HOBART (Reuters) - Having lived with a question mark over his name for the last three years, Australian batsman Phil Hughes was delighted to get some reward for the work he has done on his technique with 86 runs against Sri Lanka on Friday.
Hughes was making his return to test cricket after a year in the wilderness at the same Hobart ground where his second spell in the longest form of the international game came to an end against New Zealand last December.
The 24-year-old's knock was brought to an end when he was clean bowled by seamer Chanaka Welegedera but the lefthander helped Australia reach 299 for four at the close of play on the first day of the first test.
"There were a couple of nerves, but overall I was quite calm," he told reporters. "There was more excitement around me than anything. I was just happy to get out there and back in the colours again.
"It was nice to get a few, it would have been nice to get three-figures and a few more, that's cricket. To get 80-odd was good for my confidence."
At least Hughes could say that he was not caught out by a nick to the slips.
Having previously been dropped when England's bowlers bounced him out of the 2009 Ashes series, Hughes fell victim to New Zealand paceman Chris Martin in four straight failed innings last year - all caught by Martin Guptill in the cordon.
While the phrase "c Guptill b Martin" became permanently associated with his name, Hughes went off to work on his technique in domestic cricket before piling on the runs with new state South Australia.
"I worked on my game," he said. "I was a lot more patient through my innings than I have been 12 months to two years ago, mentally knowing I've been here before is probably a good thing as well, but technique no doubt feels a lot more comfortable."
GRABBING HIS CHANCE
The call from the selectors finally came when the retirement of Ricky Ponting left a gap in the top order and Hughes grabbed his chance with both hands on Friday.
Batting at number three rather than as an opener as he had in his 17 previous tests, Hughes showed glimpses of the talent that had many in Australia so excited when he burst onto the international stage in early 2009.
He also displayed a couple of the hook shots he has added to his repertoire in an attempt to reduce his susceptibility to short deliveries.
"It was something that I probably didn't do 12 months ago, so I knew I had to bring it into my game as well," he said.
"It keeps the bowlers honest as well, but there was one or two shots there. I had to work on my leg-side play and I've done it and I feel like it's in decent order at the moment."
Hughes got a life on 77 when he nicked the ball and was caught behind, only for Welegedera's delivery to be ruled a no ball.
It was finally all over when he was bowled through the gate after 116 deliveries in 221 minutes but his 86 runs, eight fours and one slogged six, could go a long way to cementing his place in the side.
With a trip to India and then back-to-back Ashes series against England on the schedule next year, there could be no better time to establish himself as a solid "first drop" batsman in Australia's sometimes fragile top order.
"It was a different position for me playing for Australia. I've always opened but I really enjoyed batting at three," he said.
"Getting runs behind me was nice. Now going forward I would really love to cement my place in the team."
(Editing by Peter Rutherford)
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