Great Expectations: The Fall and Rise of Mr. Cricket
The novel "Great Expectations," by Charles Dickens, is the story of the rise and fall of the central character, Pip,as a gentleman.
Raised by his sister and brother-in-law, a blacksmith, it looked as though Pip was destined to follow the footsteps of his brother-in-law until he falls in love with a girl. He realizes he would never have a chance to get his love until he becomes a gentleman.
The story of Michael Edward Killeen Hussey is quite similar, except that he falls in love with cricket. The terms rise and fall are quite harshly used in this context—the comparison with the Dickens novel would never have arisen had the world not laid so much expectations on the shoulder of this cricketer.
But for someone who averaged in the eighties for a considerable period of time, even a 50 wouldn't suffice ! Eleven years of first-class cricket consisting over 15,000 runs was his hall ticket into the Australian Cricket team. How did he respond? One thousand runs within the first six months—pretty much Husseyesque.
Shane Warne, in his book Shane Warne's century: My Top 100 Test Cricketers, tells us how Hussey switched from a right handed batsman to a southpaw because he wanted to emulate his childhood hero—Alan Border (reminds Indian cricket fans of a certain Saurav Ganguly).
During his days as a club cricketer, Hussey had once asked Border for advice on improving his game. Border had suggested Hussey to replicate batting an entire day's play—six hours in the nets. He did exactly that—with 40 minutes break for lunch and 20 for tea!
No wonder his technique is quite simple, yet compact. For someone who loves the game to this magnitude, accepting failure would be a herculean task. For any cricketer, a lean patch is inevitable and to deal with it requires mental strength and immense self belief.
The recently concluded Ashes series, which England thoroughly deserved, is an example of how a guy like Mike Hussey strove to remain as Mr. Cricket, and wipe away elements that attempted demoting him to the status of Mr. Average.
Hussey's 121 in the final Ashes test was his sixth score over 50 (including tour games) in England this summer. Six in 14 innings, by Hussey's standards, have been portrayed as quite abysmal—it should have been 14/14, according to many.
A stylish, graceful Australian ex-middle order bat refers to this tour as Hussey's fall from Mr. Cricket to Mr. Average. This gentleman, who probably averaged in the lower forties in his test career (which, when compared to the cricketing greats is quite...average), has labelled himself the same in the process.
Much has been said about Hussey's uncertainty of his off-stump, but surely, for a guy of his stature, this fundamental flaw cannot be the only reason behind his so called slump in form. Or maybe it could. This reminds me of Sachin Tendulkar's memorable innings of 241 at Sydney in which he stood hard to resist the temptation of playing through covers—that is focus redefined!
I am not using this as an opportunity to compare these two cricketers—I prefer leaving geniuses out of the equation. I'm quite sure Hussey wouldn't mind too. However, a recent article by former Indian opener Akash Chopra on cricinfo got me into guessing possible reasons why the slump could have occurred.
It is easy to surmise that he just did not deliver when it mattered—quite obviously, the Ashes is not won by winning tour games. No discounts there whatsoever!
However, as Chopra's article indicates, the best way to redeem yourself out of a bad patch is to get away from cricket for a while—by relaxing the over-worked cricket muscles. It has worked for many in the past, even if they were forced out of the team.
Virender Sehwag's re-surge during the Australia tour began with a commanding 155 runs scored in the most un-Sehwagish manner. Ever since, he has not looked back—he even added another triple hundred to his credentials.
Hussey's own team mate Matthew Hayden went through a purple patch after saving his career with a similar ton at Oval back in 2005. However, I wonder how many Aussie fans think that the 121 was overshadowed by his mis-judgement of a single that cost Ricky Ponting his wicket.
I'm sure they are gutted! Run outs and mishaps happen in cricket, but you don't end up hating someone for that. The world still loves Saurav Ganguly and Inzamam ul Haq—including their victims!
The relatively young 40-odd test career of Mike Hussey has not been a mixture of opposites. The Ashes was not a disastrous series for him—he personally wouldn't agree though. He is not Mr. Average, however junior he is in status when compared to the individual who labelled him so.
It did take him 29 innings to take his centuries tally from nine to 10, but that does not discount the fact that he looked good in flashes. For Mike Hussey, whose cricket skull when examined would quite clearly possess a museum of ideas, the series was a stark reminder of what is, and will be expected of him as a batsman.
For someone who talks in his sleep as though he is batting at the crease and calling his partner for a run, he would relish the prospects of grabbing any opportunity that comes his way—probably except calling Ricky for a risky single in his dream.
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