Problems pile up for Hughes
THE next time Brendon McCullum or any other top order New Zealand batsman reckons he's copping an unfair amount of public scrutiny they should remember one name: Phillip Hughes.
The Australian lefthander is under intense heat to perform in the second test.
The 23-year-old has scored 1048 runs at 36.13 in his 16 tests, with three centuries. His first-class average for New South Wales is a robust 48.67 and he's hit 17 first-class hundreds. Pretty fair going.
However, six of his last eight test innings have ended at 11 or lower. New Zealand seamer Chris Martin, whose record against blokes batting the wrong way round is strong, did him twice in the first test at Brisbane, for 10 and seven.
And so the fire is raging and Hughes is getting badly singed.
Every day, if he reads the Australian papers, which he shouldn't, he'll get advice from so many quarters Hughes' head will be in full Exorcist spin mode.
"Drop Hughes; open with Khawaja" shouted the Tasmanian newspaper the Mercury yesterday, promoting Australia's No 3 batsman Usman Khawaja, himself desperately trying to prove himself after only five tests.
"Move Watto lower: Tubby" roared another headline. Translation: Former Australian skipper Mark Taylor reckons injured allrounder Shane Watson should drop down the order, leaving Hughes where he is.
"Pull Your Head In" was former opener Matthew Hayden's advice.
Hughes' confidence is shot; no it's his technique. No, there's nothing wrong with his confidence. On and on it goes.
McCullum's position at the top of New Zealand's batting order got another airing after a 34 and 1 double at Brisbane. Some numbers. McCullum averages 36.3 from 59 tests, with six hundreds. As an opener, it is 47.16 in eight tests. So he's going nowhere right now, but the selector John Wright - who also wears the coach's hat - is watching.
McCullum's opening partner Martin Guptill is at 34.77 overall after 17 tests. As an opener, from 11 tests, his number drops to 27.9.
The only one way McCullum, and Hughes for that matter, can answer the critics is volume of runs.
There is a difference, however.
No top order batsman is shouting 'pick me' back in New Zealand domestic cricket. Some have done reasonably well but not one player could, hand on heart, insist he should be in Hobart.
For Hughes the problem is the challenges piling up at his door.
Watson and the well-regarded Shaun Marsh are expected to be back to face India in Melbourne on Boxing Day. Only captain Michael Clarke is really immune from the sack among Australia's top six.
If Hughes misses out at Hobart, he has no chance of surviving. In the same situation McCullum probably would. The difference? It's called having viable options.