Mr. CRICKET GETS CRACKING

AP

The run glut has resulted in MIKE HUSSEY breaking into the top ten of the ICC Player Rankings for Test batsmen faster than any other in history. Add to that an average of 78.71 in ODIs, and it's clear why Bradmanesque is the current Australian hyperbole of choice, writes S. RAM MAHESH.

Ten years is a lifetime for a cricketer. To not get a look in despite hoarding runs for that long can sow bitter seeds. For Michael Hussey, it merely fanned fires raging within.

In an amazing five months since his debut, the 30-year-old has made 897 Test runs at 74.75 from nine games with three hundreds and four fifties, two of which came in the final Test against South Africa at Johannesburg: 73 in the first innings on a dicey track to shore up the innings, batting at five, and 89, albeit courtesy umpiring gaffes, after reprising his opening spot in the absence of the concussed Justin Langer.

The run glut has resulted in him breaking into the top ten of the ICC Player Rankings for Test batsmen faster than any other in history. Add to that an average of 78.71 in ODIs, and it's clear why Bradmanesque is the current Australian hyperbole of choice. But, it could have been so different.

A scrambled single, and a mistimed pull stroke at the 'Gabba against the West Indies in November 2005 was all he could manage in his first fourteen, very anxious Test minutes.

Twenty-nine in the second innings, another horizontal-bat blemish, and Hussey could have joined the ranks of the anonymous one-Testers. This after making 15313 First Class runs — an Australian record for most runs before a Test — since his debut in 1994/95 would have been a cruel fate.

But, all was not lost. Langer's injured rib had made Hussey Australian Test cap 393; it didn't heal in time for the second Test at Hobart. One man's cracked rib is another's Test century in waiting. Hussey duly made 137, an innings that didn't see him eschew the offending pull stroke that had terminated his first two knocks.

His celebration on reaching three figures showed just how much the innings — coming after all those spirit-sapping years wondering if he would ever make it — meant.

The best, however, was yet to come. Langer returned for the third Test, but the Australian selectors kept faith. Hussey dropped down to five and Michael Clarke, the next big thing, was given time off to sort his game.

Brian Lara kept his date with history at the Adelaide Oval, becoming Test cricket's highest run getter and running up 226 in the process. Chasing the West Indies' first innings score of 405, Australia slumped to 295 for eight.

With the Macas, Stuart and Glenn for company, Hussey proceeded to do a Steve Waugh. Countering Fidel Edwards's sustained pace and Dwayne Bravo's swing, the West Australian interspersed glorious hits to the fence with astute farming of the strike. An unbeaten 133 runs later, Australia was 23 ahead.

It got better. South Africa, after battling Australia to a draw at Perth, had their opponent by the throat in Melbourne. The vultures were circling at 248 for nine when McGrath joined Hussey, on 27.

In an innings that showcased tremendous character and no little skill, Hussey drew on all his First Class experience to fashion 122. In a tenth wicket partnership of 107, McGrath made 11. "When Glenn came to the crease, I didn't think I'd score a hundred," he said after the event.

The 1.8m tall Hussey's technique has few idiosyncrasies. A clean and elegant driver, his upbringing on the bouncy WACA pitch has ensured all three horizontal-bat strokes — the cut, the pull, and the hook — are part of his repertoire.

What has impressed Australian selectors most though is his adaptability. Whether opening or batting at five in Tests, or finishing in ODIs, Hussey is able to think on his feet and feed off the confidence an amazing season has bred.

Such has been his felicity in the slog overs, memories of the illustrious Michael Bevan have been recalled. "I honestly think I am in a dream actually, and I am wondering when it will end," said Hussey. "I've got to try and keep a level head with it all because the game has a way of bringing you to earth very quickly."

An ageing side smarting from the reverse in the Ashes, Australia needed an infusion of youth and vim; Hussey isn't quite spring chicken. But, Gilchrist, Hayden, and Langer have shown turning 30 is no reason to look up pension plans. And Hussey is among the fittest in his side.

His hunger is obvious, and his mates have nicknamed him Mr. Cricket for his academic-like knowledge of the game. Hussey's initial months have built expectations — if he lives up to them, the castle of cricket will have to draw up another throne.

TAYLOR ON HUSSEY

Where Hussey might have a bit of an advantage (over Bevan) is his confidence in finding and clearing the boundary regularly.

He is super fit and has a fantastic work ethic and I can see him being a real mainstay for the next five or six years.

He is made for international cricket and I think everyone is thrilled to see what he is doing given how long it took him to get his chance.

He has one of the tightest techniques in the Australian squad so I think they should look at pushing him up the order if they lose two or three quick wickets.