Australia news December 30, 2012

Lessons of Hussey's long apprenticeship

No-one made more runs before being handed a baggy green cap than Michael Hussey, and it is highly likely that no-one ever will have to again. In addition to leaving an enormous hole in Australia's batting order, Hussey's exit from the game at 37 also poses a major question about the development of players capable of filling it.

Was Hussey robbed of an even more illustrious career by a selection panel that scorned his talents until he was 30, or was the wonderfully dextrous and adaptable player he became a direct result of all those years spent honing his game for the opportunity? As he looked forward to more time at home, though he will continue to play for Western Australia and Chennai Super Kings in the IPL, Hussey said he wished he had been given an earlier chance, but reasoned that the completeness of his game and the maturity of his approach stemmed from the extra time he was left to shape it.

"I would've loved to get an opportunity earlier, there's no question about that," Hussey said. "I would've maybe liked to go through what young players go through at international level where you come in, you're so excited to be there, probably go through some hard times and then come out the other side a batter player.

"But in a lot of ways it probably did help me to be able to perform consistently at international level, to have so much first-class cricket behind me. To learn about the game and learn about batting and learn about myself as a person, I think held me in very good stead when I came to the international game when there's so many distractions externally, to be able to put them aside and concentration my game. Knowing what worked for me helped me definitely."

With Hussey soon to be gone from the team, Australia's selectors are left to pick from the meagre batting options they have left. Usman Khawaja is part of the current squad and has worked at rounding out his game in the manner of Hussey, while the Twenty20 captain George Bailey has a fighter's instinct and a leader's brain and attitude, if not quite the record of batting achievement that suggests he will make as instant an impression at 30 as Hussey did after he debuted in 2005.

Hussey himself believes his 35-year-old brother David deserves a chance, while Chris Rogers is of the same age and the possessor of endless first-class experience in England. Other young batsmen like Joe Burns in Queensland, Kurtis Patterson in New South Wales, Alex Doolan in Tasmania and Peter Handscomb in Victoria will in time press their claims, but their readiness for international cricket and all its myriad challenges will depend on how - and for how long - they are groomed.

A major reason for Hussey's exit is that he is no longer prepared to separate himself from his family for the long tracts of time required by international tours, but another is the wearing down effect of Test match pressure, be it from opponents, media, supporters, team-mates and the man himself. The support Hussey has been given from the likes of his first-grade batting coach Ian Keevan, the former Northants coach Bob Carter, and his wife Amy allowed him to push through much of it, and those relationships were also built up over the years he spent waiting for his chance.

"There's so much pressure, stress and tension around international cricket, on all the guys," Hussey said. "I'm amazed how the guys handle it at times. But I think it's very important to have a good support network around you, people who keep believing in you all the time, and keep you in a positive frame of mind when sometimes it's quite easy to get yourself down and put more pressure on yourself. I'm very lucky to have that network around me that've remained really positive and confident and believed in me.

"It's a little bit sad and I will miss certain parts of it. But there's so much more to life than just playing cricket, and I have those fantastic memories, but there's going to be a lot of things I certainly won't miss, like the really sick feeling in the stomach when you have to go out and bat in a Test match, the constant time away from home, training, travel, hotels and airports. It does wear you down after a while.

"It's taken me a long time to learn how I play my best cricket. It's going to be different for everyone, but for me personally when I do relax, when I do enjoy the game I just stick to my very good preparation, and I just know and believe I will perform."

Hussey's final summer has been played without the self-imposed expectations he had previously lived with, for he knew that retirement at the end of the season was always his most likely path. That allowed him to relax and play his best, just as he did not gain a start for Australia until after he had virtually given up hope of earning one.

"I do feel like the pressure's been off a little bit," he said. "I was very keen to do well in this particular summer. Like every summer I guess. But I felt like I could go out there with nothing to lose a little bit because I knew in my own mind that it was probably going to come to an end at the end of the Australian summer.

"So I could play with a bit more freedom and just go out there and relax. Maybe there is a lesson in there to be learnt - I have always been someone that has put a lot of pressure on myself and tried sometimes too hard and when you just relax and play and enjoy the game, that's when I've played my best cricket."

There is a lesson in that for all those who will follow Hussey into Australia's Test team, one of many that can be learned from observing the career and achievements of a cricketer who tried to - and usually did - do everything right.

Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here

Comments