When this author was 10 years old, he was lucky enough to meet Michael Hussey at a Western Australia training session at the WACA ground, the day before an ING Cup clash with Queensland. The crowd that day – a handful of keen autograph hunters and their obliging dads, the ground staff and perhaps the odd TV news camera – was larger than most domestic one day crowds in 2012, but that’s a different story. The interest was probably due to the names lining up – 16 of the 22 players on display, most notably Hussey himself, Andrew Symonds and Michael Kasprowicz, represented Australia at one time or another.
In many years of hounding training sessions and badgering players over the SCG fence, I found cricketers almost unanimously hospitable towards autograph requests. But that evening in Perth stuck in the mind because the then 26-year-old Hussey – the man who would go on to become Mr. Cricket – stuck around for a chat. He asked where I played my cricket, whether I was a batter or a bowler (at the time, a Darren Lehmann-framed opening batsman, of course), whether I was going to the game the following night, and some other questions I nervously mumbled answers to. My responses would have been terribly dopey, no doubt – after all, this was the longest chat I’d ever had with a sportsman. But that’s why it has stuck in my mind – that a big-time cricketer would actually take the time to have a yarn with a fan, to take a genuine interest. It’s that same grace that has defined Hussey’s Test match career, which will end after the Sydney Test.
Partly due to that two-minute chat in Perth 11 years ago, and partly to do with his cricketing feats since winning his Baggy Green in 2005, Mike Hussey has probably been my favourite player. His enthusiasm, his dedication, his passion for cricket is incredibly endearing. He’s a 37-year-old man that approaches the sport with the same boyish enthusiasm he would have when he himself was a ten-year-old kid. You get the feeling his characteristic zinc cream is another hallmark that hasn’t changed since primary school. The joy he evidently derives from cricket is infectious.
Hussey’s record is self-explanatory. A neat comparison can be drawn between Hussey and Neil Harvey, given the pair have both notched 79 Test appearances. While Harvey’s 21 tons trumps Hussey’s 19, Mr. Cricket has scored marginally more runs (6183 vs. 6149) and averages 51.52 compared with 48.42. I appreciate that Harvey played in an era of uncovered pitches and statistics alone do not convey his sumptuous strokeplay, but the fact that Hussey’s dossier stacks up so neatly with a man often discussed as the best Australian batsman bar Bradman and the No.5 in our Team of the Century says a lot about the quality of Hussey’s career.
In fact, of the Australians to score more than 5000 Test runs, only Ricky Ponting (51.85), Michael Clarke (52.74) and Greg Chappell (53.86) enjoy higher averages. Hussey’s 19 centuries in 79 matches compares favourably to Doug Walters’ 15 in 74, Ian Chappell’s 14 in 75 and Michael Slater’s 14 in 74. It took Mark Taylor 104 Tests to accumulate his 19 tons, Mark Waugh 128 for his 20. Overseas, Len Hutton – another fabled batsman of Harvey’s vintage – scored 19 centuries in 79 games, perfectly mirroring Hussey. Great West Indians Gordon Greenidge and Clive Lloyd both notched 19 tons, but took 108 and 110 Tests respectively to get there. The only department where Hussey’s record falls down is longevity – a man who debuts at 30 can’t expect to match the towering careers of Border or Kallis or Tendulkar. But comparisons with players who had equivalently long careers demonstrate just how elite Hussey’s seven-year stint has been.
Even as his career has been glowingly eulogised in the immediate wake of his retirement, no one has rushed to heap praise on his style. He wasn’t one for flourishing swordsmanship or Mark Waugh-style flamboyance. He was one for punches and pushes and jabs, a flawless understanding of his own technique forged in the 22,000-odd first class runs he has feverishly compiled for WA, Durham, Gloucestershire and Northants. He will be remembered for his hawkish concentration and his invaluable versatility, be it nervously grinding out his maiden century in Hobart against the Windies, playing second fiddle to Jason Gillespie’s 200 with a run-a-ball 182 in Bangladesh, dogged runs in India and Sri Lanka, a rearguard 121 that might have failed to save the 2009 Ashes but probably saved his career after 14 Tests without reaching triple figures, and a string of centuries thereafter, including three at home in his farewell summer.
I think it’s easy to underestimate just how good a batsman Mike Hussey was. Sure, he’s been given due acknowledgement since he announced he’s hanging up the scuffed Baggy Green. But his record is unequivocally crème de la crème. Length of career notwithstanding, Hussey’s contribution to Australian cricket compares favourably with the sport’s biggest names – Ponting, Chappell, Waugh, Border, Harvey, Clarke.
Making his debut in the series immediately following the 2005 Ashes – the first time the urn was lost in umpteen years and proof that the once all-conquering Aussies had been knocked off their perch – wasn’t great timing for Hussey. Nor was trying to follow the calibre of batsman that had preceded him, kind of like taking the stage after The Beatles had opened for you. But Hussey made more than a fist of it, often in trying circumstances, often with newspaper scribes calling for a more youthful replacement, often burdened by misfiring team-mates. Mr. Cricket deserves every inch of newsprint written about him during his final Test, and more.