'I've never felt I was cruising along'
Michael Hussey is such a fixture of the Australian team that it's easy to forget he has been in the Test side for less than five years. He turns 35 in two months - the same vintage as Ricky Ponting, yet they have been team-mates for only a third of Ponting's international career. They are not old men - heck, they're still in the age bracket for Contiki party tours - but questions of longevity are starting to be asked. Ponting's single-mindedness means he is aiming for the 2013 Ashes trip to England to regain the urn; Hussey's goals are more short-term.
"I'd love to be there with him for that, but I think that's too far away for me to be thinking about at this stage," Hussey told Cricinfo this week. "In the coming year, we've got three huge tournaments coming up, which I would desperately love to be involved in - the Twenty20 World Cup in the West Indies, the Ashes coming up next year and the 50-over World Cup coming up throughout the subcontinent as well.
"They're the big three that I'd really love to be involved in, and I think after that I'll see how I'm going. I don't want to speculate on if that will be it, but I'd love to get through those, play the best cricket I possibly can, and reassess from there."
To achieve all those objectives, Hussey will first need to break back into Australia's Twenty20 side, and secondly maintain the form that he found during the Australian summer. It's easy to see why retirement couldn't be further from his mind. Many times over the past 18 months the axe could have fallen, so he is entitled to enjoy his success. He'd also spent a decade trying to make the team in the first place.
If anyone can realise his goals it's Mr Cricket, who the former Australia coach John Buchanan called the model template for any aspiring cricketer. His knowledge and obsession with the game is so well known that you half expect to see him wandering around in whites and pads during his spare time, but in the lobby of the team's Wellington hotel he is almost incognito in a t-shirt, casual trousers and cap.
The main aim of his New Zealand trip, besides of course contributing to a series win, is to build on his good form. Despite his century in the final Ashes Test, Hussey entered the Australian season as one of the most vulnerable members of the side. Until The Oval, he had endured the sort of lean patch bound to cause panic in a man for whom a slump had previously meant two small scores in a row.
"I had a few times where I was questioning myself a fair bit," Hussey said. "I just knew that if I kept sticking to what I had been doing in the past, what I knew made me successful, and had a lot of faith and belief in my game, then I knew it would turn eventually. I just hoped it wasn't too late before it did turn. I think Ricky and the coaching staff and selectors showed a lot of faith in me and I'm really appreciative."
Leading in to The Oval, he had averaged 23.85 in his previous 12 Tests and when his first innings brought another duck, he was possibly on his last chance. He made 121 in the second innings, not enough to win the Test for Australia but enough to rescue his career. Despite some scratchiness at the start of the Australian summer - some commentators even wondered if his eyesight was failing - runs came. It culminated in a match-winning unbeaten 134 against Pakistan in Sydney.
"Coming in to the season there was a lot of speculation about my position in the team," he said. "I felt like I hadn't been playing too badly but I needed to be more consistent. The longer the summer went on and the more confidence I got from consistent scoring, the better I felt all the time. But every Test match is hard. You're going to have to scratch and scrape together runs at certain stages throughout your innings. I don't think I've ever had one Test innings where I felt that everything just cruised along nicely."
This week brings a new challenge for Hussey. Already he has made headlines, for his comments that the New Zealanders shouldn't sledge Michael Clarke over his personal life. It raised the question, does Mr Cricket himself sledge? He is obsessive about writing lists to help him focus, so he'd be the perfect candidate to keep a database of potential sore spots for certain opponents. Alas, it is not his style.
"I had a bit of a sledging match with Matthew Hayden once in a Sheffield Shield game at the Gabba and he just absolutely pulverised us everywhere. I can't remember how many he made, but he made at least 150. Walking off then I just thought, this is stupid, because I know I'm going to cop it when I go out there now as well.
"I pretty much gave up on it. At times there's always going to be emotion in the game and sometimes you get a bit carried away and get involved, but to be honest, most of the time I've got involved in sledging, the player has gone on and scored heaps of runs, so I try and steer clear of it as much as I can."
While Clarke might be a target in Wellington this week, Hussey's only words will be of encouragement for his team-mates. He will be embarking on his first Test in New Zealand and another of his goals is to play Tests in every country and master their conditions. Assuming Pakistan remains on the no-go list and Zimbabwe doesn't return, the only other trip left to tick off is Sri Lanka. The touring lifestyle has its professional challenges but it's also personally tough for Hussey, who has a wife and three children at home in Perth.
"It's probably the hardest thing about playing the game, I must admit," he said. "I don't enjoy the amount of time away and I'm sure that will probably come in to the decision when it is time to go. But we've got a couple of decent little breaks coming up, so I'll just really look forward to that time at home. I try not to do too much outside of cricket, I'm pretty much home 24/7 when I do get a break. Then when it's cricket, you just try and concentrate on the other life."
It's the life he's always dreamed of, and he's not ready to give it up yet.
Brydon Coverdale is a staff writer at Cricinfo