Australia's under-fire Test opener Phillip Hughes has withdrawn from the Big Bash League in order to focus on his form in the longer format. Although Hughes is expected to be axed from the side for the Boxing Day Test against India after a disappointing few months, he has not entirely given up on retaining his spot and does not want to be distracted by the BBL over the next two weeks.
Hughes had signed for the Sydney Thunder, who begin their Twenty20 campaign on Saturday night against the Melbourne Stars at the MCG. Had Hughes played in that game, he would have needed to rush to Canberra on Sunday to prepare for Monday's three-day Cricket Australia Chairman's XI encounter against the Indians.
That match is his last chance to impress the selectors ahead of Boxing Day, after he was caught in the cordon by Martin Guptill off Chris Martin in all four innings of the recent Test series as New Zealand exploited his weakness outside off stump. Since Simon Katich was dumped from Australia's squad mid-year, Hughes has averaged 27.69 in Test cricket.
"Following my performances over the last few months, I have decided that, right now, I need to be completely focus on my first-class cricket career," Hughes said in a statement. "I'm obviously disappointed that I haven't been able to score the runs in the last few Tests that I know I am capable of and I want to do everything I can to ensure that my game continues to develop.
"I talked with Pup (captain Michael Clarke) and (coach) Mickey Arthur about it after the Hobart Test and they both supported my thinking. I then approached John Dyson (Sydney Thunder) and Pat Howard (Cricket Australia) to ensure that they would be comfortable for me to step away from my contract with the Thunder.
"Selfishly, it's the right decision for me but I'm obviously concerned that I have made this decision on the eve of the Thunder's first game. Everyone has been extremely understanding and I wish the boys all the best for a successful Big Bash season. I'm now focusing on next week's Chairman's XI game in Canberra and can't wait to face the Indian bowlers."
The Thunder will survive. Hughes would have been competing for top-order runs with Chris Gayle and David Warner had he played in the T20 competition, while Usman Khawaja is also part of the Thunder roster. And while Hughes deserves to be commended for his decision to concentrate on his form in the longer format, the move carries plenty of risk for him.
Should he fail to impress in the Chairman's XI match and win a place in the Boxing Day Test, he will have no first-class cricket to fall back on until the beginning of February, a T20 window having been created in the domestic calendar throughout January. That means Hughes would be trying to regain his touch in grade cricket and in the nets.
Hughes, 23, has three Test hundreds to his name but his tendency to edge outside off became a fatal flaw during the New Zealand series and he will need to rectify it before he wins another chance in the Test side. Earlier this week it was announced that he would play county cricket with Worcestershire next season, where his technique will be tested.