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The lonlieness of Phillip Hughes or: how to embrace losing

December 12, 2011

Disgraceful.  Sack the lot.  Drop them all.  Just a few days ago when New Zealand were 6 for 60, the sentiment from Australians was: “Why are we even playing these jokers?”

The Australian team is now the one being called a joke. Yet when given the chance by Channel Nine, Australians voted for Australian player David Warner to be a man of the match, even though New Zealand won.

This is the duality of being a supporter of the Australian cricket team. After being the dominant team for so long, Australia is now only middle of the road. The dominance, though, remains fresh in the mind of fans and these expectations are translated onto the current team. This may seem harmless but it has expressed itself in a particular form of viciousness against one individual, Phil Hughes.

There is no reason for Hughes to be singled out.

Granted, his form has been horrible in this series. His 4 innings averaging 10.25 runs is not inspiring. What made it worse was that he kept getting out the same way, dabbing outside off stump to be caught  Guptill, behind the wicket bowled by Martin.

However, even with these figures, his batting wasn’t the worst for the side. Mike Hussey averaged 7.66.

Hughes also outscored his opening partner Shane Watson in the tours of South Africa and Sri Lanka. In fact, Hughes has had a better average than Watson and Ponting throughout 2011.  Clearly there have been serious problems with Australia’s batting as a whole.

The genesis of this borderline hatred stems from two factors. First is the way he was dropped initially. Hughes had a brilliant first series against South Africa as a 20 year old (he is the youngest player from any country to score a century in both innings of a Test match). In three matches, he scored two centuries and was averaging almost 70. This came on top of a stint in Middlesex, in which he scored 574 runs averaging 143.50, which according to Cricinfo was better than “Don Bradman’s impressive start to his maiden first-class stint in England – 566 runs in five innings in 1930.”

Then came the Ashes series in 2009. Hughes had a leaner time, averaging 19 after two matches. He was dropped.  Apparently, he was told he was vulnerable to the short ball and needed to work on his technique. This has stuck ever since. People who have never hit a cricket ball know that Hughes’s technique is dodgy and needs to be worked on.

Cricinfo, though, saw through it at the time. “Hughes, it emerged, had become the collateral damage for the Mitchell Johnson form saga, with Watson called up as much for seam bowling insurance as top-of-the-order runs. A less disruptive move might have been to simply replace the errant Johnson with the ever-dependable Stuart Clark, but selectors, in announcing their shock move, indicated they coveted Johnson’s wicket-taking potential more than Hughes’ run-scoring ability.”

Hughes was dropped because someone else was playing badly and at the same time was told it was due to his technique problems. Cricinfo asked “just what impact demotion will have on the confidence of Hughes, who arrived on these shores hailed Australia’s next batting superstar, remains to be seen.”

Well, now it has been seen and it is clear how disastrous it was. Hughes was only 20 at the time of his sacking and has never fully recovered. Initially brimming with confidence, he now seemingly has none. That goes some way to explain why he is so unsure of himself in the earlier stages of his innings, when he feels comfortable, he still scores and scores big but the seed of doubt has been put firmly in his mind.

In the test match against New Zealand, Hughes looked positively guilty in being  there. You could see the doubt in everything he did.

The second reason is the unreasonable high expectations that are  placed on the team. Australia has been losing more regularly but what we expect is what we saw of Australia in 2003. This team can’t and shouldn’t be that, nor should any of the players in that team be held to that. Phil Hughes won’t be Matthew Hayden but lest we forget that after 12 matches, Hayden averaged 26.4.  He needed time and persistence to find his feet and was given that.

Instead of the relentless search for a scapegoat, it seems about the right time that expectations are shifted and being to embrace the idea that losing has its positives.

When Australia was on top of world cricket, it could be exhilarating but also ugly. Ugly in the sense that there was a real arrogance and aloofness to the team, which expressed itself in all sorts of on-field controversies. For a lot of people there was an uneasiness in watching them because we knew that, although they were winning, they were playing dirty  This new team doesn’t have that arrogant and off-putting swagger and consequently it is much easier to identify with their triumphs. The sooner this is realised and appreciated, the less needless abuse will be heaped upon players like Hughes

Hughes, a 23 year old with his career ahead of him, should not be made into a scapegoat. I expect there will be much rejoicing if Hughes is dropped for the Boxing Day test , but the humanist in me wants him to retain his spot and achieve a big score, if only to erase the mental image of Hughes’ anguish as he nicked the ball to get out today.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. December 12, 2011 10:45 am

    Awesome article mate, makes one think. Hughes needs some time to develop his self esteem, and hopefully for Australia he can develop into the next Matty Hayden.

    My new cricket blog is http://internationalcricketblog.wordpress.com , I would appreciate it if you read it, commented, linked etc. Cheers.

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