It’s time we all forgot about Phil Hughes

Ronan O'Connell Columnist

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    Even amid Australia’s Ashes celebrations, many home fans have been arguing for changes to the batting line-up.

    On sports websites and social media there have been frequent calls to drop any or all of George Bailey, Chris Rogers and Shane Watson.

    Following their poor dismissals in the first innings there was justified concern about their form.

    But Australia are in the luxurious situation of being on a roll in this Ashes series.

    They can afford to provide further opportunities to newcomers Bailey and Rogers, in particular.

    The one name that has dominated debate about potential batting replacements is Phil Hughes.

    I cannot fathom why.

    The 25-year-old has been an abject failure the last two times he has been given a crack at Test cricket.

    Between December 2010 and December 2011 he played 10 Tests on the trot for a batting average of 24.

    He was then dropped after a horrendous home series against New Zealand.

    Hughes returned to the side in December last year and over a run of nine consecutive Tests averaged 29.

    This paltry average was inflated by cheap runs against a toothless Sri Lankan attack on home soil.

    Against robust opposition on the tours of India and England, he averaged 21 over six Tests.

    He looked slightly more assured against pace than he had during his previous run in the Test line-up.

    But his struggle against spin was downright comical.

    From the 259 balls of spin he faced in India, he scored just 74 runs, while being dismissed seven times.

    I am acutely aware of the full extent of Hughes’ woes during this tour as I kept ungodly hours to watch every day of the four-Test series.

    It has been argued by some that he overcame his struggles with the Indian tweakers in the back half of that series.

    He did not. Hughes simply began throwing his bat, seemingly out of desperation due to the lack of a more constructive plan.

    He rode his luck to scores of 69 in the third Test and 45 in the final match.

    When he astoundingly avoided being dropped for the first Ashes Test he abandoned that reckless approach to the spinners and reverted to type.

    The result? In 76 balls he faced from Graeme Swann he scored just nine runs, while twice losing his wicket.

    Once again he was exposed for having no reliable methods of getting off strike against a Test spinner.

    Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying Hughes should never again wear the baggy green.

    He has another decade of cricket left in him and may well become a far more versatile batsman.

    But why would Australia recall him to the side just months after the end of his last woeful stint in the Test side?

    His supporters say the reason is obvious – he is piling up runs in the Sheffield Shield.

    That is nothing new, however.

    Hughes has always been a class above the majority of his opponents at State level.

    Each time he has been reinstated to the Test team it has been on the back of brilliant efforts in the Shield.

    Then he has swiftly proven he is not up to Test standard.

    History is strewn with stories of athletes who dominated lower leagues but could never reproduce similar success when offered opportunities at the highest level of their sport.

    Others, like Ryan Harris and Mike Hussey, have done the reverse.

    Both were merely good Shield cricketers before exceeding all expectations by becoming phenomenal Test players.

    Since making an astounding start to his career in South Africa more than four years ago, Hughes has averaged 27 in his past 23 Tests.

    He has been tried and failed, and tried and failed.

    It is time to move on and offer a chance to someone new.

    Who knows, in doing so Australia might unearth the next Hussey or Harris?

    Ronan O
    Ronan O'Connell

    Ronan O'Connell has been a journalist for well over 13 years, including nine at daily newspapers in WA. He now traverses the world as a travel photojournalist, contributing words and photography to more than 30 magazines and newspapers including CNN, BBC, The Toronto Star, The Guardian, The South China Morning Post, The Irish Examiner and The Australian Financial Review. Check out his work and follow him on Twitter @ronanoco

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