Back to the Future for Phil Hughes

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Lead image (c) courtesy of Herald Sun

While Philip Hughes has gone a long way in answering his critics with a second innings century in Colombo, Ben Roberts cant help but think there are some lessons that can be learned from Australia’s previous generation of batsmen.

I took to being very direct with my warning to you Phil Hughes that if you were unable to make runs at the SSC ground in Colombo the wider Australian cricketing community may lose patience with your inability to do the job at the top of the order. A second ball duck in the first innings was not what we wanted. The second innings century is more like what is expected, but realise doubts will still remain until consistency is found. Runs in the second innings of the third and final test on a dead wicket against a poorer bowling attack are still worthwhile, but facing Dale Steyn in South Africa will be a different proposition.

But do not fear doubts or dropping, hope would not be lost should you spend time out of the Australian team. 17 years ago your current batting coach and his Western Australian team mate, also young players with prodigious natural talent, entered periods of exile and came back as key parts of one of the greatest batting orders in crickets modern history.

Justin Langer made his debut at 22 years old in 1993 against the final remnants of the once great West Indian teams. While his initial foray into the world of test cricket was encouraging, his initial test matches in 1993 and 1994 only produced 241 runs at 26 with three half centuries. At this point Langer was dropped from the Australian team for an almost four year exile (discounting two tests in 1996/97 that were a ‘fill in’ selection at best).

In between his dropping from the Australian team in November 1994 and recall during Australia’s tour of Pakistan in October 1998 Langer returned to first class cricket. His output during these 62 matches played was a phenomenal 5,138 runs at 56. But more than simply racking up statistical records that made it impossible for the selectors to ignore him further Langer learned to be more of a hard-nosed competitor. His batting was never hugely flashy, but any flashiness it did have was sacrificed for success.

Now this return was not even the fullest renaissance for Langer. Of course from 1998-2001 was more consistent than previous, but it still saw Langer dropped on occasion before finally cementing his place in the team as an opener in the 2001 Ashes series. The hardening up of his game meant that he was never long out of the side again once he returned in 1998.

Damien Martyn was a young selection as well and he a far flashier player. From his debut in 1992 to his infamous dismissal against South Africa at Sydney in January 1994 he showed brilliance at times but only scored 317 runs at 28 in six tests. Martyn’s exile was for far longer than Langer’s, and without a brief taste of return. Martyn played no test cricket from January 1994 until March 2000 in New Zealand.

In between times his first class record was 3428 runs at 41.3 in 56 matches. Less statistically than Langer but what Martyn did does speak more to Hughes’ situation, that as an attacking player he learned to curb his temperament without compromising his natural game.

Should Hughes be dropped (any moves on this front seem to have been delayed thanks to his latest knock) the far more sound Shaun Marsh can take the opening position. Yes Marsh has been successful at three, but has been practically the opener due to Hughes’ woes.

My contention is not that I fully believe Hughes should be dropped, but I will admit to continued scepticism. I do believe that if dropped Hughes would be well served in focussing on playing Sheffield Shield cricket, being contracted for day in, day out county cricket in the UK and learning to become a hard nose competitor like the aforementioned Langer and learning how to be an attacking batsman within limits as Martyn did.

Ben contributes regularly to the following two Blogs:
Balanced Sports – The thinking fans sport opinion and analysis┬ásite.
Books with Balls – Reviewing the literature of a number of genres but definitely no Danielle Steele.
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