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In his last 17 innings Phil Hughes (above) has batted in four different positions. However his average of 36 as an opener makes him a likely candidate to open the batting after Australia struggled to find a stable pair using Shane Watson, David Warner and Ed Cowan © Getty Images

By Gaurav Joshi
 
While all the discussion surrounds to who will bat at No 6 for Australia in the first Ashes 2013-14 Test at The Gabba, the second opener slot also remains equally contentious. Although David Warner opened in Australia’s last Test match, he was dropped for the One-Day International (ODI) series against India and has been involved in yet another ill discipline act. It means the door is still open for Phil Hughes.
 
The Australian selectors have already stated that the current ODI series in India will be the selection criteria when the team is picked for first Ashes Test starting in Brisbane on November 21. Hughes has a golden opportunity to prove his worth, especially as an opener, a position in which he averages higher than any other position he has batted for Australia in his 49 Test innings.
 
After the second ODI against India, Hughes was quick to admit he is simply taking it one game at time and feeling relaxed after an extensive period on the sidelines. “I suppose the last few months I have been on the sidelines and just helping the boys been the 12th or 13th man. It’s just nice to get out there and play some cricket. I’m just relaxed and like the way things are going, take it a day at a time and not look too far ahead.”
 
Hughes returned to his customary opening position, scoring 47 from 53 in the first ODI at Rajkot to provide an early impetus to the Australian innings. In the second ODI at Jaipur, he scored 83 off 103 balls. Asked if he has always preferred to open the batting, Hughes stated he was prepared to bat anywhere, although, he had spent most of junior days and his initial phase in the Australian team as an opener. “Coming through the juniors, I’ve always batted at the top, but over the past six to 12 months, I have been in different positions.”
 
In the last 17 innings, Hughes has batted in four different positions and has been made a scapegoat so as to allow Shane Watson and Warner to open the batting. Fact of the matter is Hughes averages 36 as an opener and 28 in the other positions he has batted for Australia. On his day, Hughes can be equally as devastating as an opener but seems to struggle when he has to start against spin.
 
In his 49 innings in Test cricket, Hughes has been a victim to spinners on 18 occasions. That is nearly 40 per cent.  It is a game he has been working hard on, given the time he has spent on the sub-continent — the home of spinning tracks and spinners.
 
“It is a learning curve and it’s about having the right things in the memory bank and looking to improve with each performance. The ODI wickets are quite different, the Test wickets were turning quite a lot to be fair,” he said.
 
Hughes has really struggled to rotate strike against the spinners and it will be baffling for the selectors to bat him in the middle order and expose him to England’s Graeme Swann. The ODI series in India will present Hughes an opportunity to face the new ball and then learn to manipulate the ball into the gaps once the spinners are introduced in the middle over’s.
 
If Hughes can score an abundance of runs in India as an opener, a position in which he averages better than Warner, he could well be opening with Chris Rogers in Brisbane come November 21.
 
(Gaurav Joshi is an Indian-born Australian who played with Michael Clarke in his junior days. He coaches and reports for a Sydney radio station. Over the years he has freelanced for Australia Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) and is a regular on ABC cricket show Cow Corner. He is the author of the book “Teen Thunder Down Under” – The inside story of India’s 2012 U19 World Cup Triumph)