Posted by: tootingtrumpet | December 19, 2011

The long road back for Phillip Hughes

Phil Hughes middling one - but you can see why he doesn't middle many these days

If, as widely expected, Phillip Hughes is dropped again by Australia after just two scores over 36 in his last 19 Test innings, he will work hard on his almost comically obvious technical difficulties and I have no doubt that he will, if not exactly overcome them, compensate by becoming more orthodox at the crease – especially against the hard, swinging, seaming new ball. Thus much will be evident from observation of his work for New South Wales and by a glance at the scorebook. What will be less evident is the challenge he faces to make himself believe that he is a Test player having been told, twice, that he is not. (Forget what selectors and captains say and look, as always, at what they do).

If he wants advice on the mental side of his journey back to the Test XI (and he should) he doesn’t have far to look. Damien Martyn, a year younger than Phil Hughes, was dropped in January 1994 and waited until March 2000 before he was to wear his Baggy Green again. The stylish Western Australian had made fifty (one of only four in the match) in the first innings of his seventh Test, but his second innings six, in nearly two hours, left Australia six short of their victory target and Martyn six years short of his expected Test career. On his return, he batted at six, the most comfortable slot in the order and, with Stephen Waugh at five and Adam Gilchrist at seven, perhaps the most comfortable slot in any Test order in history. Hughes is unlikely to fit into a comfort zone like that any time soon, but a move away from the glaring light of opening might stop him looking like a rabbit in the headlights. Martyn, back for good, played sixty more Tests.

On debut, Darren Lehmann made a fifty in India and in his second Test 98 in Pakistan off an attack featuring Wasim Akram, Saqlain Mushtaq and Mushtaq Ahmed. Both matches were won at a canter, yet he was to play just three more Tests in the next four years – it wasn’t easy to get a place in that Australian XI! Like Matthew Hayden (another man with a stop-start Test career) before him, Lehmann found county cricket developed his game through its variety of conditions and opportunities to spend time at the crease and, though much maligned at that point in its history, prepared him well for his return to the Test arena. Phil Hughes has been advised well and is taking a position at Worcestershire in 2012.

For all the Martyns, Lehmanns and Haydens, there are far more Usman Afzaals, Aftab Habibs and, though it pains me to say so, Neil Fairbrothers, so Hughes’ task is not an easy one. He’ll spend hours in the nets, hours more studying videos and hours in the middle on the long road back, but I hope he finds time to speak to those who have traveled the journey before. And I hope that they are honest enough to reveal their doubts, since they must have harboured them, despite all the positive thinking mumbo-jumbo sports stars espouse – until they tell the truth in their autobiographies. Hughes greatest technical challenge is to get his head in the right place to play his shots – and that, metaphorically, is his greatest mental challenge too.



  1. TT, Martyn wasn’t dropped in January 1994. Depending on your perspective he was dropped in either June 1993, February 1994 or September 1994.

    Martyn made his debut (for Jones) in the West Indies tour 92-93, with middling results through that and the subsequent 1-1 draw on the tour of New Zealand. Unlike Langer, he was named in the ’93 Ashes touring party so wasn’t officially dropped until June 1993, when he was removed for either Mark Waugh (whose no.4 slot he had in NZ), or Slater (who was moved into opening to push Boon to no.3 instead of Langer).

    The squad was remarkably stable after that tour, but with Border’s retirement looming, Martyn was still the first reserve batsman, which is why he played South Africa in 93-94 – Steve Waugh had a hamstring injury from a December ODI, and returned for the Adelaide test. Waugh would have returned regardless, so it can’t be claimed Martyn was dropped for what happened in Sydney.

    In February 1994, for the South African leg, a smaller squad was announced with Jones (primarily for the one-dayers) and Hayden (who played for Taylor when he was injured). Though arguably Martyn was dropped then, it isn’t clearly the case, and his first-class form was plummeting.

    After Border retired, Martyn’s reduced status wasn’t apparent until September 1994, when Bevan was picked ahead of him for the tour of Pakistan. I doubt the Sydney test played much on the minds of the selectors (John Benaud makes no mention of it on his book on selecting during that period). What mattered was runs, and Martyn just didn’t score enough when he’d had his chance, nor in Shield cricket.

    • Thanks Russ for the detail. Australia have backed players despite form rather than because of form in the past, but I take your point that Martyn was not sent into the cold directly after the defeat.

      He must have learned a lot about himself in those six years though as I suspect Hughes will in the next two or so.

      • That’s an interesting point. Looking back, the players that caught the selectors eye earliest in their career: Martyn, Langer, Ponting, Lehmann (sort-of, he was 12th man early in his career), Hayden (sort-of, picked before Slater in ’93 but missed the test spot on early tour games) were the players that ultimately succeeded at test level. The others (Bevan, Blewett, Elliott) were quality players, but got picked on shorter bursts of form and were eventually discarded. Though even there it might have been premature. Are we (and selectors) guilty of projecting what we think of players onto largely random runs of scores, and the natural pits and troughs of form?

        Was Martyn a different batsman when he came back in the side? He certainly had his down-periods. A few years after he led the uber-talented Aust-A side in 94-95 he was being talked about as a lost prodigy: 5 seasons with a mid-30s average. Even his selection in 2000 was hardly warranted by his recent record, yet he grew into the spot and was generally successful.

        In some ways the statistics suggest that if a decent player is stuck with he’ll eventually succeed (Steve Waugh comes to mind), and if cast as a failure he’ll fit the mold. I’m not sure what that means for Phil Hughes though.

        • Project players Nestaquin calls them. Steve Waugh paid off and Shane Watson too, but the jury is out on Steve Smith and Phil Hughes. Got to be better than England’s dithering with Ramprakash and Hick.

          • Judging by the comments doing the rounds on most cricket sites today, Ben Hilfenhaus certainly doesn’t fall into the “Project player” category. It does seem it is not just selectors who struggle to get their heads around good players getting over career rough patches.
            In John we trust.

  2. Let be honest about the rise of Phil Hughes – His rise should be view more in terms of the quality of Australia’s bowling stocks over the last 4-5 years than in the quality of his own batting.
    Case in point – which of the current opening pairs in Shield cricket would be improved by having Phil Hughes at one end? Even NSW, with half their squad off on Australian duties will move players around to accomodate him rather than play their best set of openers.

    For all the Martyns, Lehmanns and Haydens…..there are the Laws and Siddons and Hodges and Rogers and Christians and others long forgotten

    • Stuart Law was born ten years too soon wasn’t he?

      • Or 10 years to late. Early Steve Waugh would not have had a look in!

      • Stuart Law would walk into this current Aussie team!

  3. Looks like Usman will have to go back and get some runs too. A bit unlucky for him, but it’s hard to argue against Warner and Cowan. Either way it’s all NSW, and that in itself is reassuaring.

    • He’ll be back, or at least l hope so, l still think he is a long term player with class, temperament and technique.

      Made an unbeaten 56 against the Indians the day after being dropped. Run out in Brisbane and a difficult deck in Hobart have contributed to his failure to go on with one. Needs to turn some of his 1s into 2s and 4s. Through the off side he can look like that 12 year class bat who can’t hit it off the square and never gets full reward (in stark contrast to P. Hughes). With those two old dogs surely not far from the axe he will get his chance again soon enough.

      • The opening 3 of Warner, Cowan and Marsh looks good to me. They’ve hardly played any (if any) tests but I feel good about them. Hughes and Khawaja are both pretty average fielders. What’s with that? I hope they work on that aspect of their game as well. Hopefully within a few years at the most Khawaja will be back, depending on what happens with Hussey and Ponting I suppose. This experience may prove invaluable for him. As for Hughes, who knows …

      • I’m bemused about Khawaja. He looks very good at times, but then I think he throws his wicket away which is ****ing annoying and he looks dodgy on the front foot and he’s tentative against spin.

        Apart from that, he looks the goods.

        I’m hoping that Chris Lynn will start stacking on the runs later this season and next year. I think he has bags of talent.

  4. (12 year old class bat)

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