Hughes, Mervyn Gregory

Hughes, Mervyn Gregory
▪ 1994

      Mustachioed, potbellied, and encumbered with a lumbering, unathletic gait, Merv Hughes never looked the epitome of the fast bowler. But his outstanding Test record of 208 wickets for Australia (to the end of 1993) at an average of 27 told a different story. The burly cricketer, whose whole-hearted commitment to the cause of his team too often turned to unacceptable verbal intimidation of his opponents, had become a far better bowler than he looked when he made his debut for Australia against India in the 1985-86 series.

      Hughes was born Nov. 23, 1961, and grew up in a working-class suburb of Melbourne. He worked briefly in a factory and joined the Victoria side in 1981-82. Selected for Australia in 1985-86, he took just one wicket for 123 runs in his first Test and was quickly dropped. Recalled against England in 1986-87, he suffered badly at the hands of the all-rounder Ian Botham (who scored a record 22 runs on one over at Brisbane), and it was not until the second Test in Perth against the West Indies in the 1988-89 series that Hughes established himself as a true Test bowler, with match figures of 13 for 217. Thereafter, by sheer hard work, a willingness to experiment, persistence, and guile, he transformed himself into one of the most feared fast bowlers in Test cricket.

      In 1993 he and leg spinner Shane Warne led Australia to a convincing 4-1 series win over England. Warne took 34 wickets and Hughes a heroic 31 after his fast-bowling partner, Craig McDermott, had been forced out of the series through injury. Time and again "Sumo," as he was affectionately dubbed by the British spectators because of his physical similarity to the Japanese wrestlers, produced a vital wicket when his side badly needed it. Like Botham, Hughes had an uncanny ability to make things happen from nothing, forcing the batsmen—by fair means or foul—into confrontation and into making mistakes. But he also swung the ball late, varied his line and length skillfully, and could, on his good days, be genuinely quick. His batting was erratic, huge sixes being mixed with obdurate defense, but he could be a stubborn tail-ender.

      Off the field "Mad Merv" was a jovial character—a good-humoured, blunt hero to his home crowds, an infectious team member, and a popular tourist wherever he went. "I love him to death," said Australia captain Allan Border. Injury and his second knee surgery in a year ruled Hughes out of the early part of the 1993-94 season, but he was bound to be back—larger than life, with "bushwacker" mustache bristling, and mouthing his usual oaths—when England, the old foe, toured Australia in 1994-95.


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Universalium. 2010.

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