In the title sequence of the 1970s TV phenom Kung-Fu (ask your parents, kidz...), Grasshopper was challenged by his Master to walk across rice paper without leaving a mark. It came to mind today when thinking about Mike Hussey, one of the game's most diligent students, and the revelatory interview he gave to Daniel Brettig this week to mark his international retirement.
Hussey stepped softly through his impeccable career, often traceless as brasher legends stomped ahead, but he peeled back the skin of the pro game at the highest level in just a couple of paragraphs. Here was a place of constant doubt, of relentless hostility, of ongoing challenge, a place in which the beautiful surface of things is distorting an endless fight.
This is Hussey on batting with Michael Clarke: "Out in the middle it might look like it's entertaining and fun and
free-flowing, but we're both very insecure. There's a lot of doubts and a
lot of negative talk: 'I can't score a run, I don't know where it's
coming from', and Pup's saying, 'Just back up mate, I just want to get
down the other end - I can't face this guy.' So a lot of people say we
looked like we're doing it easy, but it's never ever like that."
'I can't score a run...' 'I can't face this guy...' These are not the words of mugs, of tailenders or baffled novices. They are (still) Australia's best two batsmen, averaging over fifty in Test cricket with 42 hundreds between them.
And they are very human emotions, natural reactions to the constant grind of starting again and again, as every batsman must. It is this mental effort that drained Mike Hussey, that had him looking to the finish line with such relief. "I didn't want the stress and the anguish that comes with international
When professional cricketers draw the wagons around themselves and make out that they are engaged in a game that the outsider can't really understand, it's feelings like these that they don't or can't really articulate. It's the point at which the amateur love of the sport disappears and a new and more oppressive reality takes over.
Aside from the heightened physical ability they possess, the best batsmen must be able to confront and defeat the doubt and the fear, the sure and certain knowledge that out there somewhere is a delivery with their name on it. To stave it off for as long as possible, ball after ball, day after day, game after game, season after season is the true confrontation of one's limits, a genuine rejection of fear. It's why cricket, as a game and as a test, is unmatchable.