South Africa in Australia 2012-13 October 31, 2012

Can Hussey shrug South African slump?


Michael Hussey is entering his 19th season of first-class cricket. In all that time, he has not faced a better attack than the South Africa group led by Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel and Vernon Philander. Since Steyn and Morkel arrived on the scene, Hussey has played eight Tests against South Africa for a top score of 50. Next week, he will walk out on to the Gabba and attempt to rectify that record with only one Sheffield Shield match behind him. He'd better hope it doesn't rain in Melbourne over the next four days.

Hussey is the first to admit that his preparation, which virtually begins and concludes with a Shield match against Victoria starting on Thursday, has been far from ideal. Even in the lead-up to the disastrous 2010-11 Ashes, a series that led to the Argus review and serious criticisms of Australia's preparation, he had played two Shield games before the first Test. Now, he hasn't played a first-class match since April, his longest such lay-off in five years.

It's not that he hasn't been playing cricket - there was the limited-overs tour of the UAE in August and September, followed by the World Twenty20 and the Champions League T20 - it's just that his bat hasn't been collecting red cherries. The best he has managed were some net sessions with a red ball facing his Chennai Super Kings team-mate Ben Hilfenhaus over the past few weeks in South Africa.

"It's not perfect. You'd definitely prefer at least a couple [of Shield games]," Hussey said. "But that's the way the schedule is and there's nothing I can do about it ... But I must admit my training while I was over in South Africa was trying to get back into Test match cricket mode. I was facing Ben Hilfenhaus with red balls over there. I have done a fair bit of work in the lead-up to this Shield game.

"This Shield game is very important as well. I'd prefer to have more first-class games but having said that I find the transition from Twenty20 into the longer form a lot easier than the other way around. I've always struggled going from a Test match into a T20 game. I've found that's taken me a lot longer. Hopefully I can make the adjustment relatively quickly."

Hussey is not the only batsman in Australia's Test side facing the same problem. None of Hussey, David Warner and Shane Watson have played first-class cricket since the Caribbean Test tour in April, and although they were all at the Champions League, Watson was sent home early to work on his Test preparation. At least Ricky Ponting, Michael Clarke and Ed Cowan have been at home playing Shield cricket.

"It's probably the best attack that I've faced. They complement each other quite well."
Michael Hussey on the South Africans

Hussey can ill afford to head to the Gabba without red-ball runs to his name. Over the past four years, Australia and South Africa have delivered eight of the most magnificent Tests, but Hussey's contributions have been slim. Steyn and Morkel have each dismissed him five times, and although Hussey might be able to target the legspinner Imran Tahir, he will have to find a way to counteract the swing and bounce of South Africa's quicks.

"It's probably the best attack that I've faced," Hussey said. "They complement each other quite well. They're all different bowlers. Steyn is a bit shorter, extreme pace but can swing the ball away from the right hander. Morkel gets that awkward bounce so he's very different. He's a bit wider of the crease and bowls very well to the left handers in particular.

"Philander is extremely disciplined, lands the ball on the seam and does a little bit either way. They're well backed up by Kallis, who has done a fantastic job over a long time, and they've got a very good spinner as well. They're a very well rounded attack. They complement each other very well and we're going to have to play extremely well to get on top of them."

But Hussey knows that lying awake at night worrying about the South Africans won't help. Over the years, Hussey has admitted to sometimes over-thinking things and he has learnt that a clouded mind is his enemy. He knows that at 37, his next extended lean patch could be career-ending - though only if a younger batsman emerges from Shield cricket with better credentials, which for the time being is not happening. But he refuses to let himself become anxious over a record of 277 runs at 18.46 in his past eight Tests against South Africa.

"There's no point [worrying]," Hussey said. "I have tried doing that before, against England. I'd had a mediocre season against England and I was getting all worried about it, and then ended up performing a lot better against them next time. There's no point in worrying or stressing about anything that's happened in the past, because there's enough things to worry and stress about when you're out in the middle in a Test match anyway.

"The Test matches we've played against South Africa in South Africa have been extremely difficult for batting. I think back to the Cape Town game when we were bowled out for 40-odd, Michael Clarke's innings of 150 was one of the best innings I've ever seen, because the pitch was doing an extraordinary amount and no other batsman looked comfortable at all. I'm expecting the pitches in Australia to be very good, very true, and if you can get in and get through that initial period, there's no reason why a few of the guys can't go on and get big scores."

The question is whether Hussey is one of those guys. At least he knows he has the support of the national selector John Inverarity.

"Last year when [the selection panel] were contemplating the first Test team against India at the Boxing Day Test, we were discussing Ben Hilfenhaus, and a couple amongst us said Ben Hilfenhaus' record at the MCG is not at all good," Inverarity said this week. "Then one amongst us said 'well he's due to take wickets' and he got five. So I would say against the South Africans, Michael Hussey who is a very fine batsman, is due to make some runs."

The Australians just hope that in a month's time he's not overdue.

Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Mathew on November 3, 2012, 19:36 GMT

    Hussey is a fantastic player and looks fit enough to keep the emense talent of Aus out for a few more years yet. Punter too although far from his best is yards above those behind him. Watto might be out but i hear Bradman is getting a recall.

  • Andrew on November 2, 2012, 2:09 GMT

    @Biggus on (November 01 2012, 11:21 AM GMT) - ditto re: Huss, I wish a couple of other batsmen from his state were a bit more Hussey-like!

  • Dummy4 on November 1, 2012, 11:49 GMT

    @bollo: youngsters would still feel comfortable making their debuts in grounds like mcg and gabba amd the waca rather than in the wankhede or the lords cricket ground. Sorry for the mistake abt clarke, forgot :D

  • Richard on November 1, 2012, 11:21 GMT

    Well, with Mr Cricket, he's a guy you cut a little bit of slack when he's having a lean trot, just the same as we've done with many others in the past since they bring something to the team that no one else does. Doug Walters for his phlegmatic attitude and ability to swing a game in a session. Mark Taylor for his tactical brilliance in the captain's role. Steve Waugh for his inner steel. Huss is the universal batsman, the one-tool-fits-all of the batting world. Give him a job, ask anything of him and he'll willingly throw himself on the proverbial grenade for his team. I don't envy too many people in this world, but I sure could handle being a bit more like Mike Hussey. He's the perfect role model for the modern cricketer, and he keeps it real, no ego troubles for a man who's so obviously reasonably comfortable within his own skin.

  • Richard on November 1, 2012, 11:05 GMT

    @Meety-Retirement home lol! Who's on fire now mate?

  • Andrew on November 1, 2012, 10:59 GMT

    @ rickyvoncanterbury on (November 01 2012, 07:56 AM GMT) - that's exactly what it is. @ hyclass on (November 01 2012, 07:02 AM GMT) - see, I like that post, mainly because you finished it the right way!

  • richard on November 1, 2012, 7:56 GMT

    @ Meety - by retirement home - you mean IPL?..... hahahahaha superannuation for cricketers.

  • Cain on November 1, 2012, 7:39 GMT

    and here all of you critics go again..."hussey's too old" "he's losing his reflexes" "his batting has slumped"...First of all Hussey is as good as hes ever been, saving matches for australia more times than he could think of. Think back to the 2010-11 ashes series, we would have been doomed if it wasnt for Hussey (and Haddin on that point) time and time again when the top order collapsed and failed HE STOOD UP, 2009-10 against pakistan in sydney, 200 behind comes to the crease instead of swinging the bat around he caresses the ball around into the gaps picking up the 1s, 2s and 3s and the odd boundry. Hussey has saved australias bacon nearly every series, if Hussey wasnt around I think we would be easily no.5 in the test rankings and even lower in the ODI charts. Grit, determination and the never say die attitude hussey has makes him a legend that many people dont see because he doesnt have the glorious good looking cover drive of Clarkes or the powerful pull Watson has. HUSSEY No.1!!

  • Dru on November 1, 2012, 7:19 GMT

    There are not many who would be able to tame this SA attack on any conditions it will be interesting to see how Aus go. There are few players you would back in a tough situation and Hussey is one but it will be a test of his skills like no other.

  • Christopher on November 1, 2012, 7:02 GMT

    The SA '09 attack was better. Steyn, Ntini, Morkel, Kallis, Harris. That attack had over 1100 Test wickets at the time. Philander is a recently rising star with no great pace but a really good cricket brain. The SA batting might have something to say about Australias much publicised pace attack. I hope Australia does play a quality spinner. I wonder if Hauritz is still in the frame, given his superior batting and fielding. Amla has been in peerless form and is THE wicket. Kallis, Smith and the rest have imposing records. In Australias camp, Ponting gives every indication of being back to his best vintage and will need to be. The Warner/Cowan alliance may be short lived. Watson's fatigue issues have limited his impact.That leaves Clarke, Ponting and Hussey to carry the work load-all players whose games pre-date T20. As a unit, SA appears far more complete. All that stands against them is their lack of 1st class cricket and consequent concentration issues.I wish the Aus team best of luck

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