Sunday, 13 January 2013

The mysteries of Michael Hussey's retirement

Like David Bowie's single, it came out of nowhere, and like David Bowie's single it picked up almost universally good notices, partly because it has been unhyped and untelegraphed, old-fashioned in its disdain for anything other than the issue at hand. Michael Hussey has retired from international cricket, but why?

It's the question that no-one is asking, and what's more it is a question that no sane Englishman should whisper, so far does it skew the advantage in Ashes year. But, nonetheless, why is Mike Hussey retiring, and why isn't Australia up in arms about the apparent lack of effort to stop him?

Consider this: Hussey played his 79 Tests consecutively in the rush of the last seven years, making 6,235 runs at 51.52, with 19 centuries. Three of those have come in his last ten innings. His average, having dipped as low as 47 in 2009, has been going back up ever since. The last 12 months have brought him 898 runs at 59.86, his best year since 2007. He is 37 years old, but he is not 37 years old in the way that Ponting or Dravid or Tendulkar were 37, with the weight of all of those awesome miles on the clock. Hussey's eyes are bright and sharp, his hands uncommonly safe, his throw a bullet. He glows with fitness and vigour. Looking at him is almost like inspecting a thoroughbred racehorse, designed for one purpose.

What the numbers or the public image cannot offer is the inner man. Whatever is inside Hussey has long been concealed by the Mr Cricket persona, a handy thing for a player who is obviously not the boofhead kind nor the tortured genius. Hussey tried to show something of it when he spoke about the 'easy life' that lies ahead of him now, away from the 'sick feeling in the stomach before every game', and he has hinted indirectly that he feels the urge to play has waned: if it has, he has disguised it well.

Geoffrey Boycott, who loved the game so much he was unable to keep a bat in his house once he had laid it down for the final time, so deep was the longing it stirred in him, has called Hussey's decision brave. 'He loves [cricket] that much, he doesn't want to hurt himself or the game by just turning up to play when the buzz has gone.'

Hussey's integrity is rock solid, and there's no reason to dispute the logic of his position. Rather, this is an argument about the length of a comet's tail. Bucking the trend of modern retirement, his has not been flagged up, and amid all of the backslapping and the handing on of the team song (Nathan Lyon? really?) its effect on Australia in an Ashes year is its most serious undertone. If Hussey's announcement was a surprise, then Australia's reaction to it was even more so. In the era of 'succession planning', it has come too soon after Ponting and at a time when the Australian batting order is at its least settled for decades. There's is not a team that can easily overcome the removal of 20,000 runs. With the exception of Clarke, Hussey is better than all of them, and better than all of his potential replacements too.

So to the comet's tail. Hussey may have sensed the end, but plainly it has not yet arrived, not as it had for Ponting, perhaps even for Tendulkar. History shows that from those first intimations that he is feeling, there are still games to be played, runs to be made. Even if his returns slipped by 10 per cent from 2012, he would still average 50.

It's possible, that after his years of selflessness, of being on the edge of greatness, of being third-wheel to the legends, something in Mike Hussey just wanted to be wanted. That would hint at an ego he has never let show, but no-one bats like he does without one. The game as a whole has taken Hussey's love for granted. It's hard to accept that it could slip away so suddenly.

Had someone sat him down, refused to accept his decision, told him his country needed him, that his true greatness could be proven in this one last haul, would Mr Cricket really have said no? That's Australia's loss, and Mike Hussey's. India and England will just be happy that he's not there.


tai haku said...

Couldn't agree more with all of this post. The loss of Hussey this close to the Ashes is a hammer blow to aussie chances. The one other point I'd make is that in an increasingly inexperienced team and brittle looking batting line-up a man of Hussey's experience and tactical nous adds far more than simply his own numbers. On field Clarke has a far lesser brains trust than Ponting had to draw on.

Anonymous said...

4 kids under 8..... His wife would have more than a little to do with it.

If he played all forms he'd probably have a month at home between Feb and November with a couple of tours of India and England on the cards

Tim Newman said...

Maybe he couldn't bear the thought of losing another Ashes? ;)

On a more serious note, surprising and seemingly premature retirements do crop up in sports. Eric Cantona is probably the most famous I can think of, who casually announced after the last of the season that this was it. And he meant it.

Cricket forums said...

I tend to nod on what tim newman said, he couldn't bear another ashes loss.

John Halliwell said...

A fascinating analysis, OB. It is an astonishing record for a man who played his first Test at 30; an age when, and it doesn’t seem that long ago, Australians used to contemplate the end of their Test careers.

I wonder if Mike Hussey is a man blessed with great self-insight; someone who simply knows his powers are slightly on the wane, notwithstanding his recent performances against South Africa, and that deterioration could follow with an undignified rush at any time? Might he feel that England 2013 could be where it starts to go wrong, with Anderson at his peak and swinging it round corners and Finn finding that extra pace and bounce that rattles old men? Having observed, at close quarters, Ponting’s decline, has he silently vowed to go out before the wolves reach the door? Or is he simply weary of the international grind?

Mike Hussey strikes me as a man of high integrity, so when he states he is going for family reasons, I believe him. Only the sceptic in me wonders.........

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Anonymous said...

Yes, he's leaving because he terrified of India and then England making him look a complete fool.

He's always seemed the sort of player who cared far more about himself than the team, so I expect all the sceptics are correct.

Anonymous said...

You describe very well one mystery - the timing of Hussey's retirement - and suggest another - why Australian cricket has taken the news so equably. I'd be livid if I was Australian. I'm not, and I'm still disappointed.

becoming a bookmaker said...

I heard a lot of things about the mysteries of Michael Hussey's retirement, and I have to say that I am not sure why it has to be a mystery at all

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