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Michael Hussey, born on May 27, 1975, is one of the most loved and admired cricketers on the planet. On his 38th birthday, Jaideep Vaidya looks back at the career of someone who admitted to being a ‘nerd’ when it comes to playing cricket and is inseparable from the game even after retirement.
Michael Hussey. Now where to begin with this guy! The more you write about him, the more inadequate he makes you feel. The epitome of a cricket aficionado, he’s someone who once asked his wife to load up the bowling machine so he could practice on Christmas day! Now, what do you write about this kind of guy! A true gentleman in the gentleman’s game, it’s next to impossible to find even a tiny splodge of dirt on him. Even calling him Mr Cricket seems like an insult because of the mere simplicity of the moniker. But then again, that’s what Huss is — a simple, thorough, dedicated and passionate cricketer.
Speaking about the name Mr Cricket, Hussey is of course embarrassed by what he thinks is an exaggeration that does not warrant his person. “I don’t like it [the moniker] and I don’t think it’s true,” Hussey once said. ”But it’s the sort of nickname that if you show everyone that you hate it, try to get rid of it, they’ll call you it more and more. So, I just try and keep quiet and not say anything, hoping it’ll go away, but it’s not going away.”
The origin of the moniker goes back to an English county game in the nineties. ”I was playing for Durham against Lancashire at Old Trafford and it was a cold, wet, miserable day, and no one wanted to be there except for me,” said Hussey. ”I was loving it; I was out there batting every ball, running between the wickets really hard. Andrew Flintoff turned to Brad Hodge and said, ‘This guy loves cricket more than anyone I’ve ever seen; he must be Mr Cricket.’ Hodgy went out and told Andrew Symonds and he’s not let the world forget.”
“It doesn’t surprise me he’s called Mr Cricket,” close friend and former Western Australia teammate Ryan Campbell told the Sydney Morning Herald. “There were times when we were rooming together that he’d wake up yelling out, ‘Come on, Campbo, run harder!’ He knew exactly who we were to face, what he had to do. Even when he was sleeping he wouldn’t stop.”
“Every off season, he’d work on particular shots. It was amazing. He’s got to the point where he can pull apart his game and piece it back together. He can change his game depending on the team’s needs – click into one-day mode in Test cricket, and vice versa.”
It’s this tremendous work ethic that’s earned him so much respect. It’s an often used cliché, but one that stands true for Hussey more than it does for any other cricketer — the guy eats, drinks, breathes, lives, sleeps and adores cricket. You thrust a bat in his hand and ask him to face million balls in a day from the bowling machine in the dead of winter — perhaps not operated by his wife this time — and he’ll do it. He’s someone who probably sleeps holding his bat like a teddy bear and with all the gear that goes with it on him, including the sunscreen striped across his face.
Hussey’s incredible work ethic probably rooted from his father Ted, a sprinter and athletics coach, who made him and brother David scale sand dunes during childhood. “He never made us do it, but he suggested it was good idea,” said Hussey. “We actually liked it… Our parents impressed on us that you don’t get anywhere without hard work. Dad didn’t know about cricket, but he knew what it took to be successful, that single-mindedness. A lot of it, though, we were born with — the desire to be the best.”
The desire to be the best — a simple rule but with far-reaching results. It’s what helped him through the initial years of his career when he continued to be overlooked by the national team. Hussey made his First-Class debut for the Western Warriors in 1994, but had to wait for 11 years and 15,313 runs until he could lay his hands on a baggy green. And immediately, Hussey showed the selectors what they had missed as he went on to notch 1,000 Test runs in a record 166 days. From here, there was no looking back.
Hussey made his Test debut at the Gabba in November 2005 as a replacement for the injured opening batsman and fellow Western Australian Justin Langer against the West Indies. It wasn’t the most auspicious of debuts — Hussey could just score one and 29 in the two innings. However, in the following Test at the Bellerive Oval, he scored 137 and 31 not out and was named Man-of-the-Match as Australia won by nine wickets. In the third Test at the Adelaide Oval, Hussey, who had opened the batting all his life, was moved down the order to accommodate the returning Langer. Tant pis, he said, as he went on to score yet another century (133 not out) and 30 not out as Australia clinched the series 3-0.
Since then, Hussey has always played in the middle-order, except in the domestic Indian Premier League (IPL) where he opens the batting for the Chennai Super Kings. But that’s the marvel of Hussey. Even if you send him out at No 11, he’ll somehow manage to get the job done by gluing himself and the other genuine tail-ender to the crease. Hussey has forged numerous partnerships with lower-order batsmen in his career — the most famous one being the 10th-wicket 107-run stand with Glenn McGrath against South Africa in 2005-06. Hussey was also, of course, the other man in the 320-run partnership with night-watchman Jason Gillespie, who scored a career-best 201 not out against Bangladesh, in Dhaka, 2006.
In his first Ashes series in the Australian summer of 2006-07, Hussey ended up the third-highest run-scorer with 458 runs in seven innings at 91.60, which was the highest average in the series. This included match-winning knocks at Adelaide (91 and 61 not out) and Perth (74 not out and 103). The most remarkable part about Hussey’s illustrated career is that there is no one knock that stands out, because he was just there for Australia all the time. “Every time we’ve been in trouble, be it Twenty20, limited overs (One-Day Internationals) or Test matches, Mike Hussey walks out [and] you know Australia is going to be okay,” said Steve Waugh, who would have loved to have had Hussey’s services in his captaincy.
Even as a bowler, Hussey was available for Australia in times of desperation, and he would get the job done. “When a partnership’s building, he’s the one guy you need to bring on,” said Hussey’s last skipper, Michael Clarke. “He gets the big players out. When you see a Sachin Tendulkar, a Jacques Kallis, a Kevin Pietersen come to the wicket, you bring this guy on. He’ll continually get them out. That’s why he’s the great Michael Hussey.” Even with his slow-medium pace bowling, which isn’t his primary trait, Hussey will work his butt off striving for perfection. “[Hussey's] probably one of the most consistent workers on his bowling I’ve ever seen,” said former teammate Brad Haddin.
That Hussey is a great fielder is a gross understatement. Playing almost all his international cricket in his thirties, he had the capability and the agility, and still does, of embarrassing players half his age. If you want proof, have a look at this catch taken just last December, when he was 37:
Even when he took a call on his career and decided to retire earlier this year at the end of the Australian summer, he showed the world how to do it. His form had been excellent, averaging 180.00 after two Tests against Sri Lanka (115 not out, 31 not out and 34). Before that, he had scored two centuries in the three-Test series against South Africa, which Australia lost 0-1. Tough tours of India and England lay ahead, where his experience would be vital amidst a young team in transition. Then why would he choose to step away?
“I just feel that it is the right time for me to go,” said Hussey during his retirement press conference. “I have known for quite a long period of time that this would be my last Australian summer. When I started looking ahead to the Indian series and the Ashes series, you really need to be a 100 per cent committed towards the challenges they are going to present to the team. I was more dreading that time away from home rather than looking forward to those challenges and that really confirmed in my mind that it is the right time to say goodbye.”
As it turned out, at 37, with a young family to look forward to, some things were just more important, unfortunately so for the cricket world.
Hussey’s eight-year career reached a fairytale ending in January 2013, when he remained unbeaten in the fourth innings at the SCG to help Australia whitewash the Lankans 3-0. True to his character, he forced the on-strike batsman, Mitchell Johnson, into taking a single when Australia needed just one run to win, with the entire SCG wanting Hussey to do it. Always one to shy away from the limelight, it couldn’t have ended in a different way.
You can’t help but wonder what would have been if Hussey had been given a chance to play for Australia earlier than when he was already 29 years old. He has ended his Test and ODI careers with averages of 51.52 and 48.15 respectively. He continues to go strong in the IPL where he just ended the latest season as its highest run-scorer. What if he had made his debut at, say 23? Doesn’t he think about it? ”I would have loved to have played a lot earlier,” Hussey told the Sydney Morning Herald. “I probably wouldn’t have been 100 per cent ready, but I would have loved the opportunity to make my mistakes and learn that way.”
When Hussey was playing for Australia A, coach Allan Border jokingly suggested to him to have a six-hour training session to simulate a day’s play: bat for two hours, take a 40-minute break, bat for two hours, take a 20-minute break, and then bat for another two hours. And Hussey did it. There wouldn’t be another soul who would have.
“Passion. Pride. Commitment,” said former teammate Adam Gilchrist, when asked to sum up Hussey in three words. Well said, Adam.
(Jaideep Vaidya is a multiple sports buff and a writer at CricketCountry. He has a B.E. in Electronics Engineering, but that isn’t fooling anybody. He started writing on sports during his engineering course and fell in love with it. The best day of his life came on April 24, 1998, when he witnessed birthday boy Sachin Tendulkar pummel a Shane Warne-speared Aussie attack from the stands during the Sharjah Cup Final. A diehard Manchester United fan, you can follow him on Twitter @jaideepvaidya. He also writes a sports blog - The Mullygrubber)
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