BATTING prodigy Phillip Hughes faces the five most important days of his young career, with Australian selector Jamie Cox travelling more than 1600 kilometres to see whether the youngster is good enough for the Test team. And Cox has revealed Hughes and fellow Blues opener Phil Jaques could both earn selection for the tour of South Africa.
While the two battle each other for the opener’s spot vacated by Matthew Hayden, selectors may include them both in the travelling squad to be named early next week.
"He [Hughes] is heading down the right path. Scoring a lot of runs is the one currency that is very hard to ignore, it is the one true pathway," Cox said. "There could well be positions for both [Hughes and Jaques]."
Cox flew from Adelaide to Canberra last night for today’s Prime Minister’s XI match at Manuka Oval, and will then drive to Newcastle for NSW’s Sheffield Shield clash against Tasmania immediately afterwards, with the Test squad to be announced following that match.
Hughes, 20, said he preferred not to think about the enormity of his next two games as he joined his PM’s XI teammates in the nation’s capital yesterday. "I don’t want to look too far ahead, I like to keep it very simple," he said. "I just want to take it as another game. There has been a fair bit of talk in the last couple of weeks [about Test selection] but I don’t want to think too much about it."
Cox said Hughes had the chance to establish a lengthy international career. "[South Africa] is one of the toughest tours but it could set up a wonderful career, and the same can be said for the Ashes later this year," he said. "They are the two most important tours we have coming up . . . I will be keeping a close eye on all the players [in Canberra and Newcastle], and if we feel that Phil has the game, we would pick him."
Jaques, who returned last weekend from a three-month lay-off following a back operation and made five runs in a grade game, will open with Hughes in Newcastle. While his last Test innings was a century in the West Indies and his Test average is 47.47, Cox said proof of fitness alone could not guarantee Jaques’s return to the national side: "(a) He has got to get back to playing, he needs to be playing the game, and he is fit to do that," Cox said. "(b) Certainly, runs will not hurt his cause; big runs would be advantageous for anyone."
South Australia’s Michael Klinger – also in the PM’s team – and Victorian Chris Rogers remained in the picture as well, Cox said.
Hughes said he wasn’t bothered by the hectic schedule, having to fly to Sydney straight after today’s match and then catch a bus to Newcastle. "I love playing cricket," he said. " It’s five days of cricket in a row so I’m happy."
It’s believed selectors will name a 14-man touring party. Eight players will be guaranteed selection if fit after the coming Shield matches. They are: Ricky Ponting, Michael Clarke, Simon Katich, Michael Hussey, Brad Haddin, Mitchell Johnson, Stuart Clark and Peter Siddle.
That leaves six spots for a host of players, including Andrew Symonds, who will tour if Cricket Australia determines he is capable of handling the responsibilities after discussions with his psychologists.
If not, Andrew McDonald is likely to retain his spot as an all-rounder. There is a three-way battle between Bryce McGain, Nathan Hauritz and Jason Krejza for the spinner’s spot.
Factoring in that either Symonds or McDonald and one spinner will be picked, four places remain open, and one should go to Blues paceman Doug Bollinger, who made an impressive debut in Sydney earlier this month.