What does the future hold for Phil Hughes?

Date: July 18, 2014 / Posted by Glenn Mitchell

While most Australian sports fans are wrapped up in the traditional winter codes, some of our cricketers are playing for Australia A against India A.

One of those is Phillip Hughes.

In the second unofficial Test that concluded at the Allan Border Field in Brisbane yesterday he made an unbeaten 100 in the second innings.

It was his 25th first-class ton, taking him to a career aggregate of 8575 runs at 45.6. Those are good numbers for a batsman of just 25 years of age.

The problem for Hughes is that he has already played 26 Tests for Australia for 1535 run at 32.6 with three hundreds.

The last of those was at Lord’s, 51 weeks ago. Since then the Australian side has played 11 Tests.

Hughes’ career has combined stellar highs and crushing lows – the latter conspiring to see him dropped from the team on five occasions.

His entry to international level was spectacular with innings of 0 and 75 on debut at Johannesburg in February 2009 and knocks of 115 and 160 in his next outing at Durban.

His twin centuries against a Proteas attack that featured Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel, Mkhaya Ntini and Jacques Kallis put him in the history books as the youngest batsman to score centuries in both innings of a Test match. His future looked incredibly bright.

Yet, after just three more matches he was axed following Australia’s second Ashes Test at Lord’s in July 2009. To that point he was averaging 52.4 but in the opening two matches of the Ashes series he was made to look all at sea against the short ball, especially when facing Andy Flintoff.

After that axing he was subsequently recalled on four more occasions – the first two of those comebacks lasted just one Test while the next two recalls saw him remain in the side for stints of ten and nine Tests respectively.

Used as an opener in his first 12 matches he was subsequently utilised at numbers three, four and six across his next nine Tests.

Right from day one Hughes was never an orthodox batsman. Indeed, if you were driving past a club ground in summer and did not know who he was you would likely not consider him a man that had represented his country.

He appears jumpy at the crease and, in the main, his runs come courtesy of sliced shots through point and dashing drives through the covers. When confronted by short-pitched bowling directed at the body from around the wicket the runs tend to dry up and the ‘keeper and slips are very much in the frame.

There is no doubting the fact that Hughes has talent – three centuries and seven 50s in 26 Tests attest to that. But his technique to date has led to considerable flat spots and that may be something that will play a factor in his batting for the rest of his career.

It is a matter of whether the selectors will place their faith in him again.

During his most recent 11-match exile Australia has used various batsmen in the top six – Chris Rogers, Shane Watson, David Warner, Usman Khawaja, Michael Clarke, George Bailey, Steve Smith, Shaun Marsh and Alex Doolan.

Warner, Rogers, Clarke, Smith and Watson appear certain selections. That leaves just one position in the top six up for grabs.

Khawaja and Bailey have little chance of hopping on the plane.

Doolan – who made an unbeaten 91 in the same innings where Hughes made 100no yesterday – batted in the number three position in Australia’s most recent three-Test series against South Africa. He didn’t set the world on fire – 186 runs at 31.0 – with a best of 89 on debut at Centurion.

His presence in the current Australia A side clearly shows he is still very much in the selectors’ mind and given that his baptism of fire at Test level was against one of the best pace attacks going around at present he may well be at first drop in the Emirates.

If Hughes is to regain a spot in the side it may well be when Chris Rogers retires. The pugnacious West Australian-cum-Victorian opener will turn 37 before the Pakistan series with the finish line looming large. Since being recalled to the Test side he has averaged 40.4 from 13 matches with four centuries.

Rogers is currently plundering runs for English county side Middlesex – 934 runs at 58.4 this season – he will definitely open the batting with a rejuvenated Warner against Pakistan. He is targeting next year’s Ashes series in England as his international swansong. If his form holds he will get there.

If Doolan fails to nail down the number three spot Hughes may be a chance to replace him. If not, his exile will last considerably longer.

Either way, if he is recalled for a sixth time he has to cement his spot. If not, a Test career that started with such promise will peter out.

First published on The Roar – www.theroar.com.au – on 17 July 2014

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