Kerry Packer made a personal attempt to have the chairman of selectors Trevor Hohns rush Michael Hussey into the Australian team for the pivotal final Test of the 2005 Ashes series at The Oval in place of Damien Martyn, a new book has revealed.
For decades, legends have swirled around the contention that Packer's place in Australian cricket was so powerful as to have him capable of choosing players for the national team himself, but this is the first such instance publicly revealed by one of the many administrators who worked with him.
In Bradman & Packer: The Deal That Changed Cricket, to be released this week to mark 40 years since Packer personally met with Don Bradman in Adelaide on February 13, 1979 to end the World Series split, the former Cricket Australia chairman Bob Merriman conveyed the story of a phone call he received from Packer in the lead-up to the Oval Test. The head of the Nine Network and longtime influencer of cricket was adamant that the key to Australia winning the match and so retaining the Ashes was to call up Hussey from county cricket, after he had impressed against England in the ODI series before the Tests.
"Get that f***ing Hussey in the side, quick," Packer insisted.
"Kerry," Merriman retorted, "the selectors will pick the side."
"They can't pick a bloody club team, Martyn hasn't made a run!"
Startled by Packer's adamant approach, Merriman called his chief executive, James Sutherland.
"Please remind Trevor Hohns that he can pick any Australian, he doesn't have to pick from the 17."
"What do you mean?" Sutherland asked.
"Just let him know that."
Minutes pass, and Sutherland calls back with a response about the obvious player: "Bob, Mike Hussey's on a plane now, we can't get him in."
Hussey was indeed on a plane out of the UK at the time, joining the tour's reserve wicketkeeper Brad Haddin for an Australia A tour of Pakistan where the first match started on September 11 - three days after the Oval Test commenced on September 8. But the story underlines the enormous influence that Packer carried in the game, able to push Merriman, Sutherland and Hohns to the brink of changing the team for one of the most critical matches in the game's history.
When informed of the revelation, Hussey was taken aback. "I didn't know that story, so that blows me away really," Hussey told ESPNcricinfo. "I do remember thinking at the time, there was a bit of speculation in the press, and I remember thinking to myself 'oh gosh'. It was obviously one of the greatest series of all time, it had come right down to the wire for the last Test match, I didn't want to be seen as the big saviour to try to help Australia win the series so I was actually quite petrified to be picked to be honest."
As for the previous engagement with Australia A in Pakistan, Hussey admitted he was on some level relieved to be getting away from the hype and pressure of that Ashes series. "In a small way I was a little bit relieved...I thought they were thinking about leaving Matthew Hayden out and I was going to open the batting," he said. "He's someone I looked up to throughout my whole career and rated very highly, as a great of Australian cricket.
"I don't rate greats easily, so I didn't feel comfortable about replacing someone like Matthew Hayden that I admired so much and rated so highly. When it all didn't happen, I was probably a little bit relieved, as much as you do want to play for Australia, that would've been a tricky start.
"It was just such a massive series, there was so much hype and so much pressure, it would've been a pretty daunting start to my Test career ... I had a more low-key start against the West Indies, and I didn't handle my emotions well at all in that Test match [in Brisbane], so I don't know how I would've handled my emotions playing against England in the final Test of that 2005 Ashes series."
The year of the Oval Test was also Packer's last, as he negotiated a final broadcast deal with CA and then died on Boxing Day, an event that went on to inspire Hussey to one of his greatest innings, a century as part of a 107-run tenth-wicket rearguard with Glenn McGrath on the 27th, after Packer's death at 68 had been announced and observed by a minutes silence before play.
"I think back with a lot of fondness at the day I scored a hundred at the MCG with Glenn McGrath, the day after Kerry Packer died," Hussey said. "We had a minute's silence out on the ground, we had the black armbands, and I was desperate to get a really good score that day in memory of him. I didn't know at the time that he was trying to push for me, but I had a lot of respect for him, for what he did for the players.
"I was part of the players association, the ACA, for a long time as well and the people around the ACA always talk about Kerry Packer and how he was the one guy who changed things for the players and got the players thinking they just needed to be treated fairly and things like that. So I always had enormous respect for what he did around the game but also for what he did for the players."