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Hughes would have followed Hayden, Langer path, says coach

Phillip Hughes’ first international coach is convinced he would have emulated Matthew Hayden and Justin Langer in overcoming early career hiccups to become a mainstay of the Test team.
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Tim Nielsen coached Hughes, who was then “a brash 19-year-old coming out of the sticks”, in the winter of 2007 at Cricket Australia’s National Cricket Centre in Brisbane. Just over 18 months later Hughes was atop the batting order in South Africa in a Test team led by Nielsen.

“He made zero in the first innings, 75 in the second innings and the rest is history: two hundreds in Durban, where we won [the series] two-nil,” said Nielsen, now South Australia’s general manager of high performance. “There was a picture on the television that summed it up for me … he [Hughes] made that [maiden] hundred and you saw [Ricky] Ponting leaning out those big windows at Durban and doing the [passionate] clapping.

“From the minute he walked into the team people identified him as being the young kid that was pretty special, not too dissimilar to what happened with Michael Clarke in 2004. They grabbed hold of him and everyone gravitated to him.”

Nielsen said Hughes had provided an “awesome” influence on the Test squad in the following Ashes series, even after he was dropped for the third Test due to concerns he was too vulnerable against bouncers delivered by England’s towering pacemen.

“That was a tough tour of England. They had … big, tall quicks – [Andrew] Flintoff, [Steve] Harmison, [Stuart] Broad – and [Jimmy] Anderson was bowling well,” he said. “It was thought that the time might be right to give him a spell, to let him think and learn about how he was going to cope with those sorts of things … and at the time I wasn’t a selector but I didn’t think it was a bad selection. I thought it was quite long-term focused and to give him the best chance [to thrive].”

As well as providing a positive influence on teammates, Hughes’ other focus was to eradicate the flaws that triggered his omission. “To his credit, ‘Hughesy’ asked and talked about how he needed to improve and then decided that the only way he was going to force the envelope was to be better, and he continually did that,” he said.

The lowest point of Hughes’ career came in the 2011-12 season. Not only did he lose his Test spot after a disastrous series against New Zealand in which he averaged 10.25 in four innings, after which he pulled out of the Big Bash League to restore his shattered confidence, but he finished the Sheffield Shield season with an average of 28.56, clearly the worst of his career.

After then cricketing honcho Jamie Cox and coach Darren Berry implored South Australia to make the left-hander a compelling offer, it had to be ratified by the South Australian Cricket Association’s new chief executive, Keith Bradshaw. Having been at the helm of Middlesex three years earlier when Hughes dominated in a pre-Ashes stint in county cricket, Bradshaw endorsed the three-year offer ultimately accepted by Hughes, despite the bad season he had just endured.

“Phillip is a fighter. Under adversity he’s always shown his character, and the fact he never gives up,” Bradshaw said. “He never lost that ambition to play for Australia. We were very keen to have him come to South Australia because he’s such a talent. He’s a player who would’ve been one of the greats of all-time. We all saw that in him, and he felt, for his own development, that this was an opportunity for him to progress his career.”

Nielsen, who by that stage had left the national coach job and was charged with running the Redbacks’ academy, was an enthusiastic supporter, even though he was convinced Hughes’ domestic availability would be curtailed by his eventual return to the Test team.

“Great players don’t ever get it their own way. Hayden had four or five goes at it and Langer had four or five goes at it, [Steve] Waugh was 39 Tests before he made a hundred. All these great players took their time,” he said.

“There’s no template for making a great player. Each one will develop at their own pace and in their own time. What Hughesy always did, and what his first-class record proves, is whenever he was left out he went back and dominated, so he forced the hand of the selection panels to give him another opportunity, a lot like what Langer and Hayden … who turned out to be great players did in the early parts of their career.”

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

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