Phil Hughes

Hughes rewriting his Ashes heartache

This Ashes series always had the potential to be a career-breaker for Phil Hughes, whose unbeaten 81 helped steer Australia out of trouble in the first Test on Thursday.

After forcing his way back into the Test line-up through sheer weight of runs in County and Sheffield Shield cricket, the at-times fragile 24-year-old would face an enemy which had derailed him twice already.

His first Ashes experience in 2009 led to a very public breakdown of his unconventional batting technique as the then-20-year-old scored just 57 runs at an average of 19. He was terrorised by the short ball and bounced out of the Australian side after just two Tests.

Hughes fared no better in England's return bout on Australian soil the following year, called up for the final three Tests of the series and averaging just 16 without passing 50 once as England's pace barrage had his number once more.

Naturally, you would have expected swing specialist Jimmy Anderson to be licking his lips when Hughes appeared with Australia on the ropes at 4-53. But the pint-sized left-hander produced one of the knocks of his career, riding out a testing period under overcast skies on Wednesday before combining brilliantly with debutant No.11 Ashton Agar (98) for a record-breaking 163 run 10th wicket partnership.

He showed improved confidence against the short ball, and cut with power as he racked up nine boundaries in his 131-ball innings, guiding Australia to a 65 run first innings lead.

Anderson didn't feel comfortable saying Hughes was a different player to the one he'd tormented in tours past.

But he admitted England would need to work out just why he was able to frustrate them so effectively. "I'm not sure he's changed. He obviously played very well," Anderson said after play on Thursday.

"He showed a lot of skill to get through some tricky periods of play. "I thought he batted well with Agar at the end to build a partnership and frustrate us.

"We'll have a look and see if we actually bowled that well at him."

In a team which has lost valued leaders Michael Hussey and Ricky Ponting in the past summer, 19-year-old Agar said Hughes' advice had been invaluable as he compiled his remarkable debut knock.

"He just said keep watching the ball hard and keep playing it ball by ball," Agar said.

The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of Cricket Australia.