Any batsman aspiring to greatness should want to be great in all situations: all conditions against all types of bowling in all formats. It has always been that way, since Grace yearned to go to Australia - admittedly partly for the cash and the honeymoon, but also so that they could witness his mastery.
Here is a set of averages that suggest contemporary greatness: Tests 50.62; ODI 48.27; T20I 37.85; First class 52.32; List A 44.43; T20 41.46. They belong to Michael Hussey, a batsman to whom hype, and by extension full consideration, somehow refuse to attach themselves.
Almost everything about Hussey mitigates against anointment. He didn't get into the Test team until he was 30 years old, hardly a prodigy, and then it was as an opener, a position he quickly ceded to a returning Justin Langer. His vast early successes - a thousand Test runs in 166 days, an average of 86 for his first two years, another of 100.22 by his 32nd ODI cap - were airily dismissed as unsustainable (you don't say) and compromised by the relentless excellence of the team he was playing in. Hussey was simply working over opponents already half-out on the ropes.
Then there was the question of his image. In amongst his team of hard-nuts, wise-asses, muggers, brawlers, flawed geniuses, Hussey, sweetly, was the self-styled 'Mr Cricket', that rarest of things in pro sport – an enthusiast. It was almost heartbreaking when, in the gauche early days, he went out in a T20 international with the nickname on the back of his shirt.
The averages returned to a mortal framework during the rough run of 2008-9, and yet still he scurried to the crease in that way of his, like a man trying to get past the local delinquents on his way to the shops. He had enough about him to know that things would turn back his way, because there was no discernible weakness in his game, no gaping hole in technique. He was just getting out, as everyone does.
It's easy then, to explain why Hussey isn't great. It's tougher to to accept that he might be. But here it is: last week, he eked out the the thirty-odd runs to win a tight Test in Barbados. Eighteen months ago, a plane hop away in St Lucia, he won a T20 World Cup semi-final with 60 from 24 balls, an innings of shattering brilliance. Inbetween times, he made 195, 93, 52, 61 and 116 in consecutive knocks against England in an Ashes series in which his colleagues were humiliated.
Any bowlers, any conditions, any format from anywhere in the order, Hussey is ready. Even the way he applies his sunscreen says something about his character. The prominent nose is smothered, and the lips, but so too are the lobes of his ears - sure enough, they can be glimpsed through the sideguards of his helmet. This is attention to detail from a man determined to give himself every chance.
It's all done with deference to the team and to the game. If he has an ego - and he must have - it is well hidden, or more likely channeled into his love of the fight. Australia are never beaten until Hussey is done.
He fulfills a less-acknowledged role in the team too, one that he assumed from Adam Gilchrist. In a side that has pathologically pushed combativeness to its limits - and on occasion beyond - Hussey has offered another face. He is unyielding on the field, but unimpeachable in his sportsmanship. He has soul as well as heart, and when Australia began to lose again, Hussey did so nobly. Ponting could have crossed into dark waters with an Iago as his lieutenant. Instead he had Hussey to offer good sense and sympathy.
Gazing out from the team photos under his baggy green, there's something ingenuous about Hussey's face. Give the image a sepia tint, and he could be a first world war digger, a man from a more innocent age. He even managed not to laugh out loud when Shane Watson was asked to bat at three for Australia. There's no opposition in the world that would swap that arrangement for one involving Mike Hussey. That's the real measure of his worth.
On Talking and Writing about Cricket
4 weeks ago