Thunder hope to give Michael Hussey a winning send-off
There was a great sense of friendliness at the MCG ahead of Sunday's BBL final. This is a fitting finale for a landmark season; Melbourne Stars playing Sydney Thunder means the competition will have a new winner. How full one of cricket's most iconic venues will be, remains to be seen - poor weather and the Australian Open contrived to see just 30,174 through the gates on Friday night. But the competition is set to welcome its millionth spectator through the gates.
There was, of course, a sense of fraternity too, as a Hussey captains both teams. Michael and David are all smiles ahead of the former's final appearance in Australia. David brought the quips, about how their mother Helen would be barracking for his Stars; about the possibility of whether he would bring himself on to bowl to Michael - who he continually referred to as "the old boy"; and about how he wished Usman Khawaja had been called up to play for Australia.
The "no love lost" line was conspicuous by its absence. These two may have been rivals as kids, but they are firm friends these days, proud as punch and thick as thieves. As David said, "we haven't had too many run-ins. Maybe playing together, but not against each other." Both know, however, that there is plenty more at play. "It's not about brothers playing off against each other," said Michael Hussey. He is right.
In many ways, Stars did the hard work on Friday night. Four semi-finals had come and gone without a win, and even a tournament as nascent as the BBL had marked them down as perennial chokers. This time, though, they have looked different, producing a pair of clinical performances to see off the double champions Perth Scorchers and ensure a home final.
This has been no mean feat, given their bowling stocks continues to be depleted - no, ravaged - by national call-ups. This, in the past, has been their downfall, with Australia playing white-ball cricket at the sharp end of the BBL. Ben Hilfenhaus and Evan Gulbis have proved canny additions from Hobart Hurricanes, while Daniel Worrall has stepped up to produce fine performances in both victories over the Scorchers
"Full credit to Trent Woodhill, Stephen Fleming and Clint Cooper for putting our list together," David Hussey said. "They knew that we would have a few Australian representatives and who can fill the void and provide that depth that we need for the back end of the tournament, for us to not only win a final but win the whole thing. Pretty much our whole bowling attack has been taken out with Aussie selection, so we have had to do a few makeshift changes in the bowling department."
Thunder travelled to Adelaide for a semi-final without fear, having been the only team to beat the Adelaide Strikers in the regular season. They are fearless finalists too, having already beaten the Stars at the MCG, albeit by just a single run after another stupendous knock from Khawaja. "I hope it doesn't go to the final ball," said Hussey. "That was a bit nerve-wracking."
They will be boosted by the return of Jacques Kallis, who Hussey "expects" to play (and bowl), saying "he was very keen to play the semi-final but we took the call by giving him a few extra days in the hope of getting him through to the final. I guess he'll have his last fitness test today."
When Hussey joined Thunder from Perth Scorchers, he says they were "probably below ground zero," while Khawaja revealed after the semi-final win that he considered leaving the club until chatting to Hussey about how they could breath life into the side. Hussey is satisfied with how far they have come, but insists it's about building something that is going to have sustained success.
"I know how much work behind the scenes to build this club and to be a part of that is very special," he said. "Obviously, had some great memories over my career with Ashes and World Cups, but to be part of something that has taken a long time to build, it would be great to finish my little journey with a win, but as I say it's not about me whatsoever, it's about the team going forward."
Hussey is "definitely going to stay involved in the team, in a managerial capacity, and try and be part of keeping the club building and moving forward," and does pause for thought when asked if he would play on another season, leading to another quip from his brother: "He's not ruling it out," smiles David.
"I still love the playing side of things," says Hussey. "The contest between bat and ball and the competition, but it's the amount of work that needs to be done just to get ready to play. You've got to take your hat off to the players, they work extremely hard on their games, physically, mentally. That gets harder and harder as you get older, so I'm happy to move on after this year."
If the Thunder win their maiden title, they will have much to thank Michael for as they say farewell. Either way, Sunday will be a good day to be a Hussey.
Will Macpherson writes on cricket for the Guardian, ESPNcricinfo and All Out Cricket. @willis_macp