Katich saga was troubling Hughes - Clarke

Ricky Ponting congratulates Phillip Hughes on his hundred AFP

Michael Clarke, the Australia captain, has said the Simon Katich saga and public criticism Phillip Hughes has faced recently was weighing on Hughes' mind before his century on the fourth day in Colombo. Hughes has taken the place of his New South Wales captain Katich, whose removal from the list of Cricket Australia contracts and the subsequent fall-out shook Australian cricket. Hughes has faced criticism for his technique and lack of runs - he had not made a half-century in 10 Test innings before this one.

"I think it probably hasn't helped, the fact that Simon Katich did not get a contract," Clarke said. "I think there are a lot of people who think he should be here instead of Hughesy. I know Hughesy and Katto get along very well, so it's certainly not personal. But I think that's stoked the fire a little bit.

"The one thing we have to continue to remember is that he [Hughes] is 22 years of age. He has a huge future and he's working as hard as anybody to become a consistent player. He bats in the hardest position in the game I think, and there's going to be some tough times as the great openers - Justin Langer, Matthew Hayden, Michael Slater - they've all faced it. It's a tough game and we understand you guys [the press] have a job to do. So as a player you get used to the fact that when you don't perform as well as you'd like there's going to be some criticism."

Upon reaching his century, Hughes' first reaction was to clench his fist in the direction of the SSC ground press box, a gesture of defiance and some indignation. Clarke said the celebration had been sparked by the media criticism Hughes has received.

"There was a bit of that in his celebration today, he's very proud. He reads the papers like all of us and sees the criticism, so he wanted to show that the hard work has paid off and that he does deserve to be here."

The criticism of Hughes, Clarke said, had been unduly harsh, and he pointed to Hughes' first-class record rather than his decidedly slim recent output in Tests.

"I do [think criticism has been harsh]. Like I've said before, his statistics in first-class cricket are better than any young player in Australia. He's got 16 first-class hundreds, averages over 50, there's no other young player in Australia who has those numbers, so he deserves to be here.

"He has shown the world he can play at the highest level; he now has three hundreds to his name. Today, he showed his class against a reverse-swinging ball, when we were 150 behind."

The century in Colombo could help Hughes settle, but he was not the only Australia batsman needing runs ahead of this innings. Clarke himself would like to end a 23-innings stretch without a Test century, and he will need a big score tomorrow to make the game safe.

"No matter what your age is, no matter how many Tests you've played we all face criticism. It's great the team's having some success and that plays a big part. But I know myself, I'm batting as well as ever but I know I need to make runs. As a player you work so hard, but when you're not quite getting the result then the press have a job to do and we have to read about it and see it on television."

Australia can still lose the third Test and the chance for a series victory, something Clarke was keenly aware of. However he was relieved that Sri Lanka's lower order, becalmed by Angelo Mathews' painstaking pursuit of a maiden Test century, did not push his tiring bowlers at the end of the third day and the fourth morning.

"Definitely, I thought last night was a great opportunity for them to take it to us. I think we've seen that on this wicket, as it was in Pallekele, the hardest thing about winning the game is going to be bowling the team out, rather than the runs. I think you'll be able to chase even 200 in the second innings if you've got time on this wicket.

"Last night and today I thought they'd be a bit more proactive. In saying that, I had a lot of guys on the fence. I want to take nothing away from Angelo, he deserved his hundred and he's batted pretty well through this series."

Clarke said he had not totally given up on the chance to even win the Test. "Unfortunately there's probably still a chance we can lose if we don't bat well, but on the other side I think there's certainly a possibility, even if it's a minor one, that if we can get a 150-run lead we can win this Test match. We worked really hard for a few months leading up to this series and I think we've played some really good cricket. I'd hate to see us not bat well tomorrow and lose this Test and draw the series. We've worked too hard for that."

As for the bizarre dismissal of Shaun Marsh, who was given out caught at short leg and walked off without reviewing the decision, even though replays showed he had not touched the ball, Clarke said Marsh had been confused by a jumble of ball, gloves, chest and pads.

"I asked Shaun when he came off what he thought and he was 100% sure he hit it. But once he looked at the replay he realised that what he felt on his glove was actually the glove jamming into his pad. So good old, innocent Shaun, who's the nicest guy in the world, thought he'd felt something and left."