Little Phil stands tall

Phil Hughes has a great weight of expectation on his shoulders, especially given how small they are. The New South Wales opener has only just turned 20 yet he could have no complaints if he was asked for ID at a pub. He looks 17 and is diminutive for most professional sports. But what a genuine and uncomplicated young personality.

Hughes wasn’t expecting the tv interview I did with him on Tuesday but took it in his stride. Clearly a little nervous, the replacement for Matthew Hayden had no hesitation in agreeing to the chat. He was a little tentative, for sure, but confident enough to answer questions with thought and sincerity rather than platitudes and cliches.

Last week I spoke to Justin Langer in Perth and asked him about Hughes, who averages a remarkable 58.5 after two seasons of Sheffield Shield cricket. Langer said he had “aerials on his ears” and was “a sponge for information”. When I repeated this tale to Hughes his face spread wide in a smile of appreciation. “If you’re not interested in gathering information from greats like Justin Langer, then you’re not doing yourself any favours,” Hughes said.

It was the first time I’d met him and he wasn’t what I was expecting. The rest of the cricket playing world has become so used to seeing, and hearing, confident and self-assured Aussies that it came as a shock to see a man so young he hasn’t yet been through ‘the process’. He will, no doubt, quickly be coached into portraying the best image, but there was a rich quality about his rawness that will help him on debut. I couldn’t help feeling that he would exceed the expectations that most 20-year-olds would have to cope with.

Meanwhile, South Africa has lost the services of a man who has been part of the ‘team’ for eight years. Physiotherapist Shane Jabaar was ‘excused’ the final two months of his contract and allowed to leave early. Jabaar was always good at his job, very good indded. Provided that his ‘job’ was to fix injuries and repair muscles. But just as important was the job of interacting with sportsmen’s minds, of understanding what was important to them and how they ‘clicked’.

Personally, it was easy to identify with and understand the frustrations he often felt, but the reality is, and always will be, that ‘back-up’ staff are there to support the players. And if that means resigning when the ideals of trainers don’t match those of players, then that’s what happens. As it has on four or five previous occasions in SA cricket.

The team on Wednesday, however, were sharp and mean. Unlike other recent ‘big occasions’, like Lord’s and Perth, there was a sense of concentrated purpose which looked and felt good. Let’s hope so.

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