Ponting backs out-of-form Hussey to bounce back
Michael Hussey will walk on to the MCG on Wednesday under immense pressure ahead of the Ashes, but his captain Ricky Ponting believes Hussey will come good before the first Test. Hussey has joined the ODI squad fresh from a disappointing Sheffield Shield match for Western Australia in Adelaide, where he followed a first-innings golden duck with 3 in the second innings.
One domestic outing would not usually have any bearing on an established player's place in the side, but Hussey's Test form has been scratchy for some time. His career average hovers around 50 but in the past two years he has averaged only 34.18, and at 35 years of age the time to justify his position is rapidly running out.
Adding to the selectors' dilemma in the lead-up to the Gabba Test is the strong form of Usman Khawaja, who toured England with the Test squad this year and started the Sheffield Shield season with a double-century. While Hussey was struggling in Adelaide, his South Australian opponent Callum Ferguson posted 129, and the form of the much younger batsmen won't make life any easier for Hussey.
"He's a bit disappointed with it," Ponting said of Hussey's Sheffield Shield performance. "I've had a good chat with him today. He's very clear in his own mind about what he needs to do and he feels he's on the right track and his preparation has been good for every game that he's played. Class players like him generally find a way to get it done, and I'm sure that over the next few one-day games against Sri Lanka you'll see him score some runs."
But the selectors must decide whether the ODI arena is the best place for Hussey in the build-up to the Ashes. Western Australia play a first-class game against the touring England side in Perth starting on Friday and it could be the perfect opportunity for Hussey to find some touch against the red ball and his Ashes opponents.
Australia's full-time selector, Greg Chappell, said there had been discussions about releasing Hussey to take part in that game, but the batsman wanted to stay with the one-day side. On Tuesday, Ponting had not looked closely at the state schedule but conceded the idea of getting more first-class cricket in to Hussey would have been spoken about.
"There's probably a debate around that," Ponting said. "At the end of the day, all the players want to be playing as many games for Australia as they possibly can. It's important then that you maximise your training time and the time you get in the middle to make sure your game is where it needs to be. I'm sure that's what Mike's thinking is this week."
All the Australian players will have at least one more opportunity to play Sheffield Shield cricket before the battle for the urn begins in Brisbane on November 25, but England will have three first-class warm-up games during the same period. The majority of Australia's Test players are preparing to face Sri Lanka in a one-day series, but Ponting was not concerned about his men having a lack of first-class action ahead of the first Test.
"The fact that Johnson and Hussey came home early from India to play that Shield game last week, we're doing what we can to get as much first-class cricket in to our players before the first Test match come around," he said. "The international programme is what we've got - there's not much we can do about it. We've just got to make sure we've got all our guys in the best physical and technical shape that we can have them in come the start of the Ashes series."
Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at Cricinfo