No treason in importing Aussies' hidden treasure

Middlesex CCC
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The Independent Online

Our signing of Phil Hughes, Australia's new batting sensation, has caused quite a stir in certain quarters of English cricket. There are some who suggest the appointment, which offers Hughes the chance to play seven weeks of cricket in England prior to this summer's much awaited Ashes series, is tantamount to treason.

Hughes shot to fame during the second Test against South Africa earlier this week. The belief is that Middlesex are reducing the chances of England regaining the Ashes by providing the 20-year-old with such an opportunity. Hughes is an exciting young talent but the xenophobic view of the critics is one that I, as Middlesex's managing director of cricket and the person who signed Hughes, totally disagree with. Hughes will undoubtedly benefit from his time at Lord's but international sport is about each country's best players competing hard against each other at an extremely high level, with the better side coming out on top.

That was the beauty of the 2005 Ashes. At Cardiff on 8 July there will be no Shane Warne, Glenn McGrath, Adam Gilchrist, Matthew Hayden or Justin Langer under a "baggy green" cap and the Ashes, despite the absence of these players giving England a better chance of regaining the little urn, will be a lesser spectacle because of it. The fact that Michael Vaughan's side beat Australia when they were at virtually full strength makes the triumph far more memorable.

The signing of Hughes came through the link I have with Western Suburbs District Cricket Club in Sydney. Many years ago I spent two enjoyable winters playing for the club that did an enormous amount for my development as a cricketer, and it was long-standing friends there who made me aware of Hughes's potential. Initially the talk was of the opener using an Italian passport through his mother's ancestry to play as a Kolpak player, but this was not a route I really wanted to go down. The role of county cricket clubs is to develop England cricketers as well as win domestic tournaments.

It was the resignation of Kevin Pietersen as England captain that kicked Middlesex into action with Hughes. The appointment of Andrew Strauss as Pietersen's successor ensured we would see little of him in 2009. At the same time it became apparent that Owais Shah would either be playing for England or an Indian Premier League franchise in April and May too. With Middlesex's batting looking light and IPL dollars luring most of the game's best players in April and May the search began. Hughes' name jumped out. His first-class record was outstanding and respected people in Sydney spoke highly of his batting, temperament and personality. Although he had already become the youngest player to score a hundred in the Sheffield Shield final, few in England had heard of him.

At the time he was being given no more than an outside chance of featuring in the Ashes. Other counties had made offers, but the cocktail of Lord's, London and Middlesex CCC proved too good to refuse.