Hussey hails South Africa's 'family feel'
Michael Hussey, who is working with the South African World Cup side as a consultant, has urged the team not to imitate Australia in their outlook towards the game and the dressing-room atmosphere
South African cricket has always wanted to be a little Australian, especially in terms of success. When Australia introduced player numbers to their kit, South Africa followed suit. When Australia added a coloured stripe to their Test whites, so did South Africa. When Australia won World Cup after World Cup after World Cup, South Africa, and a few others like New Zealand and England, wished for just one.
But now Michael Hussey, who has been seconded to the South African camp for a sprinkling of days at this tournament, has advised them against trying to copy their Antipodean counterparts.
"The thing that's stood out about South Africa is that there is no ego, there is no arrogance, it's very much a family feel. Everyone treats each other with a lot of respect," Hussey said. "It would be fantastic for a young player to know that they would feel accepted from the word go whereas certain teams that I have gone from, in Australia, there have been big names, big egos, big personalities. I'm not saying that's necessarily a bad thing but it's quite different. It's quite refreshing to come into an environment where you feel respected."
As if on cue, some members of the Australian media called Hussey out for joining what they called "the enemy camp", but he laughed it off as disguised insecurity. "Since it became public, there has been a bit of criticism and I think that's because the Australians have a real respect for the South African cricket team and they see them as one of the big threats in this tournament," Hussey said. "We want a strong world game and we want strong competition, and I don't have a problem working with other teams."
So what is Hussey sharing with South Africa that may have Australia worried? "From a technical point of view, it's about watching some of the batsmen and seeing if I can pick up anything. And then also talk a bit about the Australian conditions," he said.
Neither of those is as important as Hussey's first-hand experience as a World Cup-winning player, which not even Gary Kirsten can provide, and that's what South Africa are really after. Hussey was part of the victorious 2007 Australian outfit that blew South Africa away in both the group stage and the semi-final, and has been called on to explain how that was done.
"To win World Cups, you need world-class performers but quite often you need some unsung heroes as well," he said. "I think back to 2007 where we had our world-class players like Ponting, Hayden, Gilchrist and McGrath but we also had a lot of unsung heroes like Brad Hogg and Nathan Bracken come in and do a really good job as well.
"Look down the list of this South African team and you see a lot of those world-class stars - AB de Villiers, Hashim Amla, Dale Steyn, JP Duminy, Morne Morkel - and there might be some unsung heroes like a David Miller or one of the other bowlers can come in and do a job as well like Imran Tahir."
Miller and Tahir were two of South Africa's stand-out performers in their opening match against Zimbabwe, when they were under pressure after falling to 83 for 4 but scored over 300 and defended it. Although South Africa were not expected to come under pressure against their neighbours, who have had not had much in the way of regular cricket and went through a change in coaching regimes six weeks before their campaign kicked off, both de Villiers and coach Russell Domingo drew positives from the experience.
Domingo said that South Africa wanted to be tested - and had even tried their hand at make-believe when playing bilateral series and pretended games were World Cup quarter-finals - so that when they get to the knockouts they will be prepared. There's nothing like the real deal though, which Hussey knows, and that is why his advice in that area may be most important to South Africa.
"In those pressure moments, your mind is racing. You're thinking about so many different things, most of them negative," he said. "It's about somehow being able to let the doubts go out of your mind and concentrate on what needs to be done. Generally it's trying to play the next ball as best you can and, from a bowling point of view, trying to execute your skill as best as you can. And if you do that ball after ball, you can overcome those pressure situations."
Ultimately, Hussey conceded it also takes a little of something nobody can control, not matter how well-drilled they are or how good their personnel is. "South Africa have the definitely got the squad to do it but you probably do need a bit of luck as well," he said. As much as Australia had? South Africa only want a little bit.
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent