Mr. Cricket will be missed

Hussey... brilliant fielder and a handy bowler, too.-AP

Just like he always believed that one day he would turn out for his nation, Michael Hussey also quickly realised that it was time to say the final good-bye much to the shock of his team-mates and fans, writes K.C. Vijaya Kumar.

It was a usual tropical September afternoon in Colombo. The sun beat down and a parched throat forced the mind into lemonade-dreams but out on the field, a 37-year-old was doing intense fielding drills with absolute joy. There was no stopping Michael Hussey.

He was all lightning-feet and whirring hands that within a split-second offered stillness and certainty when the ball descended from its starry heights.

Hussey cupped the skier with ease just inches inside the boundary rope at the P. Sara Oval in the Sri Lankan capital. He then yelled: “That’s not a six man, that’s out.”

Those minutes in the midst of last year’s ICC World Twenty20, encapsulated the spirit that defined Hussey. He drew immense joy from all facets of the game and he remained intensely competitive even if it was a training stint. It was understandable for a man, who had to wait for a long time before getting to wear the coveted ‘Baggy Green.’ Hussey was 28 when he made his ODI debut and 30 when he made his maiden appearance in Tests and obviously every moment under the sun or floodlights while doing battle for Australia was imbued with a special air.

Hussey’s has been a fabulous career that glitters with 6235 Test runs at an average of 51.52 and 5442 ODI runs at 48.15. The left-hander, who idolised Allan Border, did his utmost for Australia because he knew no other way.

Just like he always believed that one day he would turn out for his nation, Hussey also quickly realised that it was time to say the final good-bye much to the shock of his team-mates and fans. It may not be in the same league as the mystery-shrouded-vanishing act that Damien Martyn did in the midst of an Ashes series in 2006 but Hussey’s exit offered no clues.

Hussey’s retirement was a sudden flash ahead of the recent Sydney Test against Sri Lanka. His cricketing full-stop (yes it turned out to be that after the selectors didn’t pick him for the Australian ODI squad) came at a time when he seemed to be at the peak of his powers.

The southpaw scored four hundreds in his last 12 Tests starting with the one against India in Sydney in January 2012. And Australia needed him now more than ever as, along with skipper Michael Clarke, he was expected to seal the gaping vacuum left by a retreating Ricky Ponting. There was no diminishing of skills or any visible signs of slow reflexes. Yet in doing what he felt he had to do, Hussey just revealed the meticulous planning that mirrored his every cricketing step. It was a trait that immensely impressed a bohemian like Andrew Symonds, who coined Hussey’s famous nickname ‘Mr. Cricket.’

Hussey was an amalgam of various contrasting forces that seemingly resided at peace within him. In Tests, he could drop anchor and in ODIs, Hussey could, like a Javed Miandad, go from zero to 30 within the blink of an eye while the scorer wondered: “How did he get there?” To be branded as a classy finisher and be in the same exalted league as Michael Bevan, speaks volumes about the various shades that add lustre to Hussey.

Hussey could blitz too as he did in that sensational assault against Saeed Ajmal during the course of his 24-ball unbeaten 60, which helped Australia stun Pakistan in the ICC World Twenty20 semifinals at St. Lucia in May 2010.

Hussey was also a key pivot for Chennai Super Kings in the Indian Premier League. For a middle-aged man, Hussey had no qualms in embracing the spontaneous mayhem that envelops cricket’s shortest format. “Twenty20 is great fun. It is about challenging yourself with new skills and by being innovative and doing it under pressure,” Hussey said and it was a pointer to his ticking brain that loved fresh challenges.

Amidst the slow farewells of Aussie greats ranging from Steve Waugh to Shane Warne over the past decade, it was Hussey, who offered a steady bridge through the pangs of transition. He endured a slump during 2008-09 and was also the anointed cheerleader within the dressing room and was given the official sanction to be the lead singer of the Australian victory lyric ‘Under the Southern Cross.’ A task that he handed over to Nathan Lyon after his last stint for Australia, a winning one at that as Hussey’s unbeaten 27 lent the finishing touches to the 3-0 Test series triumph against Mahela Jayawardene’s men.

It was Mitchell Johnson, who etched the winning run while the self-effacing Hussey had no grandiose plans of striking the decisive blow and riding into his sunset with all guns blazing. “I was more than happy just to be out there when the winning run was hit, it was a dream come true,” he said. Ever the team-man, Hussey will be sorely missed.