IT IS easy to condemn counties for allowing Australian players to sample English conditions before the Ashes series starts this summer, but the England management have at least been given an opportunity that would not be open to them otherwise to assess weaknesses.
On balance these visits should be welcomed. If England players are so often prevented from visiting the shires by the ECB, foreign internationals step into the void for the long-suffering county spectators. A good example is Phillip Hughes. The left-hander has been playing for Middlesex for the first part of the season until July, and his county coach Toby Radford has been given a uniquely close insight into his method. This offsets the Australian's heaven-sent opportunity to try out te Ashes environment.
Hughes, only 20, has hit runs galore for Middlesex, and Radford said on the ECB website that dismissing him would not be easy for England's attack. "Technically, he has his own method of playing," he told the TwelfthMan Podcast. "He virtually shows you middle and off stump so bowlers are finding that if they are bowling in their normal corridor they are actually getting cut to balls that should be going to mid-off.
"The tactic then has been to go around the wicket and try bowling at leg stump and cramping him for room, but he manages to get the ball down to fine-leg or move the front leg out and hit over deep midwicket." Radford added that the England captain Andrew Strauss had seen him at close quarters when batting at the other end. "He is probably thinking to go around the wicket too, but it’s not as simple as that."
The aggressive Hughes, from New South Wales, hit two centuries in his second Test in his debut series in South Africa. "He's a very talented player and picks length very quickly," said Radford. "Even in four-day cricket he is so aggressive. He is always looking to score; he goes in with a very positive mind-set.
"He’ll have the odd nick that goes down to third man or fine-leg, he'll play and miss a couple of times and then suddenly he'll have three shots that bullet over the boundary. He’s frustrating for bowlers to bowl at, and he’s strong mentally. He's been really impressive. You wouldn't coach the method he has got, but he has got great hand-eye co-ordination and rarely misses the ball. He’s been terrific in the dressing room as well. He loves to do well and he's come and done that."