Michael Hussey March 27, 2006

The Talented Mr Cricket

Michael Hussey walks the walk, but does he talk the talk?

Michael Hussey celebrates his maiden Test century against West Indies in Hobart © Getty Images

Michael Hussey is not a man for big talk. Cautious and quiet, he speaks like he used to bat years ago for Western Australia, with patience, with calm. He is still hard to remove, but his game has since exploded. In an extraordinary summer he has conquered more roles than Robert De Niro. Subsequently, Australia's big four of Matthew Hayden, Justin Langer, Ricky Ponting and Adam Gilchrist have become five. On the tour of South Africa, Hussey will be a marked man.

Arriving at his first Test in November with an Australian-record 15,313 first-class runs, he was uneasy. Nervousness, tentativeness and two wild pull strokes ended what might have been his only shot at a Test career. However, Justin Langer failed to recover from a chest injury and Hussey stayed. In that Test, his poise and power returned with such sustained impact that he was only three points behind Ricky Ponting in the voting for the Allan Border Medal despite having played nine fewer Tests.

The international honeymoon dripped with runs as he hit three centuries in six matches, a model opener's 137 and two heavy-hitting efforts from No. 5 with only the tail for company, and finished the Test season with an average of 80. His one-day numbers have been boosted by 15 not-outs, but his mean of 100.22 after 32 appearances gives his rigorous accumulation a romantic feel. He is also painted as the game's most versatile batsman, and naturally there are glowing comparisons with Michael Bevan.

"The really exciting thing is there have been so many different situations," he says of his summer. "I could be coming in with the team in trouble or I could just be coming in for the last few overs of a one-day match and swinging from the hip." He has done several things comfortably this season: opening when asked, batting down the order, slamming a 56-ball 88 at Christchurch and then a Test-turning 122 at the MCG, where he had a 107-run last-wicket partnership with Glenn McGrath.

"I feel I have set plans, I know what I want to do and how to go about it," he says. "This season there have been more situations [to bat in] and sometimes I've had to go to town with my hitting. It's been fantastic." He uses `fantastic' and `enjoyable' a lot. Life deserves to be fun after waiting almost a decade for this opportunity while churning endless southern and northern summer runs.

'There's a long way to go before I start thinking about leadership roles; I've got to forge my own playing career first.' © Getty Images

Hussey has no doubt that his county experience has prepared and polished him for whatever international players bowl at him. Supporters who watched him at Northamptonshire, Gloucestershire and Durham thought it disgraceful that he was not a Test player before the age of 30. But Hussey recognises the importance of the grooming, and knows that maulings such as his 23 off eight balls in the second VB Series final would probably not have come about had he only spent time in Perth. "I guess an innings like that wouldn't have happened five or six years ago," he says. "My game has developed a lot and it's really enjoyable. I definitely improved when I was in county cricket and I really enjoyed the UK because there were so many different challenges and so many different conditions."

His all-round comfort has earned him the nickname `Mr Cricket'. It started as a tease for his compulsive playing, training, and reading regimes, but is now an essential part of the team's vernacular beside `Punter' Ponting, `Roy' Symonds and `Bing' Lee. "It seems like I'll be lumped with it for a while," he says. It also highlights the stunning speed of his acceptance. Mr Cricket is not consumed by numbers, not even when his average in both forms of the game was better than Don Bradman's. "I've never been big on stats. I've always loved watching, learning about the game, reading about it and, of course, playing it." He will peruse cricket history books, flick through magazines and laugh at the tales in offerings from former players Max Walker and Kerry O'Keeffe among them.

When pressed for a favourite he says he liked The Art of Captaincy by Mike Brearley. "I was given it when I was given the role at Northants," he says. "I had my own thoughts on leadership but it was interesting to read and get tips on handling teams and individuals. He was obviously a very intelligent man who got the best out of people."

Michael Hussey brings up his hundred during a 107-run partnership with Glenn McGrath at Melbourne © Getty Images

A sign of Hussey's rapid development, man-management credentials and maturity was his elevation to the vice-captaincy for the Twenty20 international against South Africa in January and the two VB Series games that Ricky Ponting was rested for. He says it is too early to think of leadership ambitions, but he is already on the future-captains shortlist. "I'm still getting used to the playing experience," he says. "It's tough on the field and it's tough off it with the attention, the travel and the time away from loved ones. There's a long way to go before I start thinking about leadership roles; I've got to forge my own playing career first."

He remembers the loud noise at the MCG as he reached his century with McGrath's support. The crowd was rapt as Hussey dashed singles, thrashed four sixes and protected his No. 11. "It's the one innings I keep thinking about," he says. "The support I got that day was amazing, and to do it in a Boxing Day Test was fantastic." At the end of that day's play, when he praised McGrath for the invaluable support, it was further evidence of his magnanimity with a good word for team-mates. As for himself, he needs to say nothing; his batting is his biggest statement.

This article first appeared in the March issue of Cricinfo Magazine

Peter English is the Australasian editor of Cricinfo