Hughes set to banish demons
Melbourne - Opening batsman Phillip Hughes has declared himself ready to take on England's attack at the third test in Perth, a year and half after being bullied out of the side by their seamers on Australia's losing Ashes tour.
Australia captain Ricky Ponting anointed Hughes "next cab off the rank" to replace Simon Katich at Perth after the opener was struck out by an Achilles injury during the hosts' heavy loss to England in the second test at Adelaide this week.
The 22-year-old Hughes was dropped after two Tests against England last year, where he proved susceptible to short-pitched bowling, and doubts over his technique remain ahead of Perth, where the WACA ground's quick and bouncy pitches are traditionally beloved of fast bowlers.
"To get that support from Ricky is fantastic, obviously (he's) the Australian captain and he's been around for so long," Hughes told Australian television on Thursday. "I know mentally and technically I'm ready. I just can't wait to see who (the selectors) pick."
Hughes has played only two Tests for Australia since being dropped after making a total 57 runs in three innings at England, his last knock an unbeaten 86 in a 10-wicket thrashing of New Zealand in March.
He scored two and 82 against an England XI in a tour match in Hobart last month, but was dismissed cheaply playing for state side New South Wales this week, nicking to the keeper after trying to cut a short delivery.
The dismissal was eerily similar to his struggles in England, where he fell prey to short-pitched bowling outside off-stump. England captain Andrew Strauss takes his team to Perth with a 1-0 lead in the five-Test series and has already fired a psychological barb at Hughes, who scored two and 81 during a tour match against an England XI in Hobart last month. "He's obviously worked a bit on his technique . But I think there are weaknesses there that we can exploit definitely," Strauss said after the Adelaide win.
Katich's injury may also offer Marcus North another chance of redemption after the middle order batsman made just 49 runs in three innings of the series, but the selectors' greatest dilemma lies with their bowlers.
After managing one wicket for 517 in the second innings at Brisbane, a revamped attack was clobbered for 620-5 declared in Adelaide, prompting local media and fans to ask whether 41-year-old legspinner Shane Warne might be coaxed out of retirement.
Warne wrote that he was "flattered" in his column in a British newspaper this week, but has enjoyed dodging the question. Another Australian legspinner great, Richie Benaud, had his own take.
"The really annoying thing about that is that no one's asked me if I want to make a comeback!" the 80-year-old joked on Australian television.
"Shane is the greatest legspinner that has ever been, but if he allowed himself to be pressured into playing, he'd be off his head."