Jan 262013

Phil Hughes

Phil Hughes fought his way back into Australia’s Test team on the back of a bevy of first-class runs. Picture: Wayne Ludbey Source: The Courier-Mail

AS the Australian international calendar flips to Twenty20 mode, most young batsmen turn their thoughts to sixes, fours and an IPL contract.

And then there’s Phil Hughes.

While many young batsmen are delighted to get the opportunity to clear the front leg and smash balls into the stratosphere or play all manner of fancy premeditated shots, Hughes is a throwback in thought if not in technique.

Hughes’ original technique was of his own making, devised to take advantage of irregular backyard dimensions but not necessarily suited to providing brick wall defence.

Nevertheless, he couldn’t be faulted when it came to making runs.

At all levels, including on arrival in Test cricket, he knew what to do when he got set – amass centuries.

It was this ability to make big scores which attracted the attention of the selectors and it was his highly unorthodox technique that caused the South Africans to think he was timid.

A century in each innings in his second Test showed the South Africans they were wrong.

It also instilled hope in Australia that here was the next Matthew Hayden; a left-handed opener who could take charge at the start of an innings.

However, he was quickly dropped after failing against England and after a couple more omissions he was unceremoniously discarded after a nightmare run against New Zealand.

Four successive innings caught by the same slip fielder off the same bowler had selectors concerned his technique wasn’t going to survive at the highest level.

This sequence of dismissals also convinced Hughes to stop tinkering and get serious about reconstructing his technique.

A lot of hard work, followed by another barrage of first-class runs in a new environment, and Hughes convinced selectors he was worth another shot.

This is something he does have in common with Hayden.

When both were discarded from the Australian team, instead of sulking, they went away and piled up runs in first-class cricket. They made Australian selection a formality.

And it’s this trait – an ability to consistently score centuries at any level – that has fascinated a wide range of selectors and ensured he got numerous chances.

It’s also this trait that has him standing head and shoulders above all the other young batting hopefuls in Australian cricket.

While others have flashes of brilliance at first-class level without ever attaining the consistency required to instil confidence, Hughes just keeps piling up the runs.

The other thing that makes Hughes stand out is the value he puts on his wicket.

It was evident in Hobart during the must-win one-day international against Sri Lanka.

In scoring a hard-earned century and contributing more than 55 per cent of Australia’s total, Hughes showed he was prepared to battle the bowlers until he felt comfortable enough to batter them in the final few overs.

It was a wonderful display of patience, determination and batting know how.

It was reminiscent of Mike Hussey, minus the flawless technique.

Make no mistake, Hughes has dramatically improved his technique and his on-side play has benefited greatly.

Importantly, he hasn’t lost his greatest attribute; an ability to pierce the off-side field with laser shots that drive bowlers crazy.

His desire and hunger matches that of Hussey, it’s just that Hughes will never quite ooze permanence at the crease the way Mr Cricket did.

Hughes has many challenges ahead.

He has to prove capable of handling good spinners in India; then it’s on to England where Jimmy Anderson’s swing and Graeme Swann’s success against left-handers with his off-spin will be hard to overcome.

However, you know Hughes won’t go down without a fight – and without giving his predicament a lot of thought.

And if he finds a way through the maze he will often emerge with a century.

It’s an example many budding young Australian batsmen could copy, especially if they want to excel in all three forms of the game.

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