To listen to Mike Hussey after he had engineered one of the most stunning run chases in Twenty20 cricket was to hear the heartbeat of Australian cricket.
The left-hand batsman, who has been in severe danger of being left in the shade by more powerful and flamboyant batsmen in the shortest version of the game, has shown that his is an essential presence in the mix. Given Australia’s batting line-up, the senior Hussey will probably be only required to play a hand one in ten games. But on those occasions, no-one else will suffice. “My first love will always be Test cricket but Twenty20 is a nice way to introduce cricket to the next generation,” said Hussey. “Hopefully those who come into the game through T20s will next fall in love with 50-over cricket and then eventually Test cricket.”
To look into Hussey’s eyes as he spoke was to understand the Australian passion for the game. There’s little doubt that India’s cricketers, and fans, are among the most passionate in the world, but the Australian affair is a wholly different one. It’s not the kind that results in houses being tarred after a loss or angry fans smashing windshields of the cars of players who have failed. The Australian way is to take the game so seriously as to demand the best of each player every time.
It is an impatience with those who are mentally soft or can’t execute basic skills properly. There’s no time for someone who isn’t as fit as he possibly could be or fields even one percent worse than is humanly possible through sheer preparation and practice. The pressure an Australian cricketer faces is brought upon him by the demand that he pursue excellence and that he give himself the best possible chance to succeed on field.
It can, and will, never be so with India, because the average fan’s relationship with the game and the players who represent him are dramatically different.
When Hussey said that he could not believe what he had done, and that the elation on the faces of his team-mates made the moment “the most special feeling he had experienced on a cricket field,” it was not hyperbole of the Shane Warne kind when he described Yusuf Pathan’s IPL hundred as the best innings he had ever seen. This was a man saying what most international cricketers know — that there is no sweeter joy than winning a game for your country.
Michael Clarke described Hussey as a “freak” and meant it in the best possible way. “I don’t have too many nails left,” said Clarke, recounting the moments he spent in the dugout during the tense chase.
“I couldn’t watch the final over. I saw Mitch get a single off the first ball and I went into the changeroom, I heard a loud cheer and I knew it was six. Then I heard another, and I thought, ‘god, what’s going on here?’ I was too nervous to watch.”
But Clarke need not have worried, for the game’s destiny was in the hands of a man who epitomised all that’s good about Australian cricket. Hussey, who made his debut at the age of 30 after a 10-year wait, revealed earlier this year that he disliked the moniker Mr Cricket that was thrust on him by Graeme Swann’s brother during a stint at English county Nottinghamshire.
We should stop calling him that, but, clearly, he loves the game more than anything in the world, and it
shows. When Gary Kirsten spoke to the players before they left St Lucia, one of the examples he put before the team was that of Mike Hussey, referring to both the 34-year-old’s fitness and approach. Now we know why.