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Ashes: Justin Langer's column

Third Ashes Test: Australia v England
Venue: Perth Dates: 16-20 December Start time: 0230 GMT
Coverage: Listen live on Test Match Special on BBC Radio 4 LW, 5 live sports extra and online; live highlights (UK only) and day's review on the TMS podcast; text commentary on BBC Sport website and mobiles; live on Sky Sports 1

By Justin Langer
Australia batting/leadership coach

Phil Hughes
Hughes recently scored 81 for Australia A against England

Every now and then you come across a player who has something special.

Phil Hughes is one of those players and he now has the chance to show it against England as he replaces injured opener Simon Katich in the third Test in Perth.

Since meeting the young New South Welshman, I have found him he impressive in so many ways. Not only is he statistically outstanding with 13 first-class centuries, and a Test and first-class average over 50, but it has been the way he has scored those runs that has helped him stand out from the rest.

Before he was selected to make his Australia debut in early 2009, he was touted as a possible along with two other players: Phil Jaques and Chris Rogers. Often the pressure of such competition freezes a young mind and body, but it didn't with Hughes.

Instead of suffocating he scored a big hundred and an 80 in the pivotal pre-selection Sheffield Shield game to put his case forward to the selectors. While the other two were more experienced, Hughes was so good that he couldn't be ignored.

On debut he made a duck in his first innings against South Africa in Johannesburg. Again, the pressure of a first failure could have destroyed him but instead he came out firing against an aggressive South African attack, scoring 70 in some of the best Test cricket action I had seen in years.

In the next Test, only his second, he smashed a century in both innings, after South Africa had needled him pre-Test for his inability to play short-pitched bowling. The shorter and faster they bowled the better he played, as he grinned his way to consecutive hundreds.

Since then, he has suffered the disappointment of being dropped during the 2009 Ashes series in England. Again a lot was made of his weaknesses against short-pitched bowling, but he isn't the first, and he won't be the last opening batsman who has had a tough time against tall fast bowlers like Steve Harmison and Andrew Flintoff.


Although this summer hasn't been his most fruitful, the last time he played a Test earlier in the year he hit a brilliantly entertaining 86 not out to help Australia beat New Zealand by 10 wickets.

Regardless of the critics, Hughes's numbers speak for themselves and I would suggest to anyone that a player who scores so many runs must be doing something right.

In a sense his unorthodox style makes him difficult to bowl to, and after feeling the pain of disappointment after the last Ashes series, I am looking forward to seeing how he grasps this latest opportunity.

If history is anything to go by then he will cherish this chance to re-engage with the England attack and he won't be overawed by the occasion. In fact, he will relish the challenge as he has done before.

Also back in the baggy green cap is young gun Steve Smith who is an attractive package. Any young player who can bat, bowl leg-spin and field brilliantly is sure to attract the interest of the selectors.

Unorthodox like Hughes, Smith loves to hit the cricket ball and as long as he adapts to the extra bounce of the Waca, he too will not be overawed by the occasion.

On the surface he has amazing belief in his own ability and if England sway from their disciplined areas then he will pounce on any loose bowling. He will also be a welcome addition to our fielding outfit which has been poor during the first two Tests.

Michael Beer (centre) is congratulated
Beer (centre) picked up wickets against England for Western Australia

The selection of Michael Beer was a shock but he comes with the private and public backing of a couple of influential referees. Shane Warne and Mickey Arthur, who is now coaching Western Australia, talk highly of the tall left-arm spinner, so I am looking forward to seeing how he adapts to the biggest stage.

I have never seen him bowl a ball in a match so I will be as intrigued as anyone to see if he can have a greater impact than Xavier Doherty did in the first two Tests.

While it will take a brave man to suggest Australia might sense a couple of opportunities to fight back after Adelaide, here I go. I can't help but wonder how losing Stuart Broad to injury and the less than ideal, but understandable, preparation of James Anderson as he took time out to be at the birth of his second child, may have an impact on England's impeccable tour so far.

This week in Melbourne wasn't as dominant as every other game England have played this summer and Broad's all-round loss must have an effect.

Just as Glenn McGrath stepping on the ball at Edgbaston in 2005 stymied our momentum, only time will tell if Broad's absence will produce a similar response.

Australia can't play worse than they did in Adelaide and I would suggest England can't play much better. This in mind, I can't help but wonder if there is still some cricket to be played in this Ashes series.

From Perth, JL

TMS podcast: Justin Langer and Michael Vaughan on the art of captaincy (available worldwide) Listen to commentary highlights from the final day at Adelaide (UK users only)

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see also
England keen to end tour unbeaten
12 Dec 10 |  England
Australia ring changes for Perth
10 Dec 10 |  England
England complete Adelaide triumph
07 Dec 10 |  Cricket
Injured Broad ruled out of Ashes
07 Dec 10 |  Cricket
Strauss confident of series win
07 Dec 10 |  Cricket
Ponting urges Aussie improvement
07 Dec 10 |  Australia
Katich set to miss rest of series
07 Dec 10 |  Australia
England in Australia 2010-11
08 Oct 09 |  Cricket
Live cricket on the BBC
26 Oct 11 |  Cricket

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