Phil Hughes was shattered to miss out on a fairy-tale first century for Australia on home soil, but his home-coming 87 at the SCG on Friday was another sign he’s mentally ready to fulfil his potential at Test level.
A fragile Hughes opening the batting last summer couldn’t fight his way out of a wet paper bag against New Zealand.
The result was a Test dumping and a state cricket shift to South Australia.
Twelve months on and Hughes has ironed out some technical clinks with his off-side play, cleared his head and been reincarnated as a Test No.3.
The pressures associated with returning to Sydney could have sent the 24-year-old into a flutter. He said, himself, he didn’t know if he was going to get cheered or booed.
But Hughes strode to the middle with purpose and played without fear against Sri Lanka.
“I’m older now and a lot more experienced and wiser,” Hughes said.
“If you look at my cricket to date, the last four years have been a lot of ups and downs … but I just feel a lot more settled and calm as a whole.
“Moving states was a big thing but I also feel a better player on the field.
“There’s been a number of things I’ve worked on to be the package and there’s still a number of things I want to work on to become better than I am now.”
Long-time batting coach and mentor, Neil D’Costa, said Hughes’ mental toughness prevented him being daunted by a return to the scene of his previous life as a talented but tortured prodigy for NSW.
“He’s got good systems to prepare himself for big matches now and he’s a very calm character,” D’Costa told AAP.
“I’m pleased for him. If he got away, I know he was keen to go on and make a hundred.
“He’d be bitterly disappointed … but I know he’ll be satisfied that he’s growing in his confidence in his new role.”
Hughes has three centuries to his name in 20 Tests – all scored in South Africa and Sri Lanka.
Falling on the devil’s number at the SCG robbed him of his best chance at a breakthrough ton in Australia, after he was also out for 86 in his return innings in Hobart in the first Test of this series.
Hughes outscored David Warner in their 130-run partnership and worked his wrists beautifully in smashing nine boundaries in his 143-ball innings.
Hughes will likely get another chance to impress in Australia’s second dig before he looks ahead to the four-Test Indian tour next month.
D’Costa said he has some plans already in place for how to best prepare his charge for Indian conditions, given the distinct lack of Sheffield Shield cricket available for Hughes in the meantime.
“There’s different things I do,” he said.
“We had a little hit and chat when he got to Sydney from Melbourne and said basically we’ll talk after this Test match.”