Review: Underneath the Southern Cross October 13, 2013

From golden to mortal

Mike Hussey's autobiography traces Australia's 2006-07 peak and the decline that followed with candour and insight
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No matter what he achieved, how brilliantly he batted, or how much respect he gathered among team-mates, opponents and spectators, Michael Hussey always thought of himself as an underdeveloped nicker and nudger, to whom power and puberty arrived embarrassingly late. Like William Miller in Almost Famous, Hussey was the kid who looked as though he'd been skipped a grade or two, shorter, skinnier and less hairy than it was socially acceptable to be in his teenage years. Batting was an unrelenting struggle against inner voices telling him he wasn't good enough.

But also like Miller, and his real-life inspiration, Cameron Crowe, on the rock 'n roll road of the early 1970s, Hussey learned valuable lessons from those awkward days. He was always respectful, thoughtful and keen to do the right things by those around him, while the self-doubt born of being smaller and less capable of muscling the ball ensured that as a batsman he never took anything for granted. Hussey was intense but personable, earnest and enthusiastic, and far, far more talented a batsman than he ever gave himself credit for.

At times, the lack of assurance made his life less enjoyable than it might have been, and it probably scuppered his leadership ambitions after a belated but spectacular entry into international cricket. Nevertheless, he developed into arguably the most complete batsman the game has yet seen, as much at home in the hustle and bustle of a T20 contest as in the cut and thrust of a Test, and anything in between. Seldom has a cricketer known better how to operate in a partnership than Hussey. He enjoyed the thrill of victory as much as any Australian cricketer ever has, becoming much more gregarious and entertaining company in those moments, and rightly being granted the privilege of leading the team song when Justin Langer retired.

The title of the song, "Underneath the Southern Cross", has become the title of Hussey's autobiography, a valuable account of a late-blooming career but also an admirably frank survey of Australian cricket over that time. Like the team around him, Hussey's account peaks during the 2006-07 Ashes series before slipping down into more regretful, even mournful, territory, as success gave way to defeats, introspection, unrelenting media speculation about his place, and finally the emergence of an insular team culture Hussey does not pretend to say he enjoyed.

Starting with a bruising duel against Dale Steyn in Durban in 2009, an encounter he viewed dimly as a failure while team-mates marvelled, Hussey retraces his life. With the help of an accomplished ghostwriter in Malcolm Knox - also the penner of Adam Gilchrist's True Colours - what emerges is a detailed picture of life as a cricket-crazed child, a battling first-class cricketer, then finally an international batsman of rare versatility. Key moments are discussed candidly and at times revealingly, from the SCG dressing-room confrontation between Simon Katich and Michael Clarke over Hussey's singing of the team song, to the confused circumstances of his final night in that same dressing room earlier this year and the hurtful email rumour that resulted from it.

At times Hussey's lack of assurance made his life less enjoyable than it might have been, and it probably scuppered his leadership ambitions. Nevertheless, he developed into arguably the most complete batsman the game has yet seen

As valuable, however, are insights into other cricketers great and small. At the DLF Cup in Malaysia in 2006 for instance, a sequence of 6, 4, 4, 4, 4 by Brian Lara against the South Australian spinner Dan Cullen had its catalyst in the young bowler calling his opponent a "cocky p***k". Then there is a curious interaction between Michael Clarke and Sachin Tendulkar during the fractious 2007-08 summer. After an ODI win in Sydney, Michael Clarke called out Tendulkar on his habit of not shaking hands after a match, trekking into the visitors' rooms and startling India's maestro, who said that he'd forgotten. "You don't forget to shake hands after an international match," Hussey notes. "Perhaps Sachin wasn't a god, just another human like the rest of us."

Hussey's portraits of Clarke and his predecessor, Ponting, are two of the more fascinating passages of his tale. He struggles to find strong enough words to convey his admiration for Ponting as a batsman, a leader and a man, while speaking warmly of Clarke as a batting partner and a nimble captain stepping into enormous shoes. The contrast is summed up by observations of how his slow medium pace was used. Under Ponting, a tidy over against a rampant Tendulkar in Hyderabad has Hussey earning another, more expensive over. Hussey is convinced the experiment is complete, but Ponting chances a third, which promptly goes for 14 runs. Clarke, by contrast, uses Hussey as a surprise weapon, striking it lucky by grabbing wickets in Sri Lanka and the West Indies then immediately taking him off.

Hussey's own brief flirtation with the Australian captaincy is also unpacked. A demoralising visit to New Zealand with an under-strength team before the 2007 World Cup ended his chances of pursuing the role any further. He admits to not having the conviction to impose his ideas on the rest of the team, particularly the bowlers, as New Zealand twice ran down scores of well over 300. "I tried to be very consultative, supporting the bowlers individually, but I went too far," he writes. "If the bowler thought differently from me, I let him have his way."

Aware that many have assumed they did not get along, Hussey goes out of his way to depict a strong relationship with Clarke, demonstrated by a string of partnerships that humbugged Sri Lanka, India and South Africa in 2011 and 2012. Over that time, Hussey's own enthusiasm for the task was waning as the Argus review took the team in different directions to those he preferred, removing a coach he admired in Tim Nielsen and replacing him with one he was unsure about in Mickey Arthur. There was success for a time, but Hussey saw signs of decay in the West Indies. His concerns were relayed to Arthur but went no further.

At the same time the wages of constant travel were draining both Hussey and his wife Amy, a steadfast presence in his life since they met and courted endearingly as teaching students at Curtin University in the early 1990s. Eventually he decided that, as with Miller on the Stillwater tour bus, he had to leave the circus. It had changed into something he felt less warmth about than previously, and there is something elegiac about the comparisons made between the Australian team he walked into and the one he was to leave.

By keeping his retirement plans a secret, Hussey found himself following the insular lines he had seen set around him. He was self-effacing to the last, only allowing himself the indulgence of walking first on to the field of his final Test after Clarke refused to take the field until he did. Now Hussey's career account is on the shelves, and he is preparing to take on a role in the Nine commentary box. It is a worthwhile reminder of how great players can be made as well as born, and how the influence of formative years can shape a cricketer for the term of his career.

Underneath the Southern Cross
By Michael Hussey
Hardie Grant
400 pages, A$49.95

Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • dummy4fb on October 16, 2013, 6:19 GMT

    A wonderful cricketer and an even nicer human being. Someone who was a gentleman in an often, ungentlemanly team .He did his best as a batsman and as a fielder giving his heart and soul for the australian cricket team . he started late but bloomed almost immediately . He was part of australia"s world cup winning team in 2007 and part of their attempts in the t20. Indian fans love him for is exploits for the chennai super kings team and his unstinting team man sentiments . Probably his career was cut short thanks to cricket australia and Clarke"s arrogance . We shall miss him . Ramanujam sridhar

  • dummy4fb on October 15, 2013, 2:28 GMT

    I loved reading his book...There will never be a guy that could go into a situation and say i cant do it...He went in and go on with it...1 thing i found funny was when he batted with Mcgrath at the 2005/6 MCG test...you want to face nope not yet 2 min later his facing and made 11no...Champion guy

  • Wefinishthis on October 15, 2013, 0:26 GMT

    The 'transition' began about 7 years ago when McGrath & Warne retired. We replaced one of the all-time greatest pace bowlers with an average of 21 and one of the great spin bowlers with an average of 25 with a bunch of new bowlers all averaging around 30 (Siddle, 'haus, Johnson etc). You can't expect to win tests regularly when your bowlers all average 30. We were ok for a short while with Clark, Lee and MacGill, but after they were all prematurely retired/injured, it was all downhill from there. Our batsmen were no longer facing the world's best bowlers in the nets, but instead out in the middle and as they aged, it was no surprise they found batting more difficult. Our selectors kept picking useless spinners and ignored the only bowler with a respectable shield average (O'Keefe) who had success against the then no.1 England side. It was mainly just the terrible selection policies and ignorance of bowling averages that hurt us along with a bit of bad luck along the way.

  • Behind_the_bowlers_arm on October 14, 2013, 8:21 GMT

    Have been lucky enough to see a lot of Mike Hussey in Perth since his early days and probably my favourite cricketer. Still the same from day 1 til when he was a star and an ornament of the game. Interesting to think that that Western Australia batting line up ... Langer Katich Hussey Martyn Gilchrist ... have a couple of things in common. All excellent players and ALL should have each played another 20 or 30 Tests at least.

  • OneEyedAussie on October 14, 2013, 1:14 GMT

    I've never understood the "he succeeds despite limited strokeplay" backhanded compliment Hussey always gets. Hussey played the cut, the pull and the drive all around the wicket. As an aside if you want to see limited strokeplay then look at Cowan. Maybe it was repeated so often that even Hussey himself started to believe it.

    It's almost a case of where to stop praising Hussey rather than where to begin. Team man. Great runner between the wickets. Fantastic specialist gully fieldsman. Ruthless accumulator of runs. Dauntless limited overs lower order player/finisher. Consummate gentlemen. Well, I could go on for a while.

  • jb633 on October 13, 2013, 21:11 GMT

    IMO this guy eclipsed all the Aussie modern greats. He was technically better than Ponting and Waugh and more mental strength that Hayden and Martin. The guy is a complete legend and always the player I feared most as an England fan. IMO he epitomises everything that Australians should be proud of. The difference between Hussey and Clarke in terms of ability is minimal, the difference between how they will be remembered will be huge. I wish I had the same cricketing temperament as Hussey.

  • Longmemory on October 13, 2013, 21:10 GMT

    Guys like Hussey and Dravid remind you that it is possible to play this game - and to live life - with dignity, grace, courage, grit and friendship. They will be greatly missed and the game will be much the less for their absence. Thanks guys - you will always be among the all-time greats not just for how well you played the game but also for how you played the game. And wish both of you all the very best in your retirement.

  • Jay.Raj on October 13, 2013, 17:50 GMT

    one of the great motivators and my role model!

  • Truemans_Ghost on October 13, 2013, 14:36 GMT

    And the best thing is, he writes (or at least sort of writes) his autobiography after he has retired. Other cricketers, please take note.

  • gsingh7 on October 13, 2013, 14:36 GMT

    hussey was good at home but average outside of australia. he wud score big in aus but on away tours he went missing. anyways enjoy ur retirement mr. hussey. personally i wud have wanted him to complete the 'transition" that aus test team is undergoing.hussey did not gave proper thought to aus demise after he leaves. good luck in ur future , mike.