Phil HughesPhillip Hughes is on the verge of being dropped for a third time in his young Test career as Australian selectors consider elevating Usman Khawaja and even Steve Smith to an under-siege batting line-up for next week’s third Test in Mohali.
Australia head coach Mickey Arthur on Wednesday forecast change to the team battered by an innings and 135 runs in the second Test – the 10th heaviest defeat in the country’s history. After collapsing for 131 on the fourth day it is the batsmen chiefly in the firing line, and Hughes will almost certainly be the casualty if, as expected, adjustments are made in the top six.
Khawaja and Smith are in Australia’s 16-man tour party as back-up batsmen and Arthur indicated the tourists could not afford to stick with the same formula that has failed in Chennai and then Hyderabad.
“Usman Khawaja and Steve Smith have got to come into the reckoning at some stage,” he said. “When we have more of the same it will probably give us the same result. We will probably have to.
“Whether they both play, whether one plays, whether none plays I’m not 100 per cent sure but they’ve got to come very much into our thinking.”
Another Test dumping for Hughes would be a major blow for the international future of the 24-year-old left-hander. He had been thrust back into the Test side in the summer to fill the gap left by the retired Ricky Ponting following an impressive start to the season at his new state, South Australia.
He began well, with scores of 86 and 87 in the series whitewash of Sri Lanka, then starred in the one-day international campaign, highlighted by an unbeaten 138 against Sri Lanka in Hobart.
However, an awful campaign to date in India – he has only 25 runs in four innings at an average of 6.25, including two ducks – leaves him on the brink of the sack again. He was previously exiled in England in 2009 and then after Australia’s shock defeat to New Zealand in Hobart in 2011 and after painstakingly re-shaping his technique he appears ill-equipped to cope with the demands of facing spin on the subcontinent.
Hughes has not been alone in struggling in a series that India already leads 2-0 but Australia are unlikely to part with Shane Watson, despite the vice-captain’s own poor form.
Arthur took his batsmen to task on Wednesday, as Australia trained on what would have been the fifth day of the second Test, for their flawed approach in Hyderabad. He was particularly annoyed by the mode of exit of David Warner and Hughes late on the third day.
“Our whole conversation around this second Test match was about playing with a vertical bat not a horizontal bat,” he said.
“Especially as our briefing that morning had been ‘I hope you all noticed about how Cheteshwar Pujara and Murali Vijay went about their business’?
“And then we lost two wickets to sweeps (Warner and Hughes in the second innings) which did not please me at all. Until they learn the harsh lessons of getting out and possibly losing their place because of it, they’re not going to realise it.”
Khawaja, who played the last of his six Tests in that loss to New Zealand in 2011, is the frontrunner for inclusion, having scored 438 first-class runs at 39.81 this season.
Smith, meanwhile, has not featured in a Test since Australia’s 3-1 home Ashes defeat was completed in Sydney more than two years ago. The 23-year-old has 363 first-class runs at 40.33 this season. A re-organisation of the batting order is a certainty in Mohali, with captain Michael Clarke likely to move up to No.4.
Arthur said the first fortnight of the Border-Gavaskar Trophy series had been a reality check. “The players are not in shock. But I think they’re realising some harsh lessons about playing in India,” he said.
“When I stood up at the start of the tour and said to them ‘this is going to be the toughest cricket you’ve ever played’, they looked and said ‘yeah yeah right’.
“They’re now realising it and they’re like leeches for information. They’re putting the time and effort in. They’re shocked at how hard it is.”
The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Hangzhou Night Net.