Hughes saved from Proteas

RICKY Ponting has endorsed the selection of Phil Hughes as his Test replacement as it emerged that the 24-year-old was shielded from an international return against top-ranked South Africa.

Nearly a year after playing the most recent of his 17 Tests, in Hobart, Hughes was officially welcomed back to the fold for Australia's first Test against Sri Lanka, at the same ground.

The latest vacancy in Michael Clarke's line-up was opened by the retirement of Ponting, and paves the way for Hughes to feature in next year's Ashes.

''It's great for Phil,'' Ponting said on Thursday. ''He's made a lot of changes in his life and the stuff he's done since moving to Adelaide has been really good. He's playing really well, so hopefully he grabs the opportunity with both hands.

''I'm not sure which way I would've gone. Rob Quiney played a couple of Tests … so he's going to feel a little bit disappointed. But that just goes to show that when you're playing for Australia, you have to make the most of the chances you get.

''Phil's been around and played well for Australia before, so I'm pretty sure he'll do that again now that he's got another shot.''

The news was not as bright for Quiney. The Victorian had been enlisted for Tests against South Africa in Brisbane and Adelaide, in the absence of Shane Watson, and made only nine runs in three innings.

National selector John Inverarity revealed that Hughes had essentially been protected from facing the Proteas' formidable attack, with a recall against the less imposing Sri Lankans considered a more appropriate setting to re-establish himself.

Quiney, overlooked along with Usman Khawaja and Alex Doolan to replace Ponting, did not take his chance and has ended up essentially as collateral damage from that exercise.

''We did feel that throwing [Hughes] into a Test against the world No. 1, with their attack, was probably not the ideal set of circumstances for him and we feel the time now is absolutely right for him,'' Inverarity said. ''He's very much a man of the future.''

Hughes, an opener, is likely to bat at No. 3, with Watson shifting down to Ponting's position at No. 4. But the batting order is the domain of captain Michael Clarke and coach Mickey Arthur, and they have not made a final decision on who will bat where.

The complicating factor is that Australia's top six includes four openers - David Warner, Ed Cowan, Hughes and Watson.

''In the end, that is up to Michael Clarke having a discussion with some of his players, and Mickey Arthur to finally decide,'' Inverarity said. ''But Shane Watson opening, batting No. 3, batting No. 4, perhaps batting No. 6 - they're all options.''

Hughes, who spent an off-season in English county cricket and left NSW since losing his Test place last December, was delighted to be told on Thursday that he was back in the Australian side.

''It is actually really special this time,'' he said. ''The sacrifices that I have made in the last 12 months have been quite big. I knew I had to do them … so to me, I can go in there with a fresh mind.

''To move away from my family and my close friends in Sydney, and to go to Worcestershire for a season and now to come to South Australia, it has been a huge change for me.

''I had to change a couple of things but I feel comfortable. I have had chances before, but I'm grateful for this one and I just hope I can really get in there and cement my spot.''

The former wonder boy of the Australian line-up, who made his debut at 20 and scored twin hundreds in his second Test, is careful though to somewhat temper expectations.

''There is no one out there that can replace Ricky Ponting,'' he said.

This story Hughes saved from Proteas first appeared on WA Today.