Swashbuckling Phillip Hughes forever 63 not out
Left-handed opener had little regard for defensive traditions and was devastatingly effective for it
As an opening batsman, the Australian cricketer Phillip Hughes, who has died aged 25 after being struck by a ball while on 63 during a Sheffield Shield match at the Sydney Cricket Ground, was very much a product of the frantic modern era. While Test match openers in years gone by were staunch guardians of the game’s defensive traditions and technical touchstones, Hughes brought the spirit of Twenty20 to the long form of cricket, slashing the ball to all parts in a fashion that paid little heed to the traditionally correct and miserly techniques of his predecessors.
From a farming background, Hughes’s belligerent approach may have had some wide-armed agricultural facets, but it was a pleasure to watch and often devastatingly effective. It brought him 26 Tests for Australia, including participation in three Ashes series against England, and playing contracts not just with his native New South Wales (2007-12), but in England with Middlesex (2009), Hampshire (2010) and Worcestershire (2012). From 2012 onwards he plied his trade with South Australia, and from 2013 with the Mumbai Indians in the Indian Premier League.
The son of a banana grower, Greg, and Virginia, his Italian wife, Hughes was born in Macksville, a small town on the New South Wales coast. Although he showed an early talent for rugby league he also shone at cricket, and by the age of 10 was spending so much time using the bowling machine at Macksville Cricket Club that the club relocated it to his house. A lefthander with an exceptionally good eye, by 17 he had moved to Sydney to play for Western Suburbs in the highest level of grade cricket while studying at the Homebush Boys high school. He made his debut in first-class cricket at 18, for New South Wales against Tasmania in 2007, and the following year became the youngest player to score a century in a final of the Sheffield Shield (then known as the Pura Cup) as his 116 helped New South Wales to victory against Victoria.
Test cricket was not long in coming, and he made his debut for Australia aged 20, on the 2009 tour to South Africa as a replacement for Matthew Hayden. In only his second test, in Durban, Hughes racked up 115 in the first innings and 160 in the second – against the fearsome bowling of Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel – to become the youngest man to achieve the rare feat of scoring a century in each innings of a Test.
He had a less successful time on the Ashes tour of England that year, and was dropped before being brought back to play at home against Pakistan and then away in New Zealand in 2010, making a characteristically carefree 86 not out off 75 balls in a second-innings run chase at Wellington to seal a series win.
Though by no means cemented in the Test side and given to periods of boom and bust, he played three matches in the 2010-11 Ashes series in Australia and went on to make 126 against Sir Lanka in Colombo in 2011. He played 11 Tests between his Colombo century and the Ashes series in England in 2013, in which he scored an unbeaten 81 at No 6 to put on 163 for the last wicket with the debutant No 11 Ashton Agar in a classic Trent Bridge match. But he was dropped after the Lord’s Test, and that proved to be his last Test appearance.
Although some commentators were frustrated by Hughes’s failure to dominate in Test cricket as much as he did in other forms, most recognised that he was yet in the early stages of his career, and that as his prime approached he was likely to become an ever present in the side. The Australia captain, Michael Clarke, noting his strong work ethic, declared in early 2014 that he expected Hughes not only to become a permanent fixture in the side over the ensuing decade but that he would play 100 Tests or more. Hughes also had a promising one-day international career in front of him, having become the first Australian to score a century on his one-day debut, against Sri Lanka in Melbourne in 2013.
His average from 25 one-day internationals was 35.91, and in Test cricket it stood a little below that at 32.65. In first-class cricket, in which he scored 26 hundreds, he averaged 46.51. A top score of 243 not out for Australia A versus South Africa A in August 2014 suggested there was much more to come from a hugely talented cricketer who might eventually have reserved a place alongside the very best Australian batsmen.
He is survived by his father, Greg, mother, Virginia, his brother, Jason, and sister, Megan.