Phillip Hughes’ second One-Day International (ODI) hundred helped Australia beat Sri Lanka and level the series. For someone whose unorthodox technique came under intense scrutiny in late 2011, he has done exceedingly well to overcome those challenges and emerge a better player. In the aftermath of Ricky Ponting’s retirement, Australia are searching for that talismanic player and the selectors have shown their faith in Hughes to fill into those big shoes.
In December 2011, Hughes found his career at crossroads. For an opener, he had the unforgivable tendency of poking at deliveries outside the off-stump without conviction. In the Test series against New Zealand, he was caught in the slips and at gully by Martin Guptill off the bowling of Chris Martin four consecutive times. One could see that he was tormented and it was a sorry sight for someone so talented. The pattern of dismissals made Kerry O’Keeffe, the former Australian leg-spinner and now a commentator, to comment, “If P Hughes is shaving tomorrow and gets a nick, M Guptill will appear from the medicine cabinet with a band-aid!”
The Australian selectors had no hesitation in sending Hughes back to domestic cricket to work on his shortcoming – a move that has worked. For the Test series against Sri Lanka, Hughes was recalled and he responded with 86 in his very first knock. Later in the series, he scored 87 at Sydney to affirm the faith shown by the think-tank.
For such an attacking player, it was a bit of a surprise that he was first considered for Test cricket rather than the shorter formats. With Australia planning for the 2015 World Cup, they introduced a number of youngsters in the ODI series against Sri Lanka and Hughes has by far been the best. His two centuries played crucial roles in their victories. His Test career started off with a bang in South Africa in 2009, but one can say that his ongoing run has set the foundations for a promising international career.
Hughes’s style of batsmanship is combative; he likes to take taking the attack to the opposition. There are inherent risks involved with this strategy, but in recent games he has played long innings and exhibited the ability to spend time in the middle. He walked in to the Australian dressing room as a 20-year old – which speaks volumes of his talent as only a handful of youngsters don the baggy green at such a ripe age. The talent is evident and only the rough edges needed a bit of polishing.
A big test awaits the Australians on their forthcoming tour of India. But the team in a transition phase has all the makings of a formidable side under the inspiring leadership of Michael Clarke. Hughes would be a vital part of that setup and he would be looking to cement his spot with a good performance. Touring the subcontinent is never easy and a good outing there can do wonders to a player’s confidence. He has scored a ton there – against Sri Lanka in 2011, but needs to strike consistency during the upcoming tour.
Hughes can take heart from history and would, in fact, be inspired by a few facts. Left-handers have traditionally done well in India and have been the thorn in the flesh of the home side. As Arunabha Sengupta, CricketCountry’s Chief Writer pointed out in his article, seven out of 10 most successful visiting batsmen in India are left-handers. Recently, England captain Alastair Cook had a dream run in the Test series. Hughes would certainly be motivated to perform and India better watch out as this rejuvenated player is better and raring to make a full flight into international cricket.
(Nishad Pai Vaidya is a Correspondent with CricketCountry and an analyst, anchor and voice-over artist for the site's YouTube Channel. He shot to fame by spotting a wrong replay during IPL4 which resulted in Sachin Tendulkar's dismissal. His insights on the game have come in for high praise from cerebral former cricketers. He has also participated on live TV talk-shows on cricket. Nishad can be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/nishad_
First Published: January 24, 2013, 11:04 am