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In an era when Australia have used a huge number of batsmen across all formats, it’d be strange for talented NSW opener Daniel Hughes to never represent his country.
But that is a strong possibility after the 32-year-old this summer wasted perhaps the biggest opportunity of his career ahead of this year’s Ashes.
Following his worst-ever Sheffield Shield season, averaging just 19, a Test gig now looks like a distant goal for Hughes.
Meanwhile, Australia are clearly aiming to use David Warner and Aaron Finch as their ODI openers until the next World Cup, in two-and-a-half years from now, blocking Hughes’ other main path to national selection.
Today he needs to make a statement in the Shield final against QLD or he could just be written off as a Test prospect by the Australian selectors.
Being an opening batsman like Hughes has been by far the easiest route into the Australian Test team over the past four years.
In that time, Australia have used a whopping 10 different Test openers – David Warner, Joe Burns, Will Pucovski, Marcus Harris, Cameron Bancroft, Aaron Finch, Usman Khawaja, Matt Renshaw, Matt Wade and Shaun Marsh.
Right now, the opening spot alongside Warner is wide open for the Ashes due to Pucovski’s persistent injury problems, and the recent failures of the likes of Harris, Burns and Wade. This summer was a gilded chance for Hughes to finally make a resounding case for Test selection.
He entered this summer with a career first-class record (3,132 runs at 40) arguably as good as the likes of Harris and Bancroft. There was something missing, though. Hughes had never put together a dominant Shield season.
Across his previous four seasons he had averaged 44, 39, 41 and 36. Very consistent but lacking that standout season which so often vaults a domestic batsman into the Test team.
A season like Harris in 2018-19, when the Victorian smashed 1188 runs at 70. Hughes, also, has never mastered the art of making runs at the right time.
In regards to Test selection, that right time is normally in the opening rounds of the Shield, when that competition tends to become the venue for batting shoot-outs between Test prospects.
In the last Ashes in Australia, Bancroft stormed into the starting XI by going ballistic over the opening three rounds of the Shield. By creaming 442 runs at 110 in those matches, the West Australian leapfrogged several rivals.
Hughes has never produced such a burst of runmaking at the perfect moment, and neither has he put together a huge season where he’s averaged 55-plus.
Until he does one of those things, it’s hard to see him earning a baggy green. Given he’s comfortably older than Pucovski, Harris and Bancroft, as well as other emerging openers like Bryce Street and Sam Whiteman, Hughes does not have time on his side.
What he does have in his favour is a high-profile opportunity in this Shield final, which looks set to feature 15 guys who’ve played international cricket.
Hughes is not in that group. Not yet, at least.
And if he wants to join them then there’s no better time to haul himself out of his deep Shield form slump than today against QLD. This Shield final is the biggest match of Hughes’ career to date.