Angus Fraser: What I've learnt about Hughes at Middlesex

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The Independent Online

In two months' time, when the 2009 Ashes is gripping the nation, we will find out who benefited most from the contentious five weeks Phillip Hughes spent in England playing county cricket for Middlesex.

If Hughes, Australia's 20-year-old batting sensation, clatters England's bowlers to all parts of Cardiff and Lord's in the opening two Tests of the series, then it will be quite obvious that the diminutive left-hander gained most from the deal. Should English cricket's think tank have made the most of the opportunity to take a close look at Hughes and his technique, and it results in James Anderson, Stuart Broad and company devising a cunning plan to derail him, then it will Andrew Strauss's side who will be smiling.

The one thing we at Middlesex and our opponents to date have learnt while watching Hughes is that he is quite some player. Every now and then a cricketer appears using an unconventional method. It is one of the beauties of the game. Muttiah Muralitharan brought a new style of bowling while the batting of Kevin Pietersen and Brian Lara could hardly be described as text book. Each is a superstar, and Hughes has the qualities to become one too.

The first thing that strikes you about Hughes is that he is fearless. In each of the innings he has played for Middlesex he has walked to the crease expecting to do well. Off the field, like a lot of young Australians, he has that mischievous glint in his eye. In the dressing room he is relaxed, but when it comes to preparing for batting he enters a space where very little seems to distract him. He is confident without being arrogant. He may back away and wildly swish at the occasional delivery but he is not worried about how he looks or what people say – all he is interested in is scoring runs.

A lot of time and hard work have been invested in Hughes but coaches have not tried to change him. They have allowed his natural game to flourish, even though it occasionally looks a little ugly. He plays cricket the way he wants to play it – he goes out to have fun.

There are areas where Hughes scores less freely but there are no obvious weaknesses to his game, other than against a 90mph leg- cutter that pitches on middle stump and hits the top off, a ball that Sir Donald Bradman would struggle to keep out. Bowlers cannot give Hughes any width. If the ball is short and wide it will be viciously cut. When bowling at Hughes the bowler has to bowl at the stumps, ideally to hit middle or off. Such a tactic sounds easy but it is not. It is not the natural line or length for a bowler and when attempting to do this too many balls drift down the leg side, a line that concedes runs. The best thing for a bowler to do is to forget what he is up to and bowl with discipline at off stump, as he should against most players.