up the good work but at least the framework is there now to build upon.

    Steve Smith looks like another young man who is getting on top of his game, he really looked far more composed here than i've ever seen him and that in a far worse situation! I hope they leave these two at 5 and 6 for a while now, just to allow them to settle into test cricket somewhat. Doesn't do much to resolve the top order issue but at least some middle order stability will throw up a few presentable scores.

  • SamRoy on July 11, 2013, 19:39 GMT

    Dan, today the ball didn't swing (ok Anderson got some reverse) and Hughes helped himself to 80+ not out. We will see how good he is swinging conditions. But he has improved undoubtedly. He has improved against spin and improved against swing.

  • SamRoy on July 11, 2013, 19:39 GMT

    Dan, today the ball didn't swing (ok Anderson got some reverse) and Hughes helped himself to 80+ not out. We will see how good he is swinging conditions. But he has improved undoubtedly. He has improved against spin and improved against swing.

  • on July 11, 2013, 19:39 GMT

    Yes I think Hughes is on the right track now, he looked good on comeback against Sri Lanka I thought, I'd never been convinced before hand but after he played in that series I thought he'd turned a corner. India was obviously a let down but Ricky Ponting amongst others have had even worse series there. Obviously he needs to keep up the good work but at least the framework is there now to build upon.

    Steve Smith looks like another young man who is getting on top of his game, he really looked far more composed here than i've ever seen him and that in a far worse situation! I hope they leave these two at 5 and 6 for a while now, just to allow them to settle into test cricket somewhat. Doesn't do much to resolve the top order issue but at least some middle order stability will throw up a few presentable scores.

  • TenDonebyaShooter on July 11, 2013, 19:49 GMT

    Ahead of the last Ashes series in England, Hughes, who had recently played his first few tests and made a couple of test tons, prepared by playing a stint of county cricket for Middlesex and stacked up loads of runs. I recall a certain G. Miller whining in advance of that series about how Middlesex were treacherously helping the old enemy. Since then, to date, in Ashes tests, Hughes has struggled and England have held the advantage. Hughes did much the same ahead of this series, playing for Worcestershire, with more indifferent degrees of success. And yet what did we get ahead of the Ashes series this time? Not a tweet moaning about treachery from Miller or the English media, the latter being too busy talking up their own recent debutant wonder-boy-opener Joe Root. And what do we find after two days? While Root has failed, Hughes' batting success has played a key role in the game. The England players have not been complacent, but I think some of their selectors and media have

  • R_U_4_REAL_NICK on July 11, 2013, 20:02 GMT

    There's a bit of catch-22 with Hughes tactics today. A lot of Aus. fans were quite angry with him for exposing the tail-enders too much, and thereby accelerating the mini-collapse; that is, until, a certain young Agar came out and proved there weren't so many demons in either the pitch or England's attack as the top order had seemingly conveyed. However, had Agar got out early too, would Hughes's innings today been applauded so?

    As a consistent Hughes critic, it pains me to say: the boy done well.

  • Peterincanada on July 11, 2013, 20:08 GMT

    A fine thought provoking article. You are so right. Hughes was a fast scorer when on top but did not know how to survive when the going was tough. He took a lot of abuse from those who hailed him as the next Bradman four years ago but ridiculed him when the failures came. I felt sorry for the enormous pressure and mental strife that Hughes has endured and hoped he would somehow succeed. After horrible early failures inIndia it seemed to turn around somewhat at the end of the tour. This innings showed a different Hughes, a mentally strong Hughes who survived the tough going and then began to pull out the strokes and flourish. Lets hope this is just the start for he has a lot to offer.

  • johnnycash on July 11, 2013, 20:30 GMT

    Phil Hughes' playing of Graeme Swan was the most pleasing aspect for me.It easn't easy today,and definately not last night with Steve Smith,but he showed some composure that was needed against a swinging and also turning ball.I beleive Swan tried too hard to dart them out,and maybe needed a bit more flight. Good to see some fight in the game and a long way to go in this game.

  • Bonehead_maz on July 11, 2013, 21:46 GMT

    The wonderful thing about this from an Australian perspective, is it started with Smith, Hughes and Agar carried it on, and then it was gilded by Starc. I think one or two of them are 24 already :). Time for Pattinson to complete the youngsters rise.

  • Chris_P on July 11, 2013, 22:32 GMT

    @R_U_4_REAL_NICK . If the evidence is there & changes have occurred, there is no harm in changing though processes about anything. Hughes had to change from where he was, he made the effort, we all saw how he performed at both Shield & one day level so he deserves a pat on the back. I watched him when he first came onto the scene & he was sensational, the person who fiddled with his technique is the person I have no time for.

  • Batmanindallas on July 11, 2013, 22:56 GMT

    Wait let us not bring the bands out yet...HUghes has deceived a lot to be convinced that one innings is a turnaround for the good

  • Dangertroy on July 11, 2013, 23:12 GMT

    Good work Mr Brettig, I'm glad someone chose to highlight Hughes contribution. I was initially cringing, think that Agar looked much more comfortable as a batsman,but Hughes coped with the pressure and let his partner shine. Once he got the sense that Agar was ok, he played his part, rotating the strike and keeping pressure on the bowlers. This should boost his confidence for the rest of the series.