Posted by: nestaquin | March 1, 2009

Phillip Hughes’ Baptism of Fire

phillip-hughes-debut-at-the-wanderersThe dark ominous clouds, made more so by banging thunder and alarming flashes of lightening, descending upon the Wanderers yesterday afternoon mirrored the South African mood as they produced one of the fiercest and most dangerous spells of quick bowling since the heyday of Caribbean dominance almost two decades ago.

Steyn and Morkel, encouraged by their ruthless and worried captain, bowled terrifyingly fast and short on a juicy pitch and in doing so, gave 20 year old debutant Phillip Hughes an examination that he is likely to never forget.

It was truly the stuff of nightmares and to Hughes’ credit, and no small amount of luck, he survived and when the opportunity arose he answered the barrage with a flurry of spanking boundaries through point and cover that brought a relieved smile to his skipper’s face and a bright red glowing rage to the bowlers’.

Steyn was already cantankerous after Peter Siddle peppered him with a dozen bouncers from around the wicket at the end of the South African innings and there is no doubt that the intensity in the contest for the world title increased several notches after that exchange.

Siddle hit Steyn hard on the gloves and body and had him ducking, scrambling and weaving as his limited batting technique left him with nowhere to hide as he couldn’t back away from the ball. Much like his selectorial champion Merv Hughes, Siddle enjoyed the bullying immensely, giving plenty of advice and even laughing in Steyn’s face after one burning delivery thudded into the premier South African quick’s chest.

I’m not sure what experienced batsmen like Hussey and Katich thought of Siddle’s approach as it has only made their lives more challenging but it was, from a spectator’s perspective, thrilling and exciting macho cricket.

Hughes appeared uncomfortable for the most part and despite his obvious courage and pugnacity, his doubt was revealed as his body mutinied from the onslaught. His usual rock-steady stance, a feature of his application and technique, jittered and once noticed the South African assassins sensed the fear and increased their attack as they honed in on their young prey.

Seldom will Hughes experience bowling as testing as yesterday and he’ll be a better player for the experience but it is disconcerting to see the first movement from an opening batsman towards square-leg.

I’ve no doubt that it was involuntary and that a few wise words and some time in the nets with tour selector David Boon, a man who had a similar working over by the West Indies on numerous occasions, will aid in correcting this freshly discovered technical flaw that the South Africans have so ruthlessly exposed.

Test cricket at the elite level is not a game for the faint-hearted or the vacillating, and while I believe that Phil Hughes is neither, the lad from the hamlet of Macksville did his job, however unconvincingly, and when all is said and done it would appear that South Africa’s brutal tactics did little damage to the scoreboard, aided in Hughes’ development and in a perverse sense, wasted the new ball too.



  1. Hughes is playing a bit of a lone hand at the moment.

    Interesting to read your analysis of his technique though, as he may have been promoted too soon, but, as the truly talented always do, he has risen to the challenge.

  2. Took a great catch to remove him. I think that knock has sealed him as opener for The Ashes.

  3. We’ll see Toots. He was out three times.

    Considering the pitch, the wickets that have fallen in the last five sessions and history, logic would suggest that 400 will be plenty.

    If South Africa can win this match they’ll thoroughly deserve the prestige that comes with the mace. It will be an extraordinary performance to get up from here.

  4. Nesta – I haven’t seen Hughes’ “dismissals”, but the commentators did refer to them.

    This lead is surely enough, but if the bowlers have inspired the batsmen, anything is possible!

  5. Another extraordinary referral decision. If the ball pitched outside the line and hit in line, then it has to be hitting the stumps or going over the top. To reverse the decision, Rauf must have said that he had “high confidence” that the decision was wrong. He can’t have on those pictures.

  6. I think at least half the ball has to be inside the line. All too confusing for me I’m just marvelling at the South African bowling.

    Here comes Siddle. I hope Smith gives Steyn a bowl!

    147/8 (41)

  7. Because the Hawkeye gives a computerised picture, questions like “half the ball” inside the line arise. In the hundreds of years of cricket before Hawkeye, we would have said, “benefit of the doubt goes with the batsman”. If Rauf has said that he can’t be certain that the ball hit the pad in line, that’s fair enough.

  8. I see Ricky smiling broadly on the balcony. He’s probably relieved he doesn’t need to make a decision on the declaration.

    Smith has no sense of theatre in not bowling Steyn who to his credit has been windmilling the arms and stretching the calves ever since Siddle arrived!

  9. Good overview of an intriguing innings from Hughes. l also think talent will out in the end from the kid who just faced bowling as good as it gets away from home.

    Yeah might have been better for Aus that Ricky didn’t try and set 700. Should be more than enough, but great fightback by SA. They are full of character.

    Good test of the skipper in supporting his inexperienced bowling line up for what would be a famous win. l don’t think he is a Captaining genius or anything but obviously he should get some credit if they (we!) do get up here. Excellent attitude throughout the side and bowled to good plans.

    Haddin continues to impress with the willow. Beautiful hitter, changes the tempo, 40+?

  10. Steyn did get a few overs at Siddle before lunch and I’d say that Siddle has come out on top. He has obviously upset his counterpart and I couldn’t help but laugh when Steyn had a few words at the end of the session and Siddle just pointed to the scoreboard. Great stuff.

    Fantastic session and with Australia 420 ahead South Africa have it all to do.

  11. Hussey?!

    • I blame Hussey entirely for triggering the collapse with what was an amateurish frightened shot. He is in trouble mentally and shots like today’s won’t endear him to the captain or selectors no matter how many runs he has scored previously.

      He owes the whole squad a big performance in the next Test and I expect he’ll realise it and do something special.

      • Gosh l hope so if he gets back l think the batting order can settle long term, by giving Hughes a real run. A solid 6 that bats to 8 with MJ. Clarke on his way real world class as well.

  12. ABC radio notes that Bollinger is out with a side strain and Brett Geeves is on his way over from Aus after taking five today. How many times has Tassie had three players in an Aus squad?

    • Probably never. I was down at Bellerive this morning and Brett bowled very well to knock the Vics over cheaply and give Tassie an outside chance of victory.

      What does Bracken have to do to get a run?

      • He’s obviously had his red ball card completely stamped. Bevan like l guess. l would have liked him in India actually but l’m ok with moving on from him and Hodge now.

      • Playing 4 day cricket for NSW would be a start.. is he injured?

  13. I like Siddle. More Hughes than McDermott or Hogg, but that’s plenty good enough.

    I wish Harmison had half his heart… and I wish Bracken was bowling cutters for us in Bridgetown.

    • I like Siddle too and just like Merv, he is just the sort of bloke to get under the skin and inside the skulls of pampered English openers.

      • Heart of a lion.

      • I’m not sure how pampered English openers feel on an overcast green-top in May, but there you go.

        I’m going to stop myself now before I launch into a rant about flat pitches, the current inbalance between bat&ball and modern day test players with 50+ averages but no decent defensive technique to talk off.

        • I was referring to the two in Bridgetown Len, but I understand your point entirely.

          Your other points are worthy of a rant and the rollicking Test in Johannesburg only adds further evidence to your observations.

          • Cook strikes me as pampered? Gets tired at 50 etc?! (tongue firmly in cheek)

            But absolutely, rant most welcome, especially about the imbalance between bat and ball.

          • International cricketers are pretty much all pampered IMO. Well, perhaps not the Zimbabwe players…

  14. I think in time Hughes could be an exciting talent at the top of the Aussie order, but right now he looks like he’s been promoted before he’s fully learnt his game.

    To answer what you said on another thread, I’m not really bothered by how the lad makes his runs. But it’ll be interesting to see how he adapts when the opposition works out the right line to bowl at him and the correct field to set.

    At the moment he’s a curious mix, give him width and he looks a class act, bowl straight and with agression and he’s far less convincing.

    • Fair observations no doubt. If Australia can get Hussey back on track and North stays solid they may have enough time to ‘grow him up’. Steep learning curve that will see him improve out of sight. Jacques would be there if he was fit – averaged 47 odd after his 10-15 tests? That would have been ideal to buy Hughes another year perhaps. We will see.

  15. I think you are right Len but there is a more than a hint of Allan Border in the way the lad bats. He is by no means orthodox but he has enormous heart and strong character and I can assure you his path to the top has had many hurdles and he has cleared all of them.

    He survived the fury South Africa threw at him and that can only help with his confidence and development.

    • I’ve no problem with unorthodox. If the MCC coaching manual were to always take precedence over character and natural talent then Chanderpaul wouldn’t get near Test cricket.

      His problem may be that he’s shown a couple of areas that the opposition can work on – in addition to some discomfort against the fast rising ball I wasn’t surprised by his mode of dismissal, as his attempts to sweep balls outside of the off-stump didn’t feel fully under control to me. But then I didn’t see his entire innings so I may be being unfair.

      Anyway, as Japaljarri has said, he has a few things to work on; whether that happens in domestic or international cricket may depend on the fitness of others.

      • Nothing like a hard fought Test match to expose any flaws.

        The kid is only 20 and for good or bad, the selectors are going to give him a chance to prove himself against the best quick bowling unit on the planet. It is a tough initiation and if he succeeds then he’ll be set for a long and illustrious career. If he fails he’ll have the experience under his belt.

        Considering Australia are not expected to win the series it looks a win-win either way.

  16. Good start from SA. Smith is a titan. Big gig for Mcdonald or he won’t be seen for some time…

    • McDonald seems a strange pick to me, although I don’t know enough about the player to comment fully.

      • Definitely strange selecting logic. Has been very good domestically but to bolster the batting at 8?! l hate this all-rounder obsession. Nothing wrong with 6 bats, a keeper and your 4 best bowlers. And MJ can bat! Mcdonald is actually ok as a bowler, nagging stump to stump, but not in our best XI. Failing Stuart Clark we must play the rookie Mcgain. MJ 8, Siddle 9, Mcgain 10, Hilf 11.

  17. This match is just huge. If Hughes doesn’t learn what Test cricket is all about in this cauldron, he never will.

    Hail the Greatest of Games!

  18. Titanic Toots. Siddle is now around the wicket to Amla and has him in trouble. Australia are busting a gut in their search for a wicket and Smith and Amla are counter attacking at every opportunity. No matter what happens in the next hour tomorrow promises to be a day to remember.

  19. This is probably the best match Australia has played since the decline started. I think a line is being drawn.

    • The selectors changed tack after the loss in Melbourne Fred. They are a conservative lot and they kept thinking that things would turn around. They didn’t so out went Hayden and Symonds and I doubt we’ll see Lee in the BaggyGreen again. The new era begins this tour and it has been a terrific start.

      Hilfy just got Smith and it’s hard to contain my joy! The lads are playing their hearts out and you cannot ask for anything more.

      • Not sure Nesta, they had been trialling new players anyway, and their hands were forced re Lee, Clark, Symonds with injuries. It just seems the rookies have done OK, and a few seniors stood up (Clarke and Ponting in the first).
        You’re right, if the bowling unit continues like this, Lee and Clark will begin to look like yesterdays men.
        But its only one game. Krezja did well in one game too.

  20. Amla, Duminy and AB could be looking at immortality here. Have they the technique, the concentration, the nerve?

    That they might is tantalising.

    I can’t bring myself to write how good Amla is in case it gets him out. He’s a lovely player though.

    • I hope Amla keeps playing shots Toots. Not only is it thrilling to watch but he’ll give a chance eventually.

      And you forgot Boucher who definitely has the nerve.

      • SA can certainly do this. Game beautifully poised, both teams can win from here, its a question of who holds their nerve and plays to their full potential.

  21. I know he’s a bit of a joke cricketer, but surely Krejza would be a handful on a fifth day pitch. McDonald is just a wasted spot.

    I’d have Aus big favourites were he in the team, but only 60 – 40 ahead without him. The history books re chasing totals mean nothing these days.

  22. Australia have set attacking fields all day therefore there has been lots of easy runs but that won’t be case tomorrow. If wickets don’t come in the morning McDonald’s tight defensive bowling will be very useful in the overs before the next new ball which should be taken just before lunch considering the early start.

    No use crying over what you don’t have and with McGain as clumsy as Frank Spencer and Hauritz the tour net bowler, for this Test at least, McDonald has my support. He’ll do a job and do it well.

    8 wickets tomorrow or 276 runs. You’d be mad to miss it.

  23. You’d be mad to miss it, but unfortunately, work intrudes into my life sometimes.
    I’ll stick my neck out and say Aus will hold their nerve and do it. At least draw, if not win.

    • Thanks for dropping by Fred. Ever heard of a sickie?

  24. Been flicking between the two Tests, the Carling Cup Final and trying to get some work done. But what I saw of this match was superb. Hard Test cricket at it’s best, I shall be concentrating on it tomorrow.

    Have to agree on this matches importance. An Aussie win should do a lot for confidence and perhaps be an indication they have some emerging seamers that will strengthen their hand during the Ashes. Failure to get the eight remaining wickets and things are looking less rosy in the garden. A loss, well, I’m not sure where you go after setting a record like that – although to be fair it would only be part of a ongoing tread for successful chases over the last year or so.

    As an Englishman I should probably be cheering the Saffers on, but I’ll settle for a close finish.

    • Len, with the Union Bloody Jack still hogging a quarter of our flag and considering the Baggies are the underdogs, surely you could get behind the good guys just this once.

      • And you said my writing was satire…

        • Delirium is perfectly natural at 3:30 am on a Monday morning!

  25. Krezja a joke? Bit harsh. Bowls OK and bats pretty well for a bowler. Got the rough end of the pineapple in the selection merry go round. Scapegoat for the Perth loss. We may well see him again. Unless they start to impose quotas about the number of Tasmanians allowed in the national team at any one time.

  26. Fred – Only a bit of a joke cricketer as he goes for so many runs per over.

    If it’s post-lunch and McDonald is bowling to bottle up one end, Aus are in trouble.

    I’m favouring SA not because I’m anti-Aus, but because history being made is always exciting.

    • I’m all in favour of history being made too. And I wish West Indies the best of luck!
      A predictable outcome is fine for the Aus game tomorrow thank you.

  27. I was hoping for some live blogging/comments here on this final day.

    Looks like its a 7-2 offside field by Oz.Trying to dry up the runs already?

    • Been out watching the first session with friends, Kumar. Company and three wickets have soothed jangling nerves. Look out for a new post after lunch and if you make a comment you’ll find me nearby.

  28. there’s a bit of batting in that tail yet, but surely wickets are the way to go…

    • l’m with Nesta. Just in from work and pleased enough with that lunch score. Weather permitting we should be able to roll them from here for what would be a fabulous win.

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