An over with Michael Hussey December 15, 2007

Mr Cricket turns Mr Sledger

Fancy being cover-driven by Mike Hussey and told "You're a bit keen"? And other sledges to boot



Michael Hussey gears up for some express trundle ... and some mental disintegration © Getty Images

Luke Pomersbach wasn't the only one this week to get a surprise call to square off against some international calibre opposition in Australia. An email arrived in my inbox with an invitation to face up to Michael Hussey at the Adelaide Oval ... in a few hours. Like Luke, I started shaking at the invitation, but soon grabbed my kit and set off for the experience, one of Hussey's many sponsorship commitments.

You'd expect that such days, on the back of so many playing duties, must wear players down, but unlike the heavily endorsed Kevin Pietersen, who dared to complain he was tired (possibly from counting his pennies), Hussey isn't looking for sympathy. Fresh-faced despite flying straight in from the Twenty20 in Perth and possibly having lost his bags at the airport, he's grinning and up for anything.

First, a quick media conference. As he smiles, nods, and answers questions intelligently, it's immediately easy to see why he's one of Australia's highest paid sports stars. His personability, allied to the ease with which he plays the game, has attracted sponsorship deals thought to boost his earnings to $1.5million a year.

Hussey is immediately on-message about all forms of the game, deftly batting away suggestions that one-day cricket's days could be numbered. "We are covering all sectors in the market, which is great. I still think there's a huge place for 50-over cricket. We try to bring new people to the cricket and help them fall in love with the Twenty20 game." The ICC couldn't have put it better.

But while he's an excellent speaker, he's also an honest one, which could, in theory, unnerve prospective sponsors, but in fact helps to keep them flocking. He has openly admitted to not yet having played the computer game he endorses (though, in fairness, he had asked for a copy), while he apparently dissolved into fits of giggles while filming the Ford Backyard Series ads (though, of course, he was the best actor). And, as I am to discover, although he's a brand ambassador once more, this time for a credit card company, he's not shy of dishing out the sledges.

I have no time to prepare mentally or physically: it's straight on to the battlefield, which in this case is a bouncy-castle-like open cage structure, rigged up by Mastercard. Hussey strides to the crease in cream chinos, brown shoes and a Cricket Australia polo shirt, looking more golfer than star batsman.

He sets himself for the assault from a red plastic ball. I steam in - no training pain, no gain, right? - and he immediately greets the low full-toss (well, it was a 12-yard pitch, not 22) with a cover drive. And then a shout of "You're a bit keen."

I blink.

That's frankly a bit rich coming from Mr Cricket himself, and such unexpected chat stops me in my tracks for a while, but in the middle of the inevitable battering (smack, smack, smack) - "You're loving it, aren't you?" - are three successive dots. "You're putting a good spell together there," he says, grinning. Hmmm.

But I have to say I gave it back. "Yeah, I've got club nets later so you're just the warm-up." I smile, and it's his turn to be surprised.

Then again, maybe his approach should have been expected. After all, he says that he and his brother David wouldn't exactly have won any Spirit of Cricket Awards for the way they carried out their backyard wars when young. Today, it's hard to do anything other than smile and feel a little bit privileged.

Hussey's cheeky yet genuine approach is refreshing. I'm told bowling to him is an experience money can't buy. So, as the ad may have it: Two tickets to the one-dayer $50. Replica team shirt $65. Getting sledged by Michael Hussey: priceless.

Jenny Thompson is associate editor of Cricinfo