Justin Langer, the former Australia assistant coach, has urged the national selectors to retain Phillip Hughes for the third Test against India in Mohali, despite his awful results against spin in the first two Tests. David Warner also called for patience, saying he had not seen Hughes face much spin bowling before and that it would be only a matter of time before he worked out the best way to handle quality slow bowling.
Hughes is in danger of being dropped when the third Test begins on Thursday after having failed in the tour match in Chennai and then in the first two Tests. His work against spin has been especially disappointing and he has barely looked like being able to score unless the fast men are on; the 51 balls of spin Hughes faced in the two first two Tests brought him six runs and cost him his wicket four times.
But Hughes is far from the only Australian batsman to have struggled in India. Ricky Ponting did not score a century in India until his ninth Test there across five tours and finished with a record of 662 Test runs in India at 26.48. Hughes has not played Test cricket in India until the past three weeks and already he is in a precarious position, having only just regained his Test place for the home series against Sri Lanka following Ponting's retirement.
Already his batting coach Neil d'Costa has attacked Cricket Australia for refusing to allow him to give Hughes a crash course in how to handle Indian conditions before the tour, when Hughes was piling up runs in the ODI side. And Langer, who until late last year was the Australia assistant coach, said patience was required when young batsmen were exposed to new conditions.
"I would be so disappointed if he didn't play the next Test. He has been brilliant again all summer," Langer said in Adelaide. "He is our most exciting and best performed young player and I hope they stick with him. Phil is a young kid who is playing Test cricket in India for the first time and you can't just keep chopping and changing all the time. He has missed out but has shown over time he has the capacity to know how to score runs and work out strategies to score runs."
There is no question that Hughes has been in form this summer. Until the last round of matches he was on top of the Sheffield Shield run tally with 673 runs at 56.08. At the age of 24, Hughes has already compiled 21 first-class hundreds. But he is generally at his best when the ball is coming on to the bat, which is not the case in India. Warner, until last season a New South Wales team-mate of Hughes, said he should be given time to adjust.
"I haven't really seen a lot of spin bowling against Hughesy, so I just think it's more of a time thing and being patient," Warner said. "We all have to score runs and have a job to do. Phil is in a patch at the moment where he isn't scoring as many runs as he would like, but I'm sure if the selectors stick by him he will come good. He is the type of player who always puts runs on the board, especially when he scores a hundred he scores a big hundred."
One of the problems that has afflicted Hughes and the rest of the batsmen on this trip has been a lack of quality spin bowling at Sheffield Shield level, meaning a majority of their experience is against fast men. The Shield pitches in recent years have often been green seamers and matches can be over quickly, with spinners either hardly required or asked to bowl in conditions that are more suitable for the fast bowlers.
This summer in the Sheffield Shield, the top 15 wicket takers are all fast bowlers and the pitches are at their most favourable for the seamers early in the season, when the Test batsmen are more likely to be playing for their states. Warner said to help young batsmen become more accustomed to spin bowling the state teams should consider setting up centre-wicket training sessions when matches finish early, as the Test squad has done over the past two matches in India.
"If you're playing a four day game and the game finishes on day three, why not go out and practice on day four?" Warner said. "You're a professional athlete, you've got the whole thing there for you on day four to practice as much as you want. It's like us having a net out in the middle of the wicket [in India]. You very rarely get that opportunity in Australia. They will be watering the wicket straight away preparing for the next Shield game. It's fantastic to get that opportunity."