New South Wales opening batsman and 2009 Bradman Young Cricketer of the Year, Phillip Hughes, is on the cusp of breaking into the Australian test side. With the 14 man squad to tour South Africa being announced this week, Hughes finds himself a near certainty to board the plane across the Indian Ocean and join his state captain Simon Katich in opening the innings for Australia.
The retirement of Matthew Hayden has created a vacancy in the Australian opening lineup. It was widely tipped for Hayden to retire at this season’s end, which has seen Hughes locked in a four way battle for his position over the past few months. His competition over this period has been fellow New South Wales and former test opener Phil Jaques, Victorian Chris Rogers and South Australian Michael Klinger.
On a comparative form basis, Jaques has been out of the side due to injury until last week. However Rogers and Klinger have been plundering runs and alongside Hughes, have formed the leading batting trio in the Australian first class scene. This has seen quite an intriguing battle for the vacant opening slot.
Out of the four players mentioned, Hughes is clearly the youngest player at 20 years of age and appears set to be the first Australian batsman since Ricky Ponting in 1995 to make his test debut before the age of 21.
Since becoming the youngest New South Wales player to debut in first class cricket, aged 18 years and 355 days, Hughes has had a tremendous start to his cricketing career. In his first season he recorded a hugely impressive 559 runs @ 62.11 from 12 innings, finishing the season in grand style by scoring 116 in the second innings of the Pura Cup final against Victoria in a winning cause. This was also another record, being the youngest player to score a century in the domestic first class final.
This season he has taken things to the next level and has been the cornerstone of the NSW batting lineup given his more senior teammates Katich, Michael Clarke, and Brad Haddin have been on national duties along with Jaques out injured. The key to Hughes’ success has been his patience and willingness to bat for extensive periods at the crease, leading from the front. New South Wales has a relatively inexperienced line up, with the exception of the above mentioned players, and by opening the innings, Hughes has been able to set a solid platform for the team on many an occasion.
To date, Hughes has scored 891 runs @ 74.25 from 13 innings with four centuries and a personal highest score of 198. His return in last week’s game against Tasmania of 151 and 82 not out was a timely reminder of his talents leading into the selector’s announcement of the South African touring party.
Hughes must be selected to tour South Africa and if selected must play in the first test in Johannesburg on February 26. The importance of his selection is due to the fact that Hughes shapes as a long term player and with a transformation of the Australian batting makeup over the past two years due to the retirements of Matthew Hayden, Justin Langer and Adam Gilchrist, the time is right to nuture a young batsman into the side.
Australia has a busy 12 month schedule ahead, which includes the tough tour of South Africa and a lengthy Ashes campaign in England. At a time where their supremacy in world cricket has been the most threatened since the mid 1990s, they must select players who are ready to work hard and commit to the cause. Phillip Hughes has demonstrated all the necessary qualities to succeed at the highest level and has done so at a very young age. The time for him is now!
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