They called him Mr Cricket and for a while he was a left-handed Bradman. In the first 20 matches of a Test career for which he had waited like a lovesick kid pining for a girlfriend Mike Hussey scored eight hundreds and eight other scores above fifty. His average was 84. This was consummation of a high order.
It was an extraordinary love affair. Hussey was well into his 31st year before Australia selected him to play in a Test match, ignored because of their pre-eminence and eventually selected as an opener only because of Justin Langer's unavailability.
He did not let the chance pass him by. Langer returned but Hussey was found a place in the middle order. He had found himself at last. It could not go on like that and he knew it. The average of 84 has become 55, there has not been a hundred for 21 innings and there have been eight scores in single figures.
Against South Africa earlier this year, Hussey had three ducks. The game was getting its own back. Bradman is no longer mentioned in the same breath but it was reassuring that Mr Cricket still has his enthusiasm.
"After the summer just gone, I had a good close look at all my dismissals and there wasn't a common thread coming through so I think that's a good thing," he says. "The South Africans are an outstanding team and you make one mistake and you're gone and if you are one per cent off where you need to be then you're going to be found out against a very good team. Yes, I found it pretty tough against the South Africans but in the same breath I think it's pretty good character building stuff as well."
He had a month before coming to England and needed it. Contracted to play in the Indian Premier League, he pulled out. "Honestly, I really needed a break. I was pretty much mentally and physically exhausted and couldn't even remember the last time I had been home. I've got three children under five and just needed to get home, I knew playing in the IPL wouldn't have done anybody any good."
Hussey is universally liked for his unquenchable appetite for cricket. He makes no apologies for this or for his desire to play as much as he can because he was unable for so long to grab the attention of the selectors.
At one time selectors were dubious because his form in English country cricket, a competition for which Australian selectors have not always had the deepest respect, was so much better than that in the Sheffield Shield. The difference is actually stark. At home he has scored 8,131 runs with 17 hundreds at an average of 42 yet in England in half the matches he has 19 hundreds at an average of 73.
Although this is his first Ashes tour this experience will ensure that the moving ball will not come as a complete surprise to him. His sense of anticipation of what awaits is infectious.
"This is what you grow up dreaming of as a kid," he said. "From about the age of three or four I just wanted to be involved in an Ashes series in England, particularly playing in a Test match at Lord's, that's the ultimate. I don't want to think of anything beyond that or anything before that, I just want to enjoy this series. I'm nervous, I'm very nervous to perform well because this is what I've waited to be involved in."
His only previous Ashes series was a marked success. In the match at Perth, his home ground, when Australia regained the Ashes his first five innings were 86, 91, 61no and, on his home ground when the Ashes were retained, 74no and 103. Hussey is a versatile batsman, deft off the back foot, forceful off the front and is not as hard-handed as some of his compatriots. The blip in his form cannot have been unexpected but if it disturbed him his equilibrium seems restored.
"You would only be human to think why is it such a hard game when things are going wrong," he said. "There are definitely times when you think, jeez, I'm doing everything I can, I'm doing all my preparation, doing everything right and it's not quite happening for me in the middle. But I think if you have a lot of faith in your game and how it works it will turn your way. It's probably all mental really."
He was happy to dwell briefly on the part that fortune plays in the life of any cricketer and the fear that when it deserts it may never come back.
"When I started it was still difficult, very hard but I was lucky enough to have a bit of luck go my way early in my career and was able to go on and score a couple of big scores," he said. "You gain a lot of confidence from that.
A lot of things did go my way, just little things, playing and missing, maybe a nick falling just short, you get dropped a couple of times |or you get a decision which just goes your way. It sort of just snowballs and you can ride a |bit of a wave there for a while. The confidence keeps growing, but against the South Africans I felt the little things didn't go my way."
He stressed several times his reluctance to look either too far forward or too far back ("when I'm retired I'll have a good reminisce about the games I've been involved in") and talked glowingly of the new Australia. When Hussey first began in 2005, months after England had recaptured the Ashes, all Australian's 21st-century legends were still around. Now they have all gone, except for Ricky Ponting.
"It's almost impossible to replace the likes of Warne, McGrath, Hayden, Langer, Martyn, Gilchrist but in one way it can give Australia a bit of an advantage," he says. "The English haven't seen a lot of our new superstars of the future and for me personally having watched these guys fairly closely over a period of time it's so exciting. We have got some really quality cricketers."
They include Phillip Hughes whom Hussey is confident will ride the crest of a wave before reality bites a little and Mitchell Johnson, seriously fast and now with in-swing.
He also added, for good measure, because the English are rather priding themselves on the quality of their spin bowling compared to Australia's for once: "You underestimate Nathan Hauritz at your peril."
But there was no bravado, no outrageous predictions. "I think it's going to be a really tight series," he said. "I think English players play the conditions very well. That is certainly going to make them hard to beat to start with." Mr Cricket cannot wait to find out.
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