England v Australia, 5th npower Test, The Oval, 2nd day August 21, 2009

Whither Michael Hussey?

The latest duck for Australia's No. 4 has raised further questions over his future in the team

Australia will face a multitude of tough and unpalatable questions in the wake of their turgid batting display at The Oval, but none more immediately confronting than the form issues of Michael Hussey. A timid duck has rendered Hussey's position in the Australian middle order close to untenable, and there must now be grave doubts among Andrew Hilditch's selection panel as to whether he can be nursed through another series.

Certainly, Hussey was not alone in failing against a driven and disciplined England attack at The Oval on Friday, but while others have solid recent records to fall back on, the 34-year-old has no such wiggle room. In what is fast becoming a recurring theme, his dismissal to Stuart Broad for a third ball duck was the product of uncertainty around his off-stump, this time manifesting in a late attempt to play an inswinging delivery that cannoned into his front pad.

Australia have lost six Test veterans through natural attrition over the past few years, and Hilditch's panel could be forgiven for balking at the prospect of forcing another out the door. In a period of major transition, Hussey and Ricky Ponting were viewed as the men around whom selectors could fashion a new-look batting line-up. Two years on, that view has changed markedly.

Hussey's duck at The Oval was his sixth since the beginning of the last Australian summer, and eleventh total of 10-or-below in his past 13 matches. In that time, he has scored 477 runs at 22.71 and continued a century-less streak that now stands at 28 innings. Hussey's Ashes campaign has charted a similar course, with 155 runs at 22.15 - 115 of which were scored in innings at Lord's and Edgbaston - rendering him the worst performed of Australia's top-seven batsmen in England.

When the end approaches, great batsmen rarely lose all their faculties at once. Their slides are generally more subtle, insidious affairs, with signs of decline punctuated by the occasional throw-back performance. Such has been the pattern for Hussey over the past 10 months. Each of his four half-centuries have raised hope that the drought had finally broken, only for tension and uncertainty to return, as evidenced by his dismissals shouldering arms at Lord's and Edgbaston. Consistency has been conspicuously absent; the pressure ever-intensifying.

Should Australia lose this match - and a 172-run first innings deficit is giving every reason to believe they will - Ponting's men will be relegated to fourth-place on the ICC Test ladder. Whether they are deserving of such an exaggerated slide is open for debate, but an inquisition will nevertheless be launched by an Australian public unfamiliar with the concept of a losing cricket team.

Australia's 2005 Ashes defeat proved the catalyst for change, and 2009 may yet follow a similar script. Clarke is undoubtedly equipped to handle a promotion from No. 5 to No. 4 in the batting order, and home Test series against the eighth-ranked West Indians and sixth-ranked Pakistanis might be viewed as an opportune time to blood a younger batsman. Callum Ferguson will emerge as a strong contender, although a David for Michael Hussey swap - similar to the Waugh exchange of 1991 - cannot be discounted.

It would, of course, be a great injustice to apportion all blame for Australia's dramatic collapse at The Oval to Hussey. Any sequence involving a team losing ten wickets for 87 runs suggests a multitude of sins committed by numerous culprits, and Ponting, Clarke and Brad Haddin are among those who would dearly love the opportunity to replay their innings. But whereas they have scored heavily in recent Australian campaigns, Hussey has not. And the patience of the public, if not the selectors, is wearing thin.

Like Matthew Hayden four years ago, Hussey has one more innings at The Oval to convince critics, and perhaps himself, that he is the man to lead Australia into the next summer. Hayden's scratchy century in 2005 kick-started the most prolific 18 months of his career. Can Hussey emulate those feats? All will be revealed this weekend.

Alex Brown is deputy editor of Cricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Avi on August 23, 2009, 20:46 GMT

    Yes! The doubters with their nasty comments have been proved wrong as Mike Hussey saves his Test career with a magnificent hundred against all odds... well done Mr Cricket! The only time I have been more relieved to see someone score a hundred would have been when Rahul Dravid did against England at Mohali, hope Mike goes on until at least the 2011 World Cup and gets to bow out on his own terms.

  • Rahul on August 23, 2009, 12:04 GMT

    Vezayar... your argument is absolutely baseless and a smart attempt by you to deviate from the topic at hand, which is Micheal Hussey! But since you insist... the modern Australian cricketers are quite cocky and under the garb of "mental disintegration" (which they called abuse when done against them) are known to cross the line more often than not. The Sydney test is the greatest example anyone can think of. Confidence is a good thing. Arrogance is not ! Instead of taking digs at India, please contribute valid points to the debate and if you can't, I guess abstinence is the way to go.

  • Avi on August 23, 2009, 10:13 GMT

    As an Indian fan, I almost feel conflicted in feeling sorry for any Australian cricketer, but ultimately I don't for the simple reason that it is Mike 'Mr Cricket' Hussey, who is one of the (very) few members of the Australian team who I respect for his sportsmanship. He has gone through a tough patch of late, and I wouldn't be surprised if the calllous Australian selectors heartlessly axe him, but for Australia's and Test cricket's sake I hope that he emulates Hayden, Dravid and Collingwood in making a career-saving hundred tonight at the Oval, as he needs all the support he can get considering the vitriolic anti-Hussey brigade evidenced with these comments. All the best Mike, a true gentleman of the game.

  • Vishal on August 22, 2009, 12:16 GMT

    Vezayar, you dont need to be a team psychologist to know something which is evident from the lackaidisical approach of the Aussies. Ponting wants to hit a century in every innings so that he can come close to Tendulkar as soon as possible and may be can overtake him one day (dunno if that is going to happen) and poor Symonds has made a mockery of himself when he was sent off packing by the selectors for lack of discipline. I am sure the aussie team is in for an overhaul. Just like how you have discarded my comments as baseless, every sane Cricket loving fan would have rejected the claims made by Aussies about the Indians. And please, I would request all the sports fans, for God's sake, do not compare Hussey to the great Tendulkar, they are poles apart. When the Aussie team was winning all over, they had players who not only had extraordinary talents to single handedly win matches, but they were playing for their country. I am sorry Vezayar, as I do not see this approach now.

  • Aditya on August 22, 2009, 10:12 GMT

    Hussey's nickname is Mr. Cricket because he loves the game too much and not because he or his fellow players think of him very highly (was given to him by Flintoff i think). His form since the Indian tour has been poor but I think he will be back among the runs soon. He just needs to relax, take it one ball at a time and not think too much about the outcome. His one day form has been pretty decent and even if he's dropped he will not be discarded for good because he will still play in the one day squad. But having said this i think Brad Hodge was treated very poorly by the selectors. He makes an unbeaten double hundred against Pollock, Ntini and co. in Perth and is dropped for the next match. He should have been picked instead of Hughes. Year after year he was among the highest run maker in domestic cricket (both in Oz and Eng). He needs to be picked soon.

  • Callum on August 22, 2009, 9:46 GMT

    Really Vyshal? So you know the exact agenda and intent of the Australian players. Notice there is no question mark at the end of that sentence? Its rhetoric, as any non-moronic human would completely write-off your comment as ridiculous). Assuming you do know, which you state to be the case, i would then also assume that you're the team psychologist, am i right? If not, well then... Your comment is as plainy absurd as your passive display of aggression. By that i refer to your reference to australian players (apparently) calling indian players selfish. Same rubbish in every post. Endless amounts of baseless comments that are bred from media slurrs and ill-feelings towards a team (and nation for equally baseless reasons) that was so dominant for so many years. Lastly, Rahulsaxena, NOT ONCE, has any modern sustralian player claimed to be 'the greatest this' or 'the greatest that'. Why do you feel the need to make and share opinions based on absolute bollucks? Tis an absolute farce.

  • p on August 22, 2009, 9:40 GMT

    Almost all Tendulkars poor runs were due to injuries. Serious career threatening ones with recurrent surgeries. The likes of Hussey,Lara etc have no such excuse. Whats wrong with him? Nothing. So then?...Its not a question of waiting for him to recover from injuries or some such...

  • Murali on August 22, 2009, 9:26 GMT

    Vyshal has given a very good response to the article above. It does look as though the Aussies are playing for themselves. Shallow as it may seem, each of the players that Vyshal mentioned has some kind of personal goal they are aiming for. There have always been tremendous competition to be in the top 11 in Australia. While it was good when the top 11 was also in the top 30 of the world, the entire current 11 won't even make it to the top 100 (barring a few exceptions). I am not sure what the selectors are going to do about Hussey. All that I know is that it is going to be a very important decision which will decide how much time Australia will take to come back to the top again. And we know that they will bounce back, as they always have...

  • Shivaji on August 22, 2009, 9:25 GMT

    Alexk400 has written that Pontingn plays well under pressure.What a joke? Many a times in the past he has proved how fragile he is when under pressure. No, its not necessary to go far backwards. If he really a gutsy player like Steve Waugh, he would have played it in the first innings and he will prove it by playing in the second innings now. Let me tell my friend Alexk400, that the writing on the wall is evident and deline of Ponting thereby.

  • Mradul on August 22, 2009, 9:00 GMT

    Well @ Alexk400 let me enlighten you with few facts about Sachin. If you search for Batsmen who avg most in a Winning cause in ODIs Sachin comes No.1, and averages 7 runs more than his nearest competitor Ponting. Sachin averages a decent 65 in the Test matches that India has Won. If you take records from 1990 onwards when he started playing, he is second in the list of highest averages by a batsman when winning a match on foreign soil (13 runs in avg clear of nearest Aussie Steve Waugh). Unlike the Aussies who always had the luxury of having a very potent bowling attack and thus their batsmen never faced those top bowlers like McGrath, Warne, Lee and Mcdermott, Sachin has played against the best bowlers of his time (barring Kumble) and has scored 85 international centuries. If you think he chokes under pressure then i am really surprized how he managed all these things over 20 years of International Cricket. Oh, and i forgot, he leads the all time Run charts in both Test and ODIs.....

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