Mike Hussey: Mysterious rise of Mr Cricket

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The Independent Online

From Mr Unfulfilled to Mr Cricket in a season is quite a journey. Mike Hussey made it. Like all overnight triumphs on the big stage, of course, it was rooted in years and years of touring the small halls waiting and praying for a break.

It meant that when Australia's selectors at last remembered who Hussey was and where he came from he was ready. "I think part of the reason I took to it as well as I have is that I had played a lot of first-class cricket, had a lot of experience in different conditions, and had a good knowledge of my game in different conditions. I wasn't going to take anything for granted and wanted to make every game important," he said.

Hussey was six months into his 31st year last November when he played his first Test match, six months after making his one-day international debut. He had played 176 first-class matches and scored 15,313 runs. No Australian had waited longer.

The rest is history. And what a history. In both forms of the game his batting average is in the 70s. He had four hundreds and five fifties in his 20 Test innings before the current match, while in 48 one-day matches, batting in the late middle order has brought 1,388 runs at a strike rate of 95 runs per 100 balls.

There is a simple elegance about his strokes, each of them tidily crafted and unhurried. He is neat. If his innings were hand-written notes there would be no deletions or repetitions, and the punctuation would be impeccable. When he made 86 in the First Test at Brisbane there was a calm inevitability about it, the composure of a skilled man who knew his trade. It was only inexplicable that he was out.

Yet nobody can quite explain Hussey's rise. It is not simply that he is playing Test cricket, it is that he looks as if this is what he was born for. Hussey himself can hardly understand it. He was a bit more than a journeyman cricketer, although his reputation was much greater in England, where he has made three treble-centuries, than in Australia, where his first-class performances have been (relatively) moderate.

"You always hope there's a chance round the corner but I certainly thought on occasions it wouldn't arrive," he said. "For a lot of my earlier days I put a lot of pressure on myself to make the Australian team. I was trying so hard, trying new things, to become a better player all the time, and it probably had a detrimental effect on my game.

"I decided a couple of years ago basically to say 'Stuff it' and just to enjoy my cricket. I knew I could still be proud of my career. Suddenly when I took the pressure off myself and just relaxed I became more consistent."

Part of the reason for Hussey's self-possession at the crease now is that for five years he has been a full-time, year-round cricketer, plying his trade for, variously, Northamptonshire, Gloucestershire and Durham in the English summer and for Western Australia at home. County cricket, it is exasperating to reveal, completed his preparation for the big time.

"Batting every day, in different conditions, you learn a lot about yourself and your game. To a degree it prepares you for international cricket because it's a full calendar year really." Another Aussie fine-tuned on the greensward of England. He has repaid every penny in runs.

Not the least magical aspect of his transformation is that he is an opener of long standing turned into a middle-order player. His credentials as a future captain are already much touted and he led Australia in a one-day match in September. Not everybody is convinced of his nous.

Hussey seems still to be innocently passionate about the game, which may be easier after waiting so long, but it was noticed by the Australian dressing room. Spotting that he lived, ate and slept the game, they dubbed him Mr Cricket.

"It's flattering to be praised, but I take it with a grain of salt. I have heard the comments but I don't necessarily agree with them." There speaks the man from central casting who has become a star.