John Townsend: At last Phil Hughes finds his place, quietly backstage allowing Ashton Agar the spotlight

Supporting actors win Oscars and he was happy to act his part

Phil Hughes is Australia's nearly man. He nearly made it as an opener. Twin centuries against the might of South Africa's pacemen in just his second Test confirmed his grand promise before it wilted in England on the last Ashes tour.

Then he nearly made it as a No 3. Replacing Ricky Ponting is no challenge for a shrinking violet and while Hughes was not expected to become the match-winner that his predecessor had been, he relished the responsibility even as he could not convert it into a reliable contribution.

More recently, Hughes flirted with No 4 before eight runs in three attempts quickly put paid to that ambition. Idiosyncratic in technique, yet steely in his self-belief, Hughes' slide down the batting order has nonetheless gathered momentum.

Tried and discarded in the top four places, he was listed to start this Ashes series at No 5. It didn't happen. He wasn't given a chance to lose that position before he was hastened to No 6 in place of Steve Smith who, on Michael Clarke's demise in the first innings, was promoted to maintain the left-right combination.

Nearly in action at No 5, Hughes was nearly off the radar screen while James Anderson and Graeme Swann created mayhem in the morning session.

Content to usher the strike to his mate Steve Smith, the inventive strokemaker whose hyperactive mannerisms and decision-making have gradually given way to calmer sensibilities, Hughes was able to build his innings away from the spotlight.

It was a rare opportunity for a batsman who has played out his career at the far ends of a spectrum extending from overhyped expectation to spectacular failure.

He doesn't lack sting, as Anderson discovered early when a delivery with little to differentiate it from its most probing fellows, apart from a modicum of width, went whistling through the covers to the fence.

Steven Finn also tested his reflexes against the shorter ball, an approach the bowler thought sufficiently successful to repeat later in the innings on the way to a four-over spell costing 32, including five boundaries.

Not that long ago, in India in March perhaps, Hughes would have been at the forefront of a catastrophic batting performance.

His failures against the Indian spinners were legend. He didn't move his feet unless he was charging blindly. His pads were impediments. His gloves manacles. His hands were of stone, which is helpful for a boxer but deadly for a batsman facing a relentless slow-motion examination in a foreign language.

Yet wickets tumbled at Trent Bridge and Hughes was nowhere to be seen amid the carnage.

He was nearly there. He was 22 yards away, as he was for much of Ashton Agar's remarkable maiden performance.

Anderson and Swann produced brilliant deliveries. Brad Haddin couldn't keep out one that jagged into him as though it had hit a stone while Smith and Peter Siddle were exposed by swing both subtle and precise. But they could not produce that one ball needed to unlock the key to the Hughes fortune.

He pottered along, occasionally cracking an errant offering to the square fences, but mostly just stayed in.

Agar came, as level-headed as any tyro in the game. Using the Steve Waugh approach of allowing the tailenders to find their own tempo, Hughes had no need to change his approach and didn't.

He was 21 when Agar arrived, was beaten to 50 by his pyrotechnic young colleague, and was the minor contributor as the stand passed its half-century, century and century-and-a-half landmarks.

If that challenged Hughes' ego, or altered his thinking, he kept it to himself.

Outstanding actors win Oscars in supporting roles and Hughes was happy to act his part as he witnessed the innings convert from an England bloodbath to an Australian massacre.

And as it turned out, it fell to Agar to be the nearly man as his looming century was denied by an outfield catch.

John Townsend is Cricket Writer at 'The West Australian'

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
Starting the day with a three-egg omelette could make people more charitable, according to new research
science
News
Top Gun actor Val Kilmer lost his small claims court battle in Van Nuys with the landlord of his Malibu mansion to get back his deposit after wallpapering over the kitchen cabinets
people
News
Comedian Ted Robbins collapsed on stage during a performance of Phoenix Nights Live at Manchester Arena (Rex)
people
News
The actress Geraldine McEwan was perhaps best known for playing Agatha Christie's detective, Miss Marple (Rex)
peopleShe won a Bafta in 1991 for her role in Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit
News
newsPatrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
News
Robert Fraser, aka Groovy Bob
peopleA new show honours Robert Fraser, one of the era's forgotten players
Life and Style
Torsten Sherwood's Noook is a simple construction toy for creating mini-architecture
tech
Sport
David Silva celebrates with Sergio Aguero after equalising against Chelsea
footballChelsea 1 Manchester City 1
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

Mussolini tried to warn his ally of the danger of bringing the country to its knees. So should we, says Patrick Cockburn
Britain's widening poverty gap should be causing outrage at the start of the election campaign

The short stroll that should be our walk of shame

Courting the global elite has failed to benefit Britain, as the vast disparity in wealth on display in the capital shows
Homeless Veterans appeal: The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty

Homeless Veterans appeal

The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty
Prince Charles the saviour of the nation? A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king

Prince Charles the saviour of the nation?

A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king
How books can defeat Isis: Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad

How books can defeat Isis

Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

She may be in charge of minimising our risks of injury, but the chair of the Health and Safety Executive still wants children to be able to hurt themselves
The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse

The open loathing between Obama and Netanyahu just got worse

The Israeli PM's relationship with the Obama has always been chilly, but going over the President's head on Iran will do him no favours, says Rupert Cornwell
French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

Fury at British best restaurants survey sees French magazine produce a rival list
Star choreographer Matthew Bourne gives young carers a chance to perform at Sadler's Wells

Young carers to make dance debut

What happened when superstar choreographer Matthew Bourne encouraged 27 teenage carers to think about themselves for once?
Design Council's 70th anniversary: Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch

Design Council's 70th anniversary

Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch
Dame Harriet Walter: The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment

Dame Harriet Walter interview

The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment
Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Critics of Tom Stoppard's new play seem to agree that cerebral can never trump character, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's winter salads will make you feel energised through February

Bill Granger's winter salads

Salads aren't just a bit on the side, says our chef - their crunch, colour and natural goodness are perfect for a midwinter pick-me-up
England vs Wales: Cool head George Ford ready to put out dragon fire

George Ford: Cool head ready to put out dragon fire

No 10’s calmness under pressure will be key for England in Cardiff
Michael Calvin: Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links