Phil Hughes exorcises his Tasmanian devil

Last updated 11:35 15/12/2012
Phil Hughes
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PHIL HUGHES: ''I thought I was a lot more patient through periods of my innings than I have been 12 months or two years ago."

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Phillip Hughes returned to his house of horrors at Blundstone Arena and exorcised his demons but Australia's test fortunes again rest upon the shoulders of their elder statesmen.

After a year of remedial work in the classroom, Hughes emerged from the examination hall not with the fairytale century he craved but nevertheless a comfortable pass mark in his comeback Test innings.

While the Sri Lankan attack is a long way short of the class Hughes could face in England next year, it was still an encouraging return by the 24-year-old.

That it came on the day Australian cricket formally farewelled Ricky Ponting was symbolic, though it would be premature to conclude it was a changing of the guard. While Australia's top four - apart from Ed Cowan, who fell in clumsy fashion - made reasonable contributions, it will again be left to Michael Clarke and Michael Hussey to bat Australia into a commanding position.

Clarke's unbeaten 70 leaves him only 72 shy of becoming the second Australian, behind only Ponting, to score 1500 runs in a calendar year - and on his form so far this summer he may reach that milestone later this innings. Although the captain was not as fluent as other times during his golden year nor was he in danger of losing his wicket, he was in physical discomfort after being struck just above a knee by Shaminda Eranga with the second new ball.

The Sri Lankans believe they can run through Australia's bottom half but must first get past Clarke and Hussey, who are averaging 179 batting together in seven home Tests this year.

The pair have already added a crucial 101 for the fifth wicket but would need to bat for another session to ensure Australia, 4-299 at stumps, reach a total they would feel comfortable with against a line-up containing Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara.

That they do not have more to do is due largely to Hughes, who last summer would not have been capable of producing the 221-minute display he gave on Friday. And if he was, it would arguably not have been anywhere near as aesthetically pleasing.

The former boy wonder's 86, ended by a lovely delivery from Chanaka Welegedara that jagged back and breached his defence, was notable not only for its quantity but also quality.

He dominated at times, particularly at the start when he was theoretically most vulnerable, was subdued at others but he bore little resemblance to the batsman cruelly exposed by New Zealand a year ago.

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''I thought I was a lot more patient through periods of my innings than I have been 12 months or two years ago,'' Hughes said.

Jayawardene deployed three slips for much of Hughes's stay and they spent a lot the day without the hint of a nibble.

Hughes was caught behind on 77 but reprieved as Welegedara had overstepped the crease, one of 10 such occurrences by the visitors. It would have been the 22nd time in 32 Test innings Hughes had fallen to a catch between the keeper and gully.

But to admonish Hughes on this occasion would be churlish as there was ample evidence supporting claims he has developed his on-side game. There was even an authoritative hook, seldom seen in his first two incarnations as a Test player, to a 138km/h bouncer from Shaminda Eranga that rocketed to the square-leg boundary.

''It's something I probably didn't do 12 months ago, I knew I had to bring it into my game as well - it keeps the bowlers honest,'' a relaxed Hughes said.

- Sydney Morning Herald

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