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Face-to-face with Australia's new sensation

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Pranav Soneji | 12:36 UK time, Tuesday, 21 April 2009

For all the huff and puff that have surrounded new Australian batting sensation Phillip Hughes, you would half expect him to arrive in England in a locked cage under armed guard.

Much has been made about the potential impact Hughes could have on this summer's Ashes.

Instead, standing at 5ft 7in, he looks exactly how you would imagine an average 20-year-old Australian from upstate New South Wales would do.

Diamond earring twinkling from his right ear. Healthy covering of three-day stubble. An Aussie twang which would make Ricky Ponting sound upper class.

But despite his age, Hughes talks in the cricket soundbites of a far more experienced player.

"I'm here to play good, hard cricket and string wins together," the left-handed opener said at his unveiling at Lord's. "I want to be positive in everything."

Hughes, who begins his English education with a six-week stint at Middlesex, bears an uncanny physical resemblance to another New South Wales protégé, Michael Clarke.

There are similarities in their cricket too - the duo share the same coach/mentor, Neil D'Costa, both scored Test hundreds within two matches of their Test debuts and have been touted as new Bradmans.

Philli Hughes at Lord's

"It has definitely been full-on the last couple of months, I've thoroughly enjoyed the last five or six weeks," said Hughes, who was brought up in Macksville, a small New South Wales town 280 miles south of Brisbane.

Hughes was 16 when Ricky Ponting's side lost the Ashes for the first time in 18 years, spending plenty of late nights and early mornings watching the 2005 series with banana farmer father Greg.

A year later, He moved to the bright lights of Sydney to work at a cricket school with D'Costa, who mapped out a simple blueprint: "Unless you're here to replace (Matthew)
Hayden, I don't want you to come to my academy."

"We knew there would be a spot there (Australia Test team) in a few years time," said Hughes.

"You want to be organised and plan out things, it just happened to go out that way.

"It wasn't that hard. I had to get runs in the NSW side and go from there."

And the runs flowed like a vintage Australian red. He outperformed NSW team-mate Phil Jaques and Victoria's Chris Rogers in state cricket on his way to becoming the youngest player ever to score a century in a Pura Cup final, the pinnacle of the domestic competition in Australia, in 2007.

His first appearance in the Baggy Green in February this year was something to forget - caught behind for a fourth-ball duck attempting an ugly upper cut to third man.

His second innings at Johannesburg's Wanderers - 75 from 121 balls - was packed with flashing drives, scything cuts and brutal pulls against the pace attack which had ripped England to shreds six months previously.

His second Test at Durban's Kingsmead is the stuff of legends - becoming the youngest batsman to score two Test hundreds in the same match (beating George Headley's 80-year-old record).

He brought up his maiden ton with two successive sixes off left-arm spinner Paul Harris on his way to 115 before an even more impressive 160.

"I have never done that before," said Hughes. You and pretty much everyone else, Phillip.

"If I see a ball and it's there to be hit, hopefully I will hit it into a gap, it's something I have always done.

"I'm on the go a fair bit. Everyone's different - and I like to play my own game."

Hughes' much-anticipated arrival in England has not been greeted with universal delight.

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Former England captain Alec Stewart said it was "wrong" to give Hughes the opportunity to acclimatise to English conditions ahead of a defining summer, while national selector Geoff Miller doubted whether the Australians would reciprocate a similar policy for England players down under.

The reality, however, is slightly different. First, Hughes signed for Middlesex in February, a month before he created cricket history against South Africa in Durban.

And two, six weeks is hardly sufficient time to send England's bowlers to the very depths of despair, according to his Middlesex opening partner, who will also happen to be the man standing at first slip when Hughes makes his Ashes bow at Cardiff on 8 July.

"I will be opening the batting with him next week, I will see him up close and personal," said England captain Andrew Strauss with a poker face that could win millions in Las Vegas.

Hughes revealed he rejected overtures from the Indian Premier League to play in the County Championship, where Middlesex will start in Division Two, repeatedly emphasising his desire to learn more about English conditions.

"You hear about the different balls, the weather, the wickets. It will be a good confidence thing going into it," he said.

"I know the Ashes is two months away, but the biggest thing is my six-week stint with Middlesex."

Hughes admitted he "couldn't tell" us much about Glamorgan's bowling attack, his first opponents in a Middlesex shirt on Wednesday at Lord's.

Give it six weeks, England will know everything about you, Phillip.


  • Comment number 1.

    The first time i heard about the signing of Hughes, i have to admit i was quite irritated that an England county would help out an Aussie player just before the Ashes!!

    But take a step back and look at the whole subject. Why should we be scared of compitition? If they win because of Hughes knowing how to bat in English weather then they are the better team, because our whole team know how to bat in English weather!!!

    I understand the irritation that the Aussies wouldn't do the same for one of our players!! But thats the Aussies why should we want to act like them!!!

  • Comment number 2.

    The 20 year old finds a scoring stroke on most balls, some of them seemingly unplayable. Other than his two centuries in the same Test, if he is a sensation in this game of cricket, it is surely on account of his uncanny ability to improvise shots on balls which most batsmen would defend.
    "wrong" giving him an opportunity to acclimatise to English conditions ahead of the Ashes! On the other side of the coin its also a big opportunity for England bowlers to study his technique and find ways to thwart this run machine.
    He is an opener who bids to adequately replace the mighty Hayden. Can England take the opportunity to find an opener of comparable quality for themselves? Its the single most vital aspect of winning in all formats of the game. Time is elapsing. WI tour is all they have before the ashes.

  • Comment number 3.

    Thing is, English players do get to play in Aus, NZ, SA etc.

    They just tend to stick to England because thats where they're based.

    Same as a lot of Aus players stick to clubs at their home base.

    I personally can't wait for the Ashes. long as its a close run thing and not a whitewash (either which way!)

  • Comment number 4.

    Gotta agree with sevenseaman. Although Hughes is in England learning the conditions, I'm sure Strauss is studying his strengths & weaknesses. So his presence, in da long run, can be a blessing in disguise! I think Hughes is young with nothing to lose (clichè), so expect some risky, rash strokes, e.g ugly upper cuts which caused him to go for a duck, or risky sixes when not needed. Damn, but when u think the Aussies are out, first Dave Warner, then Hughes...

  • Comment number 5.

    I agree with lagellerotumblero. The chance to assess his strength and weaknesses during the county season my well allow us to impose an early 'second season syndrome' on Hughes.

  • Comment number 6.

    Phil Hughes is not in the league of Sehwag - Sehwag is explosive and surpasses even Richards - even Richards failed to collar Lillee - But Sehwag has hammered even McGrath

    to me Phil Hughes fills the vacancy created by Hayden , Langer , Gilly like seniors - Hughes failed repeatedly after the two centuries - I will presently put Hughs in the league of M. Vijay from India or Cook from England - he is not a sensation yet

  • Comment number 7.

    fairandbalancedfan - I would take Hughes over Cook any day of the week. Cook regularly fails to convert starts, is sluggish and seems to have been found out by most international bowlers. Further, he seems to have lapsed since his debut rather than develop.

    I also think that it isnt fair to say that Australia doesnt offer places to the English, Paul Collingwood played club cricket in Victoria and used the experience to become an international. I think more English players don't play in Australia is because the money and their skills aren't up to it. The worst English test players would be lucky to make the State teams.

    As for Hughes in England, why is this an issue now? Hussey scored 10,000 first-class runs (mostly in the UK) before he was given a berth, Hughes only has 6 weeks before the Ashes kicks off!

  • Comment number 8.

    "Hughes revealed he rejected overtures from the Indian Premier League to play in the County Championship..."

    er... actually no IPL team bid for him :-))

  • Comment number 9.

    "A year later, He moved to the bright lights of Sydney..."

    Woah, let's not deify him before the Ashes have even started!

  • Comment number 10.

    danichols49 - I respect your viewpoint
    But Cook has always been a tough cookie against India - He and Collingwood are veyr hard to dislodge - India could easily remove KP. Freddie like talent but Cook has been very stoic

    I rate him higher in Tests for that - while Hughes has the talent, he is not a Michael Clarke - Clarke is genuine talent - proved against everyone and and in all forms of the game

    I'd not call Hughes a great player - just a good prospect -

  • Comment number 11.

    I think Hughes will go down as one of the greatest opening batsmen and all round batsmen of all time. The reason being is that he plays the ball so late and quite deep in the crease. Anything short of a length, he can punch of the back foot - but he then traps the bowler into bowling a fuller length, and he just pounces on that. He's a tough nut to bowl to and a gritty little bloke. Just watch him go..

  • Comment number 12.

    Regarding Hughs getting a head start to the Ashes in England,....we should remember what your own BBC had to say...........
    "Former England captain Alec Stewart said it was "wrong" to give Hughes the opportunity to acclimatise to English conditions ahead of a defining summer, while national selector Geoff Miller doubted whether the Australians would reciprocate a similar policy for England players down under.

    The reality, however, is slightly different. First, Hughes signed for Middlesex in February, a month before he created cricket history against South Africa in Durban..

    "I will be opening the batting with him next week, I will see him up close and personal," said England captain Andrew Strauss with a poker face that could win millions in Las Vegas."

    That should be the end of that!! and yes, ...I am an Aussie and very much looking forward to the Series of the Century !!

  • Comment number 13.

    An excellent synopsis of Hughes' technique, his ability to play the ball late is a rare skill. But what struck me during this time in South Africa was his fearlessness - there was not one shred of timidity in his decision-making, anything loose was pounced upon mercilessly.

    In three Tests, Hughes has an average of 69.13, with two hundreds and a fifty. In South Africa. Against the team that had just beaten Australia on home soil a few months before. If that's not genuine talent or a great player in action, then my name's Ben Hilfenhaus.

    One prospect which intrigues me is how Hughes will cope with the swinging ball in England. The County Championship second division, which Middlesex feature in, is experimenting with the Tiflex ball, which is said to be helpful to bowlers in the first 30 overs or so. No doubt Andrew Strauss will be asking his county colleagues to keep an eye out for any potential flaws.

  • Comment number 14.

    Scoring runs in one or two series is not a world's premier batsman's gauge - Azharuddin slammed three centuries in a row to start his career - But he never mad eit to the world class Fab-3 type Lax/Dravid/Sachin class

    Playing 100 Tests will bring down anyone's average with many ducks - Sachin is the only exception and so is Dravid - still they boast 50 plus Test average after 125 Tests

    so, do not make a moutain out of a molehill - that's my advice
    Phil Huges has to hit deadly fast bowlers, nasty spinners etc before his paeans sung - Has Phil hammered the likes of Mcgrath - has he slammed Kumble/Warne/Ambrose/Walsh like blokes

    he has hot Steyn and Ntini - Sehwag slammed them without gloves, leg pad, and no helmet - Savage is thy name Sehwag

    as for Phil Huges, he is in the class of Cook and M. Vijay - Good prospect - too soon to start encomiums flowing

  • Comment number 15.

    I think the reason British players often don't go overseas is because the English county championship pays much better than most other domestic leagues. It's not to do with being based here. After all, Hughes is presumably based in Australia but he can make the trip...

    Now the IPL is here, I wonder whether we'll see a decrease in the number of players coming form overseas to play county cricket in the next few years?

  • Comment number 16.

    fairandbalancedfan - I think you are missing the point entirely. The fact of the matter is we cant compare Phil Hughes to the likes of Sehwag and co because like you said he hasnt played 100+ tests. The bloke is 20. We can only look at what he has achieved in such a short space of time and recognise the amazing potential that he has. Its all you can do with a bloke who has played so few tests and only been on the scene for a short space of time. And its all Pranav has tried to do....not once did he use the terms 'great' or 'sensation' like you have eluded to. You hear it in the footballing world every week that someone is the new Zidane. I dont think anyway is saying that they 'are' the new Zidane...they are simply recognising their ability at such a young age and maybe comparing them to those greats at similar times in their career. Whether or not they go on to reach such great heights is anyones guess. But I know one thing for sure... im looking forward to sitting back this summer and seeing how young Hughes handles himself in England.

  • Comment number 17.

    oh and in reference to him hitting deadly fast bowlers and nasty spinners... he might have to wait a while to prove his worth there...not sure he will get that chance during the ashes!! :)

  • Comment number 18.

    righto probably shoud have read the name of the article before i made the statement about not using the word 'sensation'!! haha. Either way.... i have nothing wrong with this term being used. After all the ditionary term for sensation is 'A cause of such interest and excitement' and i dare anyone to argue that Hughes doesnt provide this.

  • Comment number 19.

    disco-hurley - like your humorous posting - agree that Phil may not face deadly pace and spin in England

  • Comment number 20.

    Surely Hughes playing in England is a double-edged sword? Yes, he will acclimatise to English conditions but will it not also allow the English players an opportunity to work out his strengths and weaknesses? The English bowlers should be relishing the opportunity to get one over him before the Ashes start!

    By complaining that it is unfair that he is here they have already given him the psychological advantage. Alec Stewart should know better...

  • Comment number 21.

    haha cheers fairandbalancedman. Not sure if your spelling mistake for my name was on purpose or not?!
    Sorry if I went a bit hard at you yesterday... can you tell im an aussie?

    Back to being serious. Since your amazing ashes win on home soil last time around (fluke) there has not been a better time to come up against Australia. We are very much in a rebuilding phase...and a heap of our blokes have not played test cricket in England. That said I think it would be a huge upset if you could repeat your heroics. Lets just hope cricket is the real winner....

  • Comment number 22.

    There's a precedent for this. It's worth remembering that in 1988 Steve Waugh had the better part of a season at Somerset which helped him prepare for the '89 Ashes.

  • Comment number 23.

    Personally, i would like to see Hughes score well in Ashes and get into a sort of form, that would cement his place - also, Australia needs someone at the top of the order to rebuild its team

    It is very, very hard to replace high calibre Matty, Langer, Martyn, Gilly, Warnie, McGrath all at once -

  • Comment number 24.

    Hughes' talent is already telling and Middlesex may well be on their way to reaping the fruits of their well-timed astute signing, seeing it came even before the Australia opener's cameo in South Africa.

    GYMPIE # 11 makes the right observation that Philip Hughes plays the ball late, and that he pushes the bowler into errors. It shows his reflexes are exceptional and in top condition. Ability to play the ball late and use very little back lift are sure attributes of a talented and confident batsman.

    Yes we need to be cautious in assessing long term based on short term observations, lest we go the way of a commanding officer who demanded absurd cross country run timings from his troops after he ran 100 yards and worked out the timings for 20 miles by multiplying.

  • Comment number 25.

    Having seen highlights of his innings' in SA, it seems that Hughes has a slightly unorthodox technique, prefering to stay leg side of the ball, and scyth it through the off side, with an open blade. Some (and by no means all) of his early success may be attributed to the South Africans not knowing where to bowl to him or what field to set.

    One of the reasons England won the Ashes in 2005 was the bowling plans they formulated for each Australian batsman, Flintoff's dominance over Gilchrist springs instantly to mind. So as a major unknown element of the Aussie side, surely signing him to the county of the England captain for 6 weeks is a stroke of genius rather than stupidy on Strauss and England's part.

    If Hughes goes on to have a strong Ashes after Strauss has spent 6 weeks studying him in the nets and the middle then it will be purely down to his ability and not practice in English conditions.

  • Comment number 26.

    Looks like Hughes has wasted little time getting acquainted with English conditions, battering his eighth first-class century in only his 39th innings against Glamorgan at Lord's.

    OK, so he will face more threatening opening bowlers than Garnett Kruger and Adam Shantry this summer, but by all accounts it was a near-faultless display of aggressive off-side strokeplay.

    Good point about the bowling plans. I can't remember the South Africans bowling too much around the wicket to Hughes, a move Andrew Flintoff utilised effectively whenever Adam Gilchrist came to the crease in 2005. So a lot of responsibility will come down to England team analyst Mark Garraway, who collates all the video information England players on the opposition, to find some sort of weakness. If there is one...

  • Comment number 27.

    Just to clarify post #8 by billionplus.

    No IPL team bid for him as he didn't make himself available for the auction. You can't bid on something that is not for sale!

    A century in his first innings in England... it seems the boy islearning fast.

  • Comment number 28.

    Why make such a fuss? Give the lad a chance to settle and show his worth. If England lose the Ashes series it will be because they are not good enough to win and nothing to do with Philip Hughes having six weeks experience with Middlesex

  • Comment number 29.

    England players do play in Grade Cricket in Australia which is not far off County Standard. Ian Salisbury did quite well for UNSW a few years ago. The reality is the standard of Sheffield Shield / Pura Cup cricket is far higher than County Cricket, though few in England want to admit it. Though there is only one Philip Hughes there are an awful lot of good players. Most Australian State sides would give England a run for their money.
    It would interesting to see what would happen if the England Lions competed in the Sheffield Shield one winter like they did in the West Indies domestic competition a few years ago. They would be far more likely to get the wooden spoon than top the ladder. sorry but I think the ashes is not going to be close.

  • Comment number 30.

    Sehwag is my favourite opener to watch for sure, but he is a different sort of player to Hughes. As has been said he plays the ball soooo late…he has an incredible eye and he has a unique way of dealing with testing deliveries. What we haven’t seen is him facing a world class spinner – but England don’t have one, so that shouldn’t be an issue. And there were several times where he faced the swining ball in SA – but because he plays it so late he easily negates it (Steyn is the best late swinger in the game). The one ball that troubled him was the straight/legside bouncer – he doesn’t seem to have a pull/hook shot in his arsenal and he jumps and leaves his feet on almost every delivery….he’s very good at getting his hands out of the way when its on the off, but he does get into a bit of trouble when its at the body or slightly down leg. Lets not forget he gloved the ball twice down the legside and wasn’t given out on the way to his maiden ton. SA just didn’t persist with that tactic…rather packed the offside and bowled wide to him….but like a Gilchrist you can load all of your fielders on that side and he’ll still find the gap.

    I think the main reason why not many international players get a go in the Aussie domestic stuff is because there simply isn’t enough teams there – there’s 6. Unlike the English county stuff where they have several divisions, heaps of spots and potential relegations…. there’s no need for Australian teams to draft in better players and as there’s only 66 blokes in action each week…you have to develop the local guys before giving a chance to an outsider. I also imagine that the pay in Australia is no where near what it is in England….which is the only reason international players go to England….so I doubt English players would want to bother with Australia in their rare off-time. England had possibly the best preparation ever in 2006 – they played a practice match in Adelaide…on the same pitch as the second test…and played a NSW side in Sydney (same pitch as the 5th test) against McGrath, Clark and Lee (ie the exact Australian fast bowling lineup). If that’s not going to help you prepare for what’s in store…I have no idea what is.

  • Comment number 31.

    Lee back just in time to prepare for series. No coincidence.
    Freddie crocked.
    Kevin sussed.
    Hughes just a smokescreen.
    Why look at bell when Hildreath outscored him in same match at better rate?
    Aussies are laughin in their beers and looking at another whitewash.

  • Comment number 32.

    I understand the irritation that the Aussies wouldn't do the same for one of our players!! But thats the Aussies why should we want to act like them!!!

    I think the answer to that would be obvious. In 2005, I seem to remember the front and back pages of ever rag in the land declaring that you had beat the Aussies at their own game. What does that tell you? I don't seem to recall any preaching and whinging about the nature of fair play in the recent Aus vs SAF series. Get over it guys and you might be up there with the big boys.

  • Comment number 33.

    To begin with there is no doubt that Hughes has started very well as a batsman and is going to be a threat to the opposition teams in the days to come, so what can the opposition bowlers do is the question.

    Many experts do think that sustained short pitched bowling can be used against him as his technique of not covering the line indicates the tactic of bowling bouncers can be used but I don't buy that view as at present there are not many bowlers who can do that and when SA quick Steyn tried it Hughes was able to get away with that, yes he did not look comfortable but he showed the grit to play it well enough. So what else can be used against Hughes is the question.

    I surely think that spin is an option against Hughes as he does play with hard hands and as he straightaway goes after the spinners with those slog sweeps. So I definitely think that England can take a chance and introduce Swann early on and make him bowl around the wicket which will make sure that Hughes has to hit against the turn when he tries those slog sweeps and I don't see him as someone who believes in taking quick singles which is expected as he does not play with soft hands.

    Opposition teams can look at swing bowlers who pitch it up around the off stump as an option as Hughes does not like to play in the V but I do think the best option is to go with spinners.

    Finally Hughes is an unorthodox player who with his success has definitely challenged the opposition teams to come up with some new plans and it will be interesting to as to see what the opposition teams will do to counter him.

  • Comment number 34.

    What nonsense about affording Philip Hughes the opportunity to acclimatise to English conditions. 118 in his first knock, followed by 75* and now 99* speaks for itself. Class shines through under any conditions, new or otherwise. Come the Ashes, England could be in for a terrible pasting.

  • Comment number 35. seems, therefore, that acclimatisation is/was unnecessary anyway.

  • Comment number 36.

    Or if England play Swann and make him bowl around the wicket it can go all wrong for the wonder boy of OZ. Other than the slog sweep does he have a plan B against spinners?

  • Comment number 37.

    I am so fed up of those people who think we shouldn't let overseas players play in this country.

    I don't know about you, but I want to see the best possible England team beat the best possible Aussie team. Yet it seems to me many people would rather win than play against quality sides. They want to prevent the opposition becoming good rather than ensuring English players become good.

    One of the reasons the West Indies were so goodin the late 70's and 80's was because so many of them honed their craft in county cricket. If we had prevented this, then maybe the Windies wouldn't have been so strong. But then we would have been prevented from seeing the greatest side that ever played the game. Is that what you want? Because I don't.

    I think we should open the game up to foreign players. It might help countries like the Windies become great again, and help others develop. And if English players aren't good enough to break through to county sides, then they're never going to be good enough for England anyway.

    I'm a great believer that you only becoming the best by playing against the best. England started going downhill in the 80's when the number of overseas players was restricted. When they lost the chance of facing top quality bowlers in county cricket on a weekly basis.


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