Michael Hussey has played his last Test for Australia and fittingly, guided his team to victory. Unexpectedly, he also seems to have played his last match of any form for Australia. It might be true that Hussey had only “half a Test career” but the emotional end was a good indication of his value to Australian cricket.
Have you ever seen a tradesman’s vehicle which has painted on it something like “Lenny’s Landscaping – Specialising in…” and proceeds to list every facet of landscaping imaginable? Amusing. Someone asked me recently do I do the headline for my post before or after I write it. The answer is both and on this occasion, a Cricinfo article caught my eye and I have stolen it. The title was “An all format specialist” and I thought that rather apt for Hussey. http://www.espncricinfo.com/australia/content/current/story/599933.html
The point has often been made (especially recently) that Hussey debuted at 30 years of age in 2005, having made more than 15,000 first class runs. In terms of runs, no other batsman has ever waited as long as Mike Hussey for a Test cap. Who knows how long before 2005 he was ready for Test cricket but it is certain that by the time he debuted, he was well and truly refined and ready.
Hussey built his career at a time when Australia was rich in batting stocks. The likes of Bevan, Blewett, Love, Law, Lehmann, Martyn and Hayden all had to wait on the sidelines for long periods of time and some of those names never had a Test career to speak of. It was often suggested that if Stuart MacGill if he had lived at any other time, or in any other cricket playing nation, he could have been one of the greats. Only Warne stood in his way. There was a bit of that element for Hussey. With Australia enjoying such success and with so many greats, it seemed his turn may never come.
Mike Hussey first came to my attention on the 2005 Ashes tour. I had been aware of him as he had been around for so long, but this was the first time I had actually seen him. Before that tour he had, in fact, played five ODIs for Australia, the first in February 2004. He played in 10 ODIs (NatWest tri series and NatWest Challenge) prior to the 2005 Ashes Test series. He impressed me greatly as he made 84 from 83 balls against England in the 3rd match of the NatWest series. The ball was moving around and his footwork was superb. After many seasons of County cricket, he looked confident and assured as his more famous colleagues struggled. Ponting and Martyn were dismissed for ducks immediately before him and no other Australian passed 45. I thought of Hussey and that innings many times during that hard fought and close Ashes series, when Australia might have prevailed with another 30 or 40 runs here or there.
Hussey did receive his call up later in 2005 as he replaced an injured Justin Langer at the top of the order (Hussey was traditionally an opener) against the West Indies. He scored 137 in his second Test and was retained at Michael Clarke’s expense when Langer returned. Since then, Michael Hussey has played in every Test that Australia has played, up until now – 79 Tests in a row – nowhere near the record but you can only do what you are asked to do.
In his third Test match, Hussey batted at number five and scored 133 not out. This time he batted masterfully with the tail and added 40 with Glenn McGrath for the final wicket, allowing Australia to take a slender first innings lead. He repeated the dose in his fifth Test match, this time against much stronger opposition.
On that occasion, in the 2nd Test against South Africa, Hussey’s first Boxing Day Test, Australia had elected to bat and found themselves 9-248. Apart from Ponting (117) and Hayden (65), no other Australian had reached double figures. Enter Glenn McGrath. While McGrath might say that he proceeded to smash 11 in a partnership of 107, and was left stranded by Hussey, others may see it differently. Taking the opposite approach to Steve Waugh, just as he did two Tests previously, Hussey expertly farmed the strike, mixing shot making with brilliant running, to get his score up to 122. That partnership is the 16th highest 10th wicket partnership of all time.
After five Tests, Hussey had scored almost 600 runs at an average of 85 and the term “Bradmanesque” began to be applied. Hussey did go on to be the 19th fastest man to 1000 Test runs. His golden run continued and after playing Bangladesh, England, Sri Lanka and India, Hussey had racked up more than 2,000 runs and was still averaging more than 80. He is in fact, the 4th fastest player to 2,000 Test runs. Those are some very serious numbers and I wondered at the time how long it could continue. That was January 2008. Surely a guy who had to wait 10 years for a call up, couldn’t prove to be the second best batsman of all time?
And so it proved. Hussey started a rather lean trot and by August 2009, his average was back to 52, and there or there abouts it stayed until his retirement (when it was 51.52). In fact, in a nice quirk, in his final Test, Hussey was dismissed once and scored 52 runs – he couldn’t get any closer to his average than that.
During Hussey’s lean times, he always managed to pull out a century just when you thought his head might be on the block. After two horror series against South Africa and an ordinary 2009 Ashes, he scored 121 in the final innings of that Ashes series. This stayed his execution for some time and after some successful times he struggled on the 2010 tour of India. Once again the knives were out. Hussey then played a wonderful 195, his highest Test score, in the 1st Ashes Test of the failed 2009-10 series. That is, the team failed but Hussey scored two centuries and three fifties.
Incredibly, since that time, as Hussey got older, he has seemed to get more consistent. There has been absolutely no question of Hussey’s place in the team, under Michael Clarke. In Sri Lanka, Clarke’s first series as captain, Hussey was man-of-the-match in all three Tests, scoring two centuries and two nineties. He has scored three hundreds this summer and has averaged, you guessed it, 52.4 in his last 10 Tests.
Hussey has always appeared to me to be one of those players who makes the best of what he has. During Hussey’s career, he has been the consummate professional. He trained hard, plays hard and has the reputation of being a great team man. His nickname, “Mr Cricket”, which Hussey says he feels embarrassed about, stems from his love of the game and his practice of living, eating and breathing it. In stating his discomfort with the name “Mr Cricket”, Hussey clarified that he didn’t feel that he was one of the greats but could believe that nobody could love the game more than he does.
Hussey’s professionalism is reflected in some of the details. He was never been out stumped in Test cricket. He milks every run possible from aggressive, fast running and yet he has hardly ever been run out – just three times. The first two occasions were from reflex actions from short square leg and ironically, his final Test dismissal was a run out, when he was sold up the river by his skipper. And even then he never hesitated or faltered and was only a few centimetres short. He left the ground looking rather grim but never once looked back at Clarke.
Hussey excelled in all forms of the game. His defence was sound, he could work the ball around or smash it as the situation required. He was a brilliant ground fielder and catcher. When Hussey was under a catch, you knew it was in the bag. He could even bowl useful medium pace. Apparently he is a good singer as well, but sometimes starts the team song a little late for the liking of certain team mates. And on top of all that, he seems a really nice chap. Humble, down-to-earth and unpretentious. Who else in the Australian team would on TV, give a rendition of the 12th Man’s song, “Marvellous”, impersonating Richie Benaud?
I was at the ground for the first three days of the SCG Test, and the crowd was passionate in its support of Hussey. Often singing “Hussey, Hussey” whether Hussey was batting or fielding. The disappointment when he was run out on day two was palpable. When the crowd demanded Hussey be given a bowl at the end of day three, Clarke was good enough to oblige and Hussey bowled the final over of the day.
I felt there was more emotion from the fans and from the man himself, than when Ponting retired. Possibly this is because Ponting left it too long and the feeling from most was of relief. It is good to see a senior player retire when he is still on top of his game, and nobody is willing him to leave. Quite the opposite, in fact. I think the selectors’ decision to dump him from the One Day squad is very ordinary. Hussey is available and deserving and there was no need to “move on” so quickly. It makes me wonder if he was asked not to retire at this time and is now being punished.
Michael Clarke publicly mourned the retirement of Ricky Ponting. I would imagine Clarke might feel even more lonely now with the departure of Michael Hussey. He is the only other player from the Golden Era and Hussey’s skill, presence and stature will be sorely missed later this year in India and England. We love you, Mr Cricket. All the best for you and your family in the future.