CSK soar on Hussey's wings
Most of the best Twenty20 batsmen are all about big shots and flamboyance. Chris Gayle's innings are likely to be remembered for brutal hits onto the roof, MS Dhoni for helicopter shots, Shane Watson for ultra-effective slog sweeps that send the ball sailing over midwicket and AB de Villiers for sheer mind-boggling innovation.
This season's highest run-getter, however, has been Michael Hussey, who manages to combine consistency and efficiency with an almost anonymous brand of batting.
Despite 700-plus runs this season, perhaps the batting sequence that will be most recalled and Youtubed will be the three successive reprieves he had from Kieron Pollard at point. Just as in his international career, Hussey continues to collect his runs unobtrusively, with protractor placement and without the flash that marks most game-changing Twenty20 innings.
It helps that Chennai Super Kings have the batting firepower that is the envy of the league. Suresh Raina has been the most consistent batsman over six seasons of the IPL and is yet to miss a match. Dhoni is widely acknowledged as one of the best finishers in the game. M Vijay has repeatedly shown his ability to play decisive innings in the playoffs, while Albie Morkel and Dwayne Bravo can hit the ball as long as anyone in the tournament.
That stockpile means Hussey isn't under pressure to come out all-guns blazing, and can take a few overs to assess the conditions. His role has been to provide stability at the top before the power-hitters take over in the second half. The Super Kings' winning mantra of scoring 60 in the first half of the innings before pillaging more than a 100 in the final ten has been perfected based on Hussey's all-surface batting.
Versatility has long been a hallmark of Hussey's batting. He effortlessly slotted in the Australia middle order after many years in the domestic circuit as an opener, and adeptly switched gears when called upon as a finisher in limited overs. That flexibility has been in abundant display this IPL season as well.
When he has had to set up a target, as in the playoff match against Mumbai Indians, he does the early groundwork before joining in the run spree later on. But when confronted with a big chase, as against Rajasthan Royals, he has turned to a more expansive game, dishing out boundaries from the start.
The fluid game has been complemented with a staggering consistency, a rare quality in the Twenty20 format. In nine of his 16 innings this season he has reached 40 at least nine times, and has only three single-digit scores.
The sustained run stems from a deep knowledge of his game, and a range of strokes that makes it impossible to stop him from scoring. Plenty of his early boundaries come through punches through point or cover, and when the time comes for the big hits, his trusted shot is the shovel to the leg side, which nets him sixes in the arc from long-on to midwicket. While he relies on the orthodox most times, he can pull out the reverse-sweep when needed or innovate by moving across the stumps and tucking the ball past short fine as he did repeatedly against Lasith Malinga.
The barrage of runs has meant that Faf du Plessis, South Africa's Twenty20 captain and a man who has grown rapidly in stature since his successful stint with Super Kings last year, has been confined to the bench all season even after regaining full fitness.
This is only the second time that Hussey has been available for the entire season, with his Australia commitments keeping him away on several occasions. He was around for the 2011 season, when again he was again the highest run-getter for Super Kings and topped off the season with a 159-run stand with Vijay that virtually guaranteed a second straight IPL title. He will seek a similar finish this time as well.
Siddarth Ravindran is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo