New WA coach and former Australian batting mentor Justin Langer has backed the national selectors’ decision to recall Phil Hughes to the Test team to face Sri Lanka in Hobart.
Langer declared Hughes a “street fighter” and said the recalled batsman would have been his choice just ahead of Usman Khawaja and Rob Quiney if he had been asked to choose Ricky Ponting’s replacement.
The selectors also chose Peter Siddle and Ben Hilfenhaus to replace injured John Hastings and Josh Hazlewood from the squad that lost by 309 runs to South Africa in Perth earlier this week.
Langer said Hughes’ belief in himself was crucial for him to succeed in Hobart.
“There is no doubting his ability,” Langer said. “He is 23 years old and he has got 20 first-class hundreds. When I was 23 years old I think I had one or two first-class hundreds.
“He had to go away and get better. He is averaging 47 in first-class cricket. I would say he would be the leading run scorer in one-day cricket this year around the country.”
Hughes has scored 524 runs in six first-class games this year, with a top score of 158.
That gave him an edge at the selection table over Khawaja, who had made 438 at a tick under 40 entering yesterday’s three-day match against Sri Lanka.
“He has done all you can ask which is to go away, keep making runs and keep getting better,” Langer said.
“He works hard and is as tough as nails. He will bring a bit of the street-fighter instinct and competitive instinct, and I love that.
“And he brings hunger and now that Ricky Ponting has retired, there is an opportunity long term for someone to grab hold of it without wondering whether there is an opportunity there. He is hungry.”
Asked if he would have chosen Hughes if he picked the team, Langer said: “On pure weight of runs, I think yes, he would be my choice.
“Usman Khawaja is a real talent and we all remember the excitement of him coming in two years ago.
“He has gone away and made runs, although not as many as Phil Hughes certainly this summer.
“I feel a bit sorry for Rob Quiney because he came in at quite a turbulent time.”
“But I think on weight of runs Phil Hughes deserves an opportunity.”
Langer was judging Hughes on runs made rather than from watching him bat, but said there were favourable reports of the Redback batsman’s improved technique and ability to handle short-pitched bowling after a recent visit to Perth with the South Australian team.
“I know he played in the shield game a couple of weeks ago here and our blokes that bowled at him said he did not look like getting out,” Langer said.
“If you can play well at the WACA against Mitchell Johnson, Michael Hogan and Nathan Coulter-Nile, you are going pretty well.”