CAPE TOWN: For Phillip Hughes, it is not quite the same place and not nearly the same time, and he says that certainty will keep his head on his shoulders as he makes happy reacquaintance with South Africa in the next fortnight.
Nearly three years ago, Hughes burst into Test cricket in South Africa, making twin centuries in his second match and 415 runs in the three-match series.
''I'll never forget that series, obviously: debut for Australia and some really good success,'' he said yesterday. ''I'll never forget it, but this is a whole new tour now. There's hard work ahead in the next couple of weeks, no doubt about it.''
This time there are just two matches, neither in Durban.
This time Hughes will not catch the South Africans by surprise. They are making plans already, Dale Steyn has said so, bluntly.
''He's got his opinion. He's entitled to that,'' Hughes said. ''I just worry about my game and go from there. You hear a lot of people come out and say a lot of things. That's fine.''
His face was inscrutable, so it was not clear how wide his aim was here. All his short career, he has been in someone's line of fire; he's entitled to an all-purpose return of serve.
South Africa is not so much interested in whether Hughes keeps a level head as where that head is compared with the line of the ball. No one's technique has been so thoroughly studied since Casanova. Last time, South Africa's failing was to bowl short to him, mistaking unorthodoxy for timidity. Since then, bowlers have learnt to pitch up.
''I'm sure they'll come at me a little bit differently,'' Hughes said, ''but in saying that, I'm sure there is going to be a lot of short-pitched bowling. But it's just about me worrying about my game. I know it's not going to be easy and I've got my head around that, and I just can't wait for what lies ahead.''
In the recent warm-up match in Potchefstroom, Hughes, to his annoyance, was caught twice from nicks. That was against ruffian bowlers on a rogue pitch.
Hughes said he didn't mind. ''That's what I was expecting before I came over here,'' he said. ''I knew I was definitely going to get a lot of short-pitched bowling. I'm sure it's going to be no different going into the first Test match.''
But Newlands, typically, is slow and stodgy, though it rarely hosts Test cricket this early in the season and so is something of an unknown.
In any case, Hughes believes he is a better player for his experiences since the 2009 tour. He has certainly been around the block. In England later that year, they successfully targeted his off-stump vulnerability and he was dropped. In the next 18 months, he played only two Tests, both as a temp when Simon Katich was injured.
Another injury to Katich midway through last summer's Ashes series opened a place again. Katich's subsequent delisting gave him the chance to make it permanent. England again tormented him, but in the most recent Test match in Sri Lanka, he made an important century. It was his first since Durban.
''I feel like I'm improving,'' Hughes said. ''I feel like I'm a better player than I was two-and-a-half years ago. They've got some world quality fast bowlers and it's going to be challenging coming out opening against them, but I feel my game is in a good space at the moment.''
The last time in South Africa, Hughes opened with Katich. In England, Hughes was replaced by Shane Watson. Now Hughes is opening with Watson. Hughes says Katich was and remains a seminal influence. But he says Watson's attacking bent relieves some of the pressure on him. ''Shane's a very aggressive player and can really take the heat off me,'' he said, ''especially at the other end, I'm probably in the box seat watching him.''
As a pair, they are not wordless perfect yet, as the best combinations are. They have crossed wires a couple of times, most regrettably when batting to save the Sydney Test last summer. But understanding is growing. ''That's cricket,'' Hughes said. ''Everyone's had their share of run-outs in their career. We'll continue to work on that together and hopefully we don't have any more together.''