January 13, 2013

Life after Hussey

On their next two tours, to India and England, Australia will greatly miss his skills against spin

Michael Hussey's surprise retirement announcement has left a gaping hole in the Australian line-up at a time when they can least afford it. His dependability, competitive drive and enthusiasm will be sadly missed, as will his ability to thrive after Australia suffered early setbacks. However, it's his effectiveness against spinners that the team will most struggle without in the next couple of series.

The current Indian spinners aren't among that country's most memorable. Nevertheless they are serviceable, and given the right conditions, which will more than likely be provided, they could cause Australia's batting line-up huge headaches.

Michael Clarke is the best player of spin in the Australian side, and with Hussey gone, he leads a group of batsmen who are vulnerable on turning pitches. David Warner has shown an ability to learn against spinners, as have Matthew Wade and Phillip Hughes, but they are still P platers when it comes to performing in a Test on a spinning pitch with fieldsmen crowded around the bat. The rest of the potential line-up has serious question marks against spinners.

Ed Cowan showed his shortcomings at the SCG against Sri Lanka, where he struggled mightily against steady spinners on a normal fourth-day pitch. Shane Watson is far better suited to facing the new ball first up, and Usman Khawaja has the sort of plodding footwork that can be exploited by wily spinners.

There could be a case for playing both Wade and Brad Haddin in India, with one of them in the side for his batting. Haddin is a good player of spin bowling and at this stage of his career is better than Wade standing up to the spinners. This is an important consideration as most of Wade's problems during the summer came while standing up to Nathan Lyon, and Australia can't afford to keep giving Indian batsmen second chances.

However, India will be just a warm-up in Australia's trial by spin. The following series is against England, who have a far better duo in Graeme Swann and Monty Panesar, the ideal combination of right- and left-arm bowlers, spinning in opposite directions and with the potential to be England's new Jim Laker and Tony Lock.

While the English pitches may not favour spin as much as Indian ones, that's balanced by the fact that England also has a good pace attack. If Jimmy Anderson, Steve Finn and Co consistently take early wickets and Australia's middle order is exposed to England's talented pair of spinners, then Hussey will be sorely missed.

In the opening contest of the 2010-11 Ashes, Hussey waltzed down the track to Swann and continually disrupted his length, to finish with a blistering 195. I asked him why he suddenly started to use his feet against spinners when he had been loath to do so previously. He replied: "I always used to do it when I was younger but I stopped. I'm not sure why."

The important thing is, Hussey had the capability to use his feet efficiently to spinners. He'd obviously been well taught at a young age and had then taken different options. However, when he needed the slick footwork, it was still filed away in the memory bank.

On the evidence so far, none of the Australian batsmen other than Clarke and Haddin has this capability. If batsmen who haven't used their feet against spinners suddenly start trying it at the highest level, it's generally caused by panic. If the Indian spinners force some Australian batsmen into resorting to an unfamiliar tactic, then they'll likely win the battle. If that occurs, it'll be a huge headache for the Australian selectors when picking the squad for England.

Hussey, following a successful tour of India in 2008-09, had a lean time there in 2010-11. The second tour was just prior to the Ashes series at home and his lack of big scores in India may well have been the catalyst for his successfully using his feet against Swann. That shows that even reasonable players of spin bowling can struggle in India.

There was never any doubt Hussey would be missed and this could be brought home forcefully as early as Australia's next tour.

Former Australia captain Ian Chappell is now a cricket commentator and columnist