Big Merv must have loved every moment in the stands on the opening day of the second Test, especially the afternoon session when Sachin Tendulkar and Virender Sehwag brought alive the crowd by playing along to their calls.
The former Australia fast bowler, who took 212 wickets in 53 Tests, was a great character in the game. He believed cricketers were entertainers too and was a favourite with the crowd, which would imitate his warm-up stretches behind him. Hughes played against Tendulkar on his first tour of Australia in 1991-92, is long retired and is on his 10th visit to India. He spoke to Hindustan Times on cricket and the lighter side of the game.
Do you miss characters in the game?
We are going from a semi-professional era into a professional era. There is so much more expected from the players, they are just not allowed to show they are enjoying themselves. Within the Indian team, Dhoni is a character in his own way, Harbhajan is one. Australia have Pattinson, Siddle and Clarke but they are not allowed to show that (lighter side), which is disappointing for the spectators because they should get to see the character shine through. It’s become almost like a business. The players are judged so much for their performance on the ground and scrutinised off it.
But the way you entertained the crowds…
My upbringing was ‘enjoy what you do and let people know you are enjoying yourself’. I am not sure that is how it is these days. It’s because of the money involved. If someone is at the boundary line and plays up to the crowd and drops a catch, he is scrutinised for that. When we dropped a catch, it was taken as: ‘that was bad luck, these guys train only a couple of times a week’. Lot of people begrudge the money they make now, I feel they get paid enough for the scrutiny they are under.
Even your handle-bar moustache has gone out of fashion?
Yeah! When I played, a lot of people had moustaches - David Boon, Graham Gooch both had lovely moustaches. They are just going out of the game. I firmly believe it should be brought back. I feel facial hair brings the best out of the players; I would like to see them with moustaches, beards, goatees, half-beards, half-shaved heads…
David Warner has gone for the bearded look. When the Australians come to the subcontinent, a lot of the guys grow beards to protect their face from the sun. It is not a fashion statement.
India-Australia are usually very exciting, but both are on the decline.
Though we lost the first Test, a lot of positives came out of it. Moises Henriques’ batting is one of them, Pattinson was outstanding, Siddle bowled well without luck. Clarke’s captaincy was good. When you come up against an innings like Dhoni’s, it’s very, very hard. India are playing very well in these conditions. Hyderabad wicket looks very good to me. We have great hopes from what England did here and Australia will still be confident they can turn things around.
How do you look at the match-up between Dhoni and Clarke?
Both are in very good form, but Dhoni has a more settled side. Australia are a younger side, players -- Wade, Pattinson, Starc, Maxwell -- are still trying to establish themselves.
How important is this series for Clarke?
He not only played well in Chennai but also captained well. That innings from Dhoni swayed the game in India’s favour. It’s an important one for Clarke, he would really want to win — we have won once in fifty years here! There is pressure on him. It’s okay as long as we are competitive. If we lose 3-0, that will be very disappointing. But if we lose 1-2 or manage to win that will be great for Clarke’s confidence as captain.
Can Australia merely depend on their pace attack?
With two spinners in this game, we have a pretty balanced bowling line-up. This wicket is a little bit like Adelaide. Our pacers try and hit the deck and there is a difference in bowling at 135 and 145. Pattinson and Siddle bowl just a bit quicker and even on flat wickets they have that advantage. Pattinson is just coming back from injury and he put in a solid performance.
You played against Tendulkar in his first series in Australia. He will be 40 in April. Does he still have it in him?
We first played against him when he was 17 and he made a big hundred at Sydney, and we thought the conditions suited him. When we saw him at Perth where the ball bounced and he got a hundred, we knew he was going to be something special. He is an exceptional player, an all-time great. Watching him bat in Chennai, it was disappointing from Australia’s point of view but for world cricket, there is no better player to watch.
Lot of people place emphasis on age, but Tendulkar is just a rare talent. As long as he is fit and is hitting the ball well…, he not only he did that in the first Test, he did that in the Irani Cup too. Age is not a factor against form but a lot of people use it as an excuse.
In Chennai, he batted as well as he ever had. Normally, when he gets 80, he goes on to get 140. He would have been disappointed, there would be some concern he didn’t convert it into a big score, but he will be happy.
Age is also mentioned while discussing Sehwag. Do you see these guys having an impact on this series?
Tendulkar and Sehwag can make a huge impact. Sehwag will feel the pressure and again age comes into it. If it’s a young bloke, everyone says he’s got time on his side. Australia know what a dangerous player he is and he may well come into this game and turn his form upside down. He will be hungry. You have to be very careful of players like Tendulkar and Sehwag. Age is not a factor.