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Couch Talk with Misbah-ul-Haq
Excerpts from the show
Subash Jayaraman: There were times you thought you would never get to wear the baggy green. There is a passage from your autobiography, Underneath the Southern Cross where you are discussing with Stuart Clark on your A tour to Pakistan about how time may have passed you by.
Mike Hussey: There were definitely times when I thought I wasn't going to make it. I was with Stuart Clark in Pakistan. We were 29 and hadn't had a chance to play for Australia. Thankfully we were both lucky enough to get an opportunity. Stuart Clark did brilliantly well. He was the Man of the Series against South Africa.
SJ: Another thing that was striking was your insecurity and self-doubt that you felt all the way from grade cricket till you retired, which is kind of astonishing coming from a top-flight sportsman.
MH: As a youngster, I was a lot smaller than a lot of the other kids. I didn't have many shots, and I had to nudge and glide the ball. Right from a very young age I felt that I wasn't good enough or as good as everyone else. Unfortunately I had that inferiority complex throughout my whole career, but in a way it might have motivated me as well to train extra hard and want to hang in there a bit longer out in the middle.
SJ: You seem to have played all your cricket in desperation mode.
MH: A lot of players go through those trials and tribulations. You do feel a lot of pressure as an international player, there is a lot of scrutiny on all the players, and the matches are very intense and hard-fought. You feel like your place in the team is in jeopardy. But that is a part of being an international sportsperson. You have to deal with those extra pressures.
SJ: Right through the book you mentioned that your wife Amy was carrying the burden unfairly far too much - raising the kids and you missed being away from them. But you also provide a strong hint that if you had announced your decision to retire earlier you wouldn't have been picked to play those Tests at home that summer. It looked like that feeling got stronger after Mickey Arthur became the coach of the team and [Michael] Clarke had become the captain.
MH: No, no. My main decision was because of [being] too much away from the family. And I wanted to keep it to myself. That was a part of it. I was nervous. There were some big tours coming up - to India and to England - and I was worried that they might say, "If you are retiring, let's get a new player in there to get used to playing before the big series." I had made the decision quite early in my mind, but I had to be sure and I was going to use that last Australian summer as a chance to confirm in my mind that my thoughts are correct. My mind didn't change throughout that summer and that is how it turned out.
SJ: How much of a role did the way Simon Katich was let go by the team management play in your decision to keep your retirement announcement to yourself?
MH: That didn't come into my mind at all. I really didn't want to go on tour again, especially for those hard tours to India and England. I wanted to [play] that Australian summer. It is a great place to play in front of your home crowd.
SJ: There is a question from a listener, Gautam: How much of a factor was that there is the IPL to play even after you retire, so that you can slowly move away from cricket?
MH: It is difficult to stop doing something that you have loved doing for such a long period of time, that you have devoted a whole lot of your life to. But everything has to come to an end at some stage. As you mentioned, there is still T20 cricket to play for me to keep my head in the game, and while my body is still allowing me to play and while I am still enjoying the game. So I get to play in the IPL and I am also playing in the Big Bash League in Australia. Those tournaments are great because I can still play cricket at a very high standard, but it doesn't take me away from home for the ten or 11 months a year that the Australian cricketers are away for.
SJ: Once you made the retirement announcement public, you were informed by John Inverarity that you were not going to be a part of the ODI squad, even though you had said that you were available for it. Do you think it was a direct result of you not giving a sufficient heads-up about your retirement? Did you feel let down by what seems to be a pretty petty decision?
MH: No, it was a bit disappointing, but I understood their reasoning and I was very fortunate to get a fantastic send-off in Sydney.
They had a World Cup to prepare for and it was a good opportunity to get some games into some other players who hopefully will be a part of Australia's World Cup campaign.
"If you show faith in a player you really back him, because cricket is such a tough game that you are not going to score runs every game. I just thought that it would have been a better thing to say, 'We were going to keep backing you no matter if you lose a couple of games and don't play so well'"
SJ: During your grade cricket and Shield cricket days, you played with and against the who's who of Australian cricket of the last 20 years - from David Boon to Shane Warne to [Damien] Martyn. It is a good nurturing place for a future Test cricketer. Do you think future cricketers coming through the Australian set-up might not be ready for international cricket?
MH: I must admit that playing Sheffield Shield cricket was extremely tough. But I have played a couple of Sheffield Shield games at the end of last season, and the competition is extremely strong. I think that the standard is still there and Australia can be successful in future. There are quality players coming through the Sheffield Shield.
The one thing that I noticed that has changed is probably the quality of pitches. A lot of the pitches are produced for results - they were very green and the seam bowlers got a lot of help out of them. It made it difficult for the batsman to bat for long periods of time and build an innings. It also meant that the seam bowlers were bowling all the time and getting wickets easily and not learning what it is like to bowl on Test match sort of pitches, where the pitches are a lot more flatter and good for batting. The third thing is, we weren't playing a lot against spin bowlers, because the fast bowlers were getting a lot of wickets. The spin bowlers weren't learning how to bowl teams out on a fifth day of a Test or the fourth day of a Sheffield Shield game. I think maybe that contributed to huge deficiencies in our cricket at the moment. I know that that is being looked at and will be rectified in the next few years.
SJ: It looks like there were fissures and divisions within the team as you were nearing your retirement - the last six to 12 months - mainly because of how the team management was making the players feel. You mentioned that you said you were made to feel like "naughty schoolboys" when you had a few beers with the South African players. That happened to be Brad Haddin's birthday as well. Did that kind of put you all on the edge?
MH: The standards in the Australian team are extremely high, and rightly so. When we don't probably stick to their plans or their standards, then you expect to be pulled into line. It was just a case where we went out and had a few beers on Brad Haddin's birthday, and it was sort of seen that we were going too far and we were pulled in line. That was it. There were no issues with it. It wasn't like we were made to feel like naughty schoolboys or anything like that. It was just adhering to standards of the Australian team.
SJ: I am quoting you from the book. You used the words "naughty schoolboys".
MH: All right! Okay. I can't remember (laughs).
SJ: You mentioned how you once had a chat with Mickey and he said that he was going to reward you guys for winning an ODI by not dropping anyone for the next match. That sort of thing makes players worry only about themselves and not the team, doesn't it?
MH: It did sort of raise my eyebrows a little bit. We played a fantastic game against India at the MCG, we played brilliantly and won the match. It just made me think, "Shivers! What if we lose a match or we weren't playing so well. What then? Are you going to drop players?" I was very much a sort of guy [who thinks that] if you show faith in a player, you really back him and you give him a few chances, because cricket is such a tough game that you are not going to score runs every game. I just thought that it would have been a better thing to say, "We were going to keep backing you no matter if you lose a couple of games and don't play so well."
SJ: This is what you hear, especially at the highest level, that 90% of the game is played in your head, and if you are going to constantly worry about what is going to happen to you if you don't score, how are you going to score runs or take wickets?
MH: It is played 90% in the mind - such a mental game and such a mental battle. But the great players are able to put those distractions aside and concentrate on their performance and perform consistently. That is why not everyone can play international sport, because it is extremely tough and challenging.
SJ: It comes across that Mickey Arthur wasn't really a good fit for the Australian cricket team.
MH: No, not necessarily. He was doing a good job. It was unfortunate. I was shocked as anyone was when he was sacked before the Ashes series.
No one is perfect. I am sure you could pick things that everyone does really well and there are probably things that everyone doesn't quite do as well as they would have wanted to. I thought Mickey did a good job and I had a very good rapport with him and got on really well with him as well.
SJ: How do you assess the moves that have been made in the last year or two in the Australian set-up?
MH: I just really like that they could identify what their best team is and their best players and really show the faith in them. Give them a chance to bed down their position, have a bit of faith in them, show that faith. The young players are still learning the game - they will repay that faith. They are all very talented players.
SJ: You talk about a situation where you came into the team and Shane Warne says: "Go do what you know to do and you will be successful." But for some of these guys just coming into the team, except for perhaps Michael Clarke, there is no one else of that stature in the team anymore.
MH: I was very lucky to come into a team with so many great players. They could offer all their experience. That is where I think Michael Clarke has done a really good thing by standing down as a selector, so he can have more time with his players and talk more openly and honestly and give his experience to the game.
SJ: What did you make of how Nathan Lyon has been treated? He goes to India, gets dropped after one Test match, is brought back in, gets nine wickets, goes to the Ashes, gets dropped for the first two Test matches and is brought back in.
"I spoke to our manager and our coach and we had a team dinner where Mr Srinivasan came along. I spoke to him very briefly about it and apologised if I caused him any grief. He was fine and said, 'No, don't worry, it is all fine. There is no issue with all you said'"
MH: I was shocked, I must admit. Coming to the first Ashes Test, I thought Nathan would be playing. But obviously the selectors thought the other way. They wanted a left-arm spinner. It was probably a tactical move to have a left-arm spinner against their right-hand batsmen in the middle order. You are part of the Australian squad, and the idea of the selectors is to pick the best XI that they think is going to give them the best chance of winning a Test match. So that is the way they decided to go. It is part of the game. Unfortunately for Nathan, he missed out on the first game, but he bounced back really well when he was given the opportunity to play.
SJ: You write in the book that you and the players were a bit disappointed that Cricket Australia didn't back you guys enough in the Harbhajan Singh-Andrew Symonds controversy during India's tour Down Under in 2008. There was this other instance where you were told to continue playing for Chennai Super Kings in the Champions League Twenty20 when the rest of your Aussie team-mates were already in India for the Test series. You felt you were hung out to dry and were misrepresented and you got a lot of stick in the press for going after money, which you weren't.
MH: My relationship with Cricket Australia was excellent. I have no qualms whatsoever. What you have to understand is that our relationship has been going for nearly 15 years. In any relationship for 15 years, there is going to be the odd disagreement along the way. But I would say overall in the 15-year period our relationship was very strong and it continues to be very strong. Yes, sure, there were a couple of incidents along the way that I didn't agree with, and I made my feelings felt. That is just a part of being in a relationship, really.
SJ: Your book got a fair bit of traction in the media for the passage where you said that Mr Gurunath Meiyappan was given the responsibility to run the team. Were you surprised by the amount of play it got in the media?
MH: Yes, I was a little bit surprised. I don't know the exact titles of who was running what in that, but certainly Guru was around the team a lot. I knew he was talking to Kepler and the players, and we saw him at training and at the hotel. I didn't know what his official title was but he was around the team quite often.
SJ: You write: "It came up in the 2013 IPL where there were allegations made against three players and also against the owner of my own team, the Chennai Super Kings." Are we to think that the CSK players thought of Mr Meiyappan as an owner of the team, which Mr Srinivasan claimed that he isn't, that he is just an enthusiast?
MH: As I said, I probably may have written the wrong thing. I knew he was a close part of the team, no question about that, and I saw him around the team pretty much every day. I am certainly not going to question the word of Mr Srinivasan. I think he would know a lot better than me about who is running the show. So maybe I got that a little bit wrong.
SJ: After all this media coverage for the book, were you called in for a chat with the CSK management?
MH: I spoke to our manager and our coach and we had a team dinner where Mr Srinivasan came along. I spoke to him very briefly about it and apologised if I caused him any grief. He was fine and said, "No, don't worry, it is all fine. There is no issue with all you said. It was all written before all the controversies came out, anyway. You don't have anything to worry about."
MH: You stated in the book that CSK are interested in having you back in the 2014 season and you were also interested in becoming their batting coach at one point. None of these plans will be affected by what is written in the book, right?
MH: I certainly hope not. I have a fantastic rapport with everyone at CSK. I get on very well with the coach. I get on very well with the players and have had a lot of success with CSK. I thoroughly enjoyed my time there and they are a fantastic franchise. I would love to continue there in whatever capacity in the future.
SJ: You mentioned how you were smaller in stature as a young boy starting to play cricket and were always told to keep the ball along the ground. But then you went on to become one of the best middle-order batsmen in ODIs and a great T20 batsman, pulling off fantastic chases in both T20Is and for franchises. How did that transformation happen?
MH: I took a lot of inspiration from someone like Michael Bevan and the way he played the middle-order role for Australia for so many years, and I tried to model my game a little bit on his in the one-day game. I had a similar strategy to how he would approach games, and then practised and tried to develop my game over the years.
SJ: Your foundations were laid preparing for the longer format. For kids coming up through the ranks right now, it is probably reversed. What sort of effect is it going to have on the quality of batsmanship?
MH: It may have some effect. I don't know, we have to wait for the future and see. I was quite lucky that I was able to build up a very good base, a very solid technique, a good structure in my game from a very young age. It was built around doing well in the longer formats of the game.
The good thing about that is that because your basics are so good and so sound, it helps you to make the transition to the other formats of the game a lot easier. So I do see that it might be a challenge for some players out there if they are basing their whole game around T20 cricket. It will get a little bit tougher in the longer formats of the game where you need a little bit of patience and probably a sounder technique to have consistent success.
SJ: Some of the younger batsmen coming through, especially in Australia, are having trouble. Is there input from your side to Cricket Australia to perhaps how they should modify their game?
MH: I think getting our first-class pitches to a very good standard is a very good start. Making sure that the games are played on good-quality pitches, bringing the spinner into the game, and fast bowlers having to be patient, batsmen learning and practising to bat for a long period of time - that has got to be a great start.
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Subash's introduction to cricket began with enduring sledging from his brothers during their many backyard cricket sessions. His fascination with the game took hold in 1983, but mostly it was the cricket commentary over All India Radio, about the water-tight front-foot defence of Gavaskar that did it. @thecricketcouch