Deconstructing Phillip Hughes

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Everything you Need to Know About Phillip Hughes

phillip-hughes1England have a battle on their hands this summer in the Ashes. Yes, the Ozzie attack isn’t what it was. Losing Warne’s wizardry and McGrath’s metronomical economy would have been difficult for any team in history to cope with. However, the Ozzie batting is arguably in better shape than it was in 2005. Hughes, Katich, Ponting, Clarke, North and Haddin are a tight bunch full of runs.

Yes, Haddin is no Gilchrist but he is not a bad player and can score heavily. Pup Clarke has developed into a batsman with few clear weaknesses. Ponting is Ponting – a great scrapper, a heavy runs scorer and someone who combines grit with enormous talent. After 131 tests, he has scored 37 test tons and averages 56.20. Katich is a strong, left-handed opener who averages 43. Hussey isn’t the player of a couple of years ago but is still a top-notch player. As Graeme Smith points out today in the Guardian, he has become susceptible to the short-ball and they bounced him throughout the series in South Africa.

However, the man everyone is talking about is Hughes. In three tests, he has scored 415 runs – not bad for a man who started his career with a duck. He broke George Headley’s decades-old record to become the youngest man ever to score two hundreds in a test. For Middlesex, he managed to knock 574 runs in his three first-class matches, including three more tons, at an average of 143.50. His relatively short first-class career has seen him play 24 matches where he has notched 10 centuries, 14 half-tons and over 2,500 runs. The lad looks to be a batting machine.

The boy has a cool head. I watched him bring up his first test hundred (and , indeed, his second) No nineties nerves for Phillip. In one Paul Harris over he hit four, six, six to smash his way through the usually troubling last ten runs of a ton.

So what of this boy genius? He’s a left-hander and will be forming an all-leftie opening partnership with Katich this summer. He has, shall we say, an unorthodox technique. He doesn’t have the copybook technique of Len Hutton or Sachin Tendulkar or, on an English level, Ian Bell (I don’t agree that Bell has a ‘copybook’ technique but I can understand why people say that he does). Hughes often backs away to help him force balls to the offside.

For an international sportsman, Hughes is tiny. 5ft 7. He is shorter than the next shortest opener in The Ashes by 4 inches. This has an effect on his technique. As he can get very low, it means he can cut almost any ball. This ability to cut at anything means he is naturally inclined to give himself room to play the cut stroke by pulling backwards towards the legside.

His unorthodox technique raises eyebrows but it also raises questions. If you give him any width, you play into his hands. If you bowl straight, he will try to manoeuvre space for himself by pulling backwards and legwards. Even if he doesn’t do that, he drives very well. I’d guess that Graeme Smith is right regarding the best line to him. Very straight and full-length, even though he can drive so well. Width, as above, is what he makes hay with so give him it at your peril.

He seems to have a cool head (a duck in his first innings hasn’t phased him at all), he hits well, scores fast and his strange technique means teams try to see a hole in his armoury. As South Africa have found there doesn’t seem to be one. He seems to have a decent temperament and can score in big innings. Yes, he’s knocked lots of tons but he scored a ton in the Sheffield Shield final essentially putting the ribbons on the shield for NSW. When playing at Newcastle, with skeptical selectors watching, he batted his main adversary for the opening bat spot in South Africa off the pitch. Poor old Phil Jacques watched him knock 151 and 82 to win over the Ozzie selectors who think his technique is too odd.

What’s pleasing is that Hughes hasn’t had the talents coached out of him. Like Lara, he has an unconventional technique (Lara’s backlift was extraordinary). Greg Chappell talks a lot of sense whe he says “I’ve felt for a long time in cricket there has been too much of a focus on technique and a misunderstanding of what technique really is. One of the problems cricket coaching has been caught up with is that technique is something that should be perfect in somebody’s opinion. I’ve never agreed with that and probably even more so in recent times that technique is this mystical, magical position you get into to play a shot.”

Maybe part of the problem for bowlers is that they are used to playing against batsmen that have come througha academies and who all do similar things. When someone, like Hughes, comes along and is so far from the norm it is difficult to focus on anything else, they struggle? Their own academy taught techniques don’t know how to get him out and they flounder. As Chappell also said, batting is about getting runs. Simple and obvious, yes, but it is true. If the lad gets lots of runs who cares (other than opposition fans and coaches!) how he gets them?

So how do we get the bugger out? Well, there seem to be two theories coming forward (and others discussed here).

Firstly, from Steve Harmison (who did get him out on the opening day of the England Lions encounter) thinks peppering Hughes with short balls is the way to go. To aim in the area from hip to armpit. It worked yesterday and, in South Africa, Hughes looked uncomfortable at points under a similar barrage. He looked uncomfortable yet he didn’t get out very often. Harmison is making the old error that just because something worked once it will work again and again. I would imagine that this could play into Hughes’ hands as he gets to scythe and cut as he likes. Secondly, there is the temptation to bowl at middle and leg but, as Gus Fraser put it, he’s hardly likely to miss a half-volley there.

 

So how good is he? Spiro Zavos has compared him to Len Hutton. Gus Fraser said ‘It is an unfair comparison to make at his stage of career but I feel he is a bit like Brian Lara.’ Pretty high praise from two people who know the game inside out.

Gulp.


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Comments

  1. says

    I should say: Harmy has got him out for under 10 twice, both times with a short ball. I still believe, however, that this is unlikely to be a long-term tactic. The South Africans tried the same trick and got carted.

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