Phil Hughes

Good news lifts fighting Hughes

ODI nod frees up Australia A captain

Today wasn’t the first time Phil Hughes has batted in the Australia A Tour with plenty on his mind. 

Far from it.

Last week’s match in Townsville came on the back of his shock omission from Australia’s One-Day International squad for the tour of Zimbabwe. 

His epic unbeaten double-hundred in the quadrangular one-day series was struck just a week after his grandfather passed away. 

And all throughout the tour of Australia’s Top End, he’s gone out to bat with the pressure to perform in the hope of one day winning back a spot in the national side.

There he was again today, with plenty on his mind as he made his way out to the middle to begin hauling in South Africa A’s first innings total of 333.

However, this afternoon Hughes was thinking about the surprise serving of good news he had received during the lunch break on day three at Tony Ireland Stadium.

“"I was actually just about to get a bite to eat for lunch when Rod called me out of the room,” Hughes told after play.

“It was a great feeling to be (selected) on a one-day trip for Australia, but I had to try and wipe that out and just worry about batting for the rest of the day.”

With the sudden call-up to replace the injured Shane Watson for the ODI tri-series in Zimbabwe, Hughes was able to bat with some semblance of freedom during a tour where he’s been under the spotlight.

Despite batting without the selection burden weighing him down, at least for today, it wasn’t all smooth sailing for the left-handed opener, taking him 51 balls to go from 40 to his half-century.

In days gone by, that prolonged period of struggle may have culminated in a loose shot that ended Hughes’s stay prematurely.

But with a determination that hides behind his laidback attitude, Hughes toughed it out as Simon Harmer and Eddie Leie targeted his perceived weakness against spin bowling.

“That happens. They bowled well there, so you’ve got to respect the bowler when they’re bowling well,” Hughes said.

“Batting is about going up and down in gears, I just had to sit and bide my time.”

It’s been a particularly big six weeks on the road for the 25-year-old, boasting 584 runs at an average of 83.43 across both formats despite the myriad of factors playing on his mind.

“I had to stay strong. I was disappointed a few weeks ago when I did miss selection, but it’s about bouncing back and worrying about what happens out in the middle of the field,” he continued.

“I really like to let my actions do the talking, so it was nice to go out there and score runs.

“Hopefully there are a few more runs tomorrow, but it’s been a great six to eight weeks.

“It’s been great to be involved with Australia A and to be playing at this time of year.”

Any chance of a result on the final day of the series will be dependent on a bold declaration from Hughes and a willingness to play ball from South Africa A skipper Justin Ontong and his side.

With the Aussie skipper still unbeaten on 71 at the close of play on day three, there must also be the temptation to not let this run of form go to waste and bat the day away as he piles on the runs before joining the ODI camp in Brisbane.

“We’ve still got one more day here to play so I’ll worry about this game in the morning and then I’m not sure when I’ll be joining the (national) team at this stage,” Hughes explained.

“Being under the covers for the whole day yesterday, (the pitch) definitely did a bit off the seam early this morning.

“As the sun came out after lunch it did flatten out and I think it’s a very good batting track, so hopefully we can cash in tomorrow and move the game forward.”

Earlier, Clint McKay picked up three wickets in the morning session after being labelled the pick of the bowlers on day one by fellow seamer Gurinder Sandhu despite going wicketless.

Middle-order batsman Farhaan Behardien posted his seventh first-class century to go with his 70no in the previous four-day clash last week.

After receiving the big news at the end of the first session, Hughes joined Peter Forrest out in the middle with plenty of work to be done.

Forrest fell to a beauty from Hardus Viljoen for 20, while the skipper survived a big shout for a catch on 40.

That triggered Hughes’s struggle for the next hour or so before he eventually pushed through for his half-century, causing a heated exchange between the two sides before the tension dissipated as the players ventured into the rooms for the tea break.

A result seems unlikely heading into the final day’s play, but the unthinkable has become distinctly possible throughout the six weeks on the ‘A’ tour and anything could happen with three sessions to go.

“It wasn’t an ideal situation to lose a whole day yesterday,” Hughes said.

“There are still a lot of overs in the game, so it’s something that I’ll be sleeping on tonight and we’ll come back tomorrow and see what happens.”