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Fun starts now

WHILE most people will be sitting down to dinner tonight, Macksville's cricket sensation Phillip Hughes will take to the field for the first time as part of the Australian team.

The left-handed opener still has a six days to wait before he becomes the 17th youngest Australian to make his Test debut but tonight's clash in Potchefstroom against a South Africa President's XI is still a landmark day in the young man's life.

In typical Phillip Hughes fashion, he will take to the field tonight (and next week) as well prepared as he possibly can be.

The 20-year-old sent an email to Justin Langer, another diminutive left-handed opener 18 months ago looking for advice on how he can improve his game.

Renowned for leaving no stone unturned in his preparation for a match, Hughes caught up with Langer and national captain Ricky Ponting at the Allan Border Medal night to further expand his knowledge

Langer took time out to warn Hughes of possible challenges, both physical as well as verbal, that he might face in the series.

“I remember my debut against the West Indies in 1993 in Adelaide, and while the likes of Courtney Walsh and Curtly Ambrose were relentless, Phillip will come up against a similar pace attack in South Africa that is riding high with confidence,” Langer was quoted as saying in the Daily Telegraph.

“But I'm very confident he'll do well in this series and for a long time to come.”

Ponting, who is 14 years older than Hughes, spent time on the flight from Australia to South Africa getting a sense of his new batsman and probably passing on some sage advice.

The skipper said before departing that the time he'd already spent with Macksville's favourite son (Greg Inglis is a very close second at the moment) had proved worthwhile.

“It was good to learn a little bit about him and see what he's all about,” Ponting said about Hughes.

“Obviously, he's a very driven and motivated young bloke who wants to be very successful for Australia. He's certainly done that for New South Wales.

“We hope he can be what we're looking for at the top of the order.”

The conversation continued on the flight to OR Tambo airport International because Ponting promised before take-off in Sydney that he would “grab him on the plane and rip his iPod off him”.

The tour to South Africa is the start of a busy period for Hughes.

When the test series is over and done, Hughes will be packing his bags for England after signing a six-week deal to play for English county Middlesex in the lead-up to the Ashes series.

The local boy made good decided to pass up the big dollars on offer in the Indian Premier League to hone his skills before the English series.

Ensuring that he again leaves no stone unturned in preparation, what better place could Hughes choose to work on his skills than at Lord's, the home of cricket which is Middlesex's home ground.

Hughes will arrive in early April and is expected to play in Middlesex's opening match against Glamorgan at Lord's.

A long journey and one as an international cricketer that starts tonight for Phillip Joel Hughes from Macksville - aged only 20 years.