It’s never easy to cover serious news on a website like this because whatever we write will have to stand alongside something stupid. Our usual way of dealing with this is to just let the serious story completely pass us by. But you can’t write a cricket site and not comment on the death of a cricketer who was killed while playing cricket. Where are you if you start doing that anyway? The modern world is a disconnected, unfeeling place at times. Ignoring a person’s death is not acceptable.
However, the first thing we’ve noticed is that even if people can feel distanced from major events nowadays, the cricket world – and that includes you and us – seems to remain healthily responsive. We’re writing this because it’s a struggle to read. Phil Hughes’ death seems to have rinsed all the cynicism away so that even trite words are making us teary.
That’s one of the things about cricket. A day’s play is six hours; a Test match five days; a tour can last months – it’s a lot of time to get to know someone. We don’t see players in every situation in their life, but we do see a hell of a lot of them. We take in the ups and downs that shape them – ups and downs which can be very personal and unrelated to the fortunes of their team. Cricket’s like a huge, freakish family and when a cricket family member dies, we all feel a sense of loss.
Quite a few of the obituaries are saying that Hughes was destined for greatness, which is the kind of fortune-telling revisionism which often takes place when someone dies at an unacceptably young age. We don’t much care whether he would have been great or not. What we’ll miss is Hughes’s career, however it might have panned out. That was the fascination – in seeing things unfold.
And Hughes was a truly fascinating player. We’d have loved to have seen how things went from here. He could look – and we’ll not mince our words here – outright bad at the crease. He could look like a bad batsman. But he could also look good and more than anything, he could perform in a way that made him impossible to ignore. He bounced between those extremes like no-one else and that is what we’ll miss. All players are unique, but Hughes was a high profile, potentially-alter-your-entire-way-of-thinking unique.
His career seemed to constitute an experiment as to whether really obvious shortcomings could be completely negated by sheer brilliance. Hughes would pick up a whole string of ducks and you’d think it was an open-and-shut case and then he’d score hundreds when no-one else could get off the mark. That was the quality we picked up on in his early days and he only became more interesting when we later discovered that his was a qualified brilliance.
Freakishly heavy scoring is hard to ignore and if Australians still talk about Shaun Marsh as being some great white hope, it’s worth noting that Hughes made over twice as many first-class hundreds despite being six years younger. He was 25. We hadn’t even started this website when we were 25. We hadn’t even thought about doing the thing that we do when were the age at which Phil Hughes has died. We know a sportsman’s career starts and ends earlier than most, but it isn’t meant to end this early.
Phil Hughes has been talking about how frustrating it has been to have batted at every position from one to six on this Ashes tour, seemingly oblivious to the fact that all six slots have basically meant being an opener.
He also said:
“I feel like I’m very comfortable at the crease at the moment.”
Which may be because he hasn’t had time to feel discomfort. Think of flights or long bus journeys. Sometimes it takes a while.
Hughes does exhibit some level of awareness, however.
“When you lose it is not a good thing.”
So at least that message is finally hitting home.
But standards are still low. He describes David Warner’s 193 against South Africa A as “a big 190”.
Now 197 or 199 – they’re big 190s. Considering the 10 different possibilities, 193 is actually pretty disappointing.
A quick update on how Phil Hughes is doing against India’s spinners. He really kicked on today, scoring two whole runs.
This means that Hughes has now been dismissed five times in his last 70 balls against spin, scoring two runs in that time.
That’s 0.4 runs per dismissal at a strike rate of 2.86.
It’s rare that statistics speak for themselves when you’re trying to deliver humour.
Around 95 per cent of cricket statistics are 85 per cent meaningless, but here’s a nice one: In his last 39 deliveries against spin, Phillip Hughes has scored zero runs and been dismissed four times.
Earlier in the year, Hughes was overlooked for the Tests against South Africa because the selectors wanted to protect him from their fast bowlers. If someone needs protection from fast bowlers and spinners, is it really accurate to describe him as a batsman? Surely you’re selecting someone who is first and foremost a fielder?
But it gets better. If Hughes is dropped, Australia may well replace him with Steven Smith.
Maybe if you’re very lucky this Christmas, you’ll get a gift that is so good, you simply don’t know what to do with it. That’s how we feel about Phil Hughes being caught by Martin Guptill off the bowling of Chris Martin for the fourth time in four innings. It’s so perfect, there’s really nothing to add.
We’ve heard of bowlers having a bunny before, but not fielders.
Picture the scene:
New Australia coach, Mickey Arthur, is wearing a Chris Martin mask. Phil Hughes is padded up with bat in hand and he’s standing in front of some stumps. Behind him, at an angle, is a life-size cut-out of Martin Guptill.
“Okay,” says Arthur. “In this drill, what you have to do is avoid being caught out by Martin Guptill. You can hit the ball in the air through 350 degrees, but if it goes in that sliver towards Guptill, you’re out. If you keep the ball on the floor, you can hit it anywhere. You can also leave it – and for the purposes of this drill, if the ball hits the stumps, you will not be considered out. All you have to do is not hit the ball in the air at Martin Guptill.”
Phil Hughes nods, with a slightly frightened look in his eye and gets into his stance. Mickey Arthur then gently underarms the ball to him, aiming at his legs. Hughes backs away and slices it into the middle of the Guptill cut-out. “Keep working at it,” cries Michael Clarke from somewhere nearby.
By the way, regarding Australia’s batting collapses, we were wrong to blame the top order. If you lose eight wickets for 74 runs, you can’t blame the opener who finishes with 123 not out.
But only technically.
“I’d love him to be in the team,” said Ross Taylor before the second Test.
“I think his technique has improved out of sight,” said Michael Clarke.
“If Hughes plays in Tasmania then obviously Chris Martin will be bowling at him and hopefully Martin Guptill takes a third catch too,” said Ross Taylor.
Australia v New Zealand, second Test: PJ Hughes c Guptill b Martin 4.
Cricinfo’s ball-by-ball coverage says he tried to defend with an angled bat. We assume.
An opening batsman who averages over 50 in Test and first-class cricket has not been ‘found out’ if he makes a right royal hash of a couple of short balls.
Phillip Hughes had three Test innings in England in 2009 and got dropped. Had Don Bradman been found out in 1936 when he made 38, 0 and 0 in successive innings against England? No, of course not. Three of his last four innings in that series were 270, 212 and 169.
Phillip Hughes is no Bradman, but he didn’t get into Test cricket with some huge, pulsating, neon Achilles’ heel that had previously gone undetected. It might be worth bowling short at him to test him out, but we’re sick of reading articles where it’s made out that he’s a walking wicket.
Three dismissals takes just three balls out of the many thousands faced by Hughes. He’s smeared far more balls to the fence than he’s popped to the keeper.
Don’t get us wrong. We hope he peppers the slip cordon in brief, pathetic visits to the crease, but we don’t think it’ll happen. You’re flawless or incompetent in the eyes of many, but no-one in international cricket is either of those things – not since India stopped picking Ajit Agarkar anyway.
A few weeks ago, back when you couldn’t take a crap without someone knocking on the door and telling you how great he was, we said that Phil Hughes might just be a massive disappointment. Being dropped for Shane Watson is probably classed as disappointing.
But don’t worry. The stumpy little flailer will surely return for the next Test because Watson’s a nailed-on certainty to rupture his pancreas at some point over the next few days.
Phil Hughes edged a Flintoff delivery to the slips. Andrew Strauss scooped it up, but did it graze the turf? The umpires didn’t refer it, but if they had have done, Hughes would certainly have been given not out.
The heart bleeds. The Australian view is that Hughes would definitely have gone on and made 260. Our own view is that if you’re in the habit of edging balls to the slips, you’re not batting that well.
Of course, neither argument can hold sway because it’s all supposition. However, what we do know is that this kind of pedantic nit-picking and straw-clutching is exactly the kind of thing that gave rise to the term ‘whinging Poms’.
Was Phil Hughes actually out? Look in t’book.
We hope he isn’t, because it’s exciting when unusual players have an impact and it’s good for your side to beat one featuring great players, but everyone has gone a bit mental about Hughes.
He’s played a couple of seasons of domestic cricket, one Test series and a bit of second division county cricket. He’s been exceptional, but his is not a record that matches up to Ricky Ponting’s for example. If Phil Hughes were to get ‘found out’, it would most likely happen in Test cricket and if that did happen, it would be unlikely to happen in the first Test series in which he played. It might happen in the second.
He’ll probably score a good few runs, but let’s see, shall we? Australia have a handful of other batsmen to worry about, after all.