Freed … Hughes is feeling more comfortable. Photo: Getty Images
FOR much of the past year Phillip Hughes has been repressing his instinct to flay bowlers between cover and third man, realising his strength was being used against him by bowlers.
Approaching the biggest examination of his new batting mindset, his Test return against Sri Lanka, he insisted his new two-sided technique was well on the way to becoming habitual. The 24-year-old said he would enter Bellerive Oval on Friday ''a lot more settled and very calm'' compared with his two preceding stints in the Test team, which ended respectively during the 2009 Ashes and then again after last summer's Hobart Test against New Zealand.
''It was about 12 months ago - to nearly the day - that I got dropped. Twelve months down the track I feel like I'm in a better place now,'' Hughes said on Tuesday as the Australian squad had its first training session in Hobart.
''I knew it was going to be tough to get back, no doubt. I had to score heavily for South Australia in the Shield to get back here. It happened quite quick. I feel like I've done a lot of work behind the scene. I knew I had to make sacrifices as well along the way, that was definitely one to pull out of the Twenty20 comp last year, to work on my technique and become a better player. I feel like a lot better player than 12 months ago, that's the most pleasing thing.''
Hughes said his scoring, formerly so reliant on cuts between third man and cover, was now a lot more rounded. ''It is a lot different. I hit probably 70 to 80 per cent of my scores on the off side. I feel now that I've got both sides of the field covered. That's something I had to go away and work on. My leg-side play was something big in my mind that I had to focus on.
''I feel now that [the changes], in all forms, have really opened up my leg [side]. I'm free-flowing now through that side. It's just easier when they do both straight that I can work off my hip and into the leg side. I've had to do a lot of work in the nets, no doubt, because I was used to hitting through the off side, but now it comes a bit more comfortably on both sides of the wicket. It frees me up.''
Australia opener Ed Cowan, who replaced Hughes a year ago, said this week he was worried Hughes would face undue criticism if he had to be dismissed edging to slips, which he notoriously did in four consecutive innings against NZ last summer. Hughes, however, insisted he was unfazed.
''Not at all. Top-order batsmen - all batsmen - get caught behind, in the cordon or by the keeper,'' he said. ''The big thing is that if I do get in I want to make big scores. That's what the great players do around the world. We've seen Michael Clarke this summer already, once he gets in he cashes in. That's what all batsmen want to do and that's a big focus of mine.
''For South Australia I have been caught behind already this season, there's no doubt about that. But if I do get past that initial period of 20 or 30 balls I want to go on.''
While Hughes is expected to bat at No.3 he said he had yet to be informed which position he would be batting in against Sri Lanka.