Hughes believes pull of the Wags has upset England's Ashes plan

Former Australia captain tells Angus Fraser in Adelaide that the tourists must be focused on practice and team bonding
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The Independent Online

The England management and players will stress the value of having their wives and girlfriends in Brisbane for the first Test, but there are many, including Kim Hughes, the former Australian captain, who believe that their presence has probably had a detrimental effect on the performance of the side.

"I was surprised to see the wives and girlfriends of the England players travelling on the team bus in Brisbane and leaving the airport arm in arm with their partners," said Hughes on the eve of the second Test in Adelaide. "I don't think that having all the wives and girlfriends over here so early in the tour has helped the team at all.

"Make no mistake, I love my wife and my four children and I think it would be perfectly acceptable for them to be in Perth for the third Test in a couple of weeks' time. But the first two Tests of a tour should be all about the cricket. That is what you are here to do. It is your job and you are paid well to do it.

"At this stage of a tour you don't need distractions and you don't want blokes worrying about their other halves and children. You want them to be focused on the cricket and their team-mates. It is during the early part of a tour that a spirit, a togetherness is created and it is bloody hard to do that if the players are rushing back from practice or a day's play so they can be with their partner who has been sat waiting in a hotel room for them all day.

"It is a shame because I always felt that players learnt a lot from each other while sitting in the dressing-room at the end of a day's play and chatting over a beer. The Australians are no different, they were the same in England in 2005. In between Tests some of the players felt under pressure to do things with their families and while one practice match was taking place a couple of them went to Disneyland. In these games the senior players should watch the cricket and talk to the youngsters to help them with their development."

Hughes' cricket career was remembered for several reasons. He was a dashing middle-order batsman who scored a wonderful century in the Centenary Test at Lord's, a game in which he hit a huge six into the top tier of the Pavilion. When driving through the covers he used to flamboyantly go down on one knee, a picture that still sits in my mind.

Hughes' time as captain was not a particularly happy one. He led Australia on 28 occasions but his tenure was undermined by Greg Chappell, who returned to take charge when he was not playing World Series Cricket. He was the Australian captain in 1981, when Ian Botham's heroics won England the Ashes and, famously, broke down in tears when announcing his resignation in 1984.

The show of emotion was criticised by many in Australia because they believed it to be a sign of weakness, but it was only because the job meant so much to him. These sentiments shone through when I spoke to him prior to a charity cricket match in the Barossa Valley which raises money for the David Hookes Foundation, an organisation that encourages people to donate their organs after death.

At the Chateau Tanunda Vineyards an Old England XI led by Mike Gatting defeated an Australian XI, but Hughes does not feel the second Test in Adelaide will produce a similar result.

"I have been surprised that people have thought this series would be pretty close because I feel there are big differences between this England side and the one that won the Ashes in 2005," the 52-year-old Hughes said. "There is no Michael Vaughan, so you've lost your captain. There is no Simon Jones, who was a key performer last year and, of course, there is no Marcus Trescothick.

"Then, from an Australian point of view you've got Michael Hussey, who has been like a breath of fresh air to the team. And there is Stuart Clark who has been a really good find. Previously I thought Clark would be nothing more than a really good Shield cricketer but his performance in Brisbane was the equal, if not better than, Glenn McGrath's. Australia are playing at home too, where there are bigger grounds and the ball won't reverse-swing because the seams on the ball here are different.

"I really believe that England are one batsman short. Collingwood did well at four in Brisbane but I feel he would be a really good No 6. I think Flintoff is too high at six in Australia. If they lose a couple of early wickets to the new ball England can't afford to make too many more mistakes. You see Geraint Jones at seven and then three or four bowlers who struggle with the bat. You wouldn't mind having a crack at that lot. Losing Trescothick, and we all hope he gets right because his problems are far more important than cricket, was a big blow and it has left England a bit short. His slip fielding will be missed, too, and this is why I think Australia will go on to win three or four nil."

McGrath's seven wickets, Langer's 182 runs and the Australians' energy in the field has killed the "Dad's Army" tag for now but I thought I'd bring it up to see if there was any reaction.

"People keep going on about the age of the Aussie team and the fact that they have a poor captain but they have won 12 out of 13 Tests since the Ashes of 2005. You can't do much more than that. Perhaps these same people want them to start winning Tests in three days. Ponting manages his players well. He is brilliant in the field and he bats at three and leads from the front.

"Ponting learnt a lot in England. He came back from that tour and took control of the team. He is his own man now and he knows what he wants. It takes a while for a young bloke to impose himself on a side, especially when you have senior guys like Warne and McGrath in it, who are icons of the game. I captained Dennis Lillee and Rodney Marsh during my time in charge and that was pretty hard at times.

"I have sympathy for Ponting and I don't know what some guys want him to do. Australia won the first Test against England by hundreds of runs in the first session of the fifth day and people are still having a go at him. I would hate to see what they'd be like if Australia were to lose a few."

Ponting's form with the bat has led to comparisons with the great Donald Bradman. Hughes thinks Ponting is an exceptional player but he believes an Australian from his generation was better. "Look," said Hughes, as a lot of Australians do at the start of a sentence, "in the era I played in there was Javed Miandad, Viv Richards and Greg Chappell. They were three great players. I know that I am a bit biased but I am yet to see a better player than Greg. Technically, he was magnificent, and you have to look at the quality of the attacks he faced. The standard of bowling was very high and if you pick a quartet of world fast bowlers now, I don't think any of them would have got in the West Indies side of that era."

* Matthew Maynard, England's assistant coach, returned home yesterday after his wife broke her hip and arm following a heavy fall. England have given no indication as to whether Maynard will return to Australia.