Matthew Wood, who also writes at Balanced Sports, examines the significance of Mike Hussey’s heroics on day 2 and 3 of the opening test.
As Mike Hussey passed three figures my inbox began to strain in just the same manner as Eddie Hemming’s belt. The emails flooded in about “Mr. Cricket’s” career-saving innings: how it would revitalize him, the Australians and how it had cemented his spot in the side for the foreseeable future.
Then came the comparisons: to Waugh, to Taylor, to Boon. That Hussey made runs – big runs – at a time where he and Australia needed them is reminiscent of Mark Taylor’s 129 at Birmingham in 1997 and also Steve Waugh’s last-ball four at Sydney in 2004. For me, maybe the most fitting detail of those 195 runs was not on the park but in the commentary box where Ian Healy was behind his Channel Nine mic. That’s because perhaps the best comparison comes with Healy’s Test-high score of 161* – again at the ‘Gabba – against the West Indies in 1996. Healy had really only maintained his spot because of nine years of goodwill over Adam Gilchrist, whose star had been rising for a couple of years and his early-innings feats were beginning to re-define the short format.
While Taylor strode to the crease at Birmingham and reduced his game to the barest essentials, leaving almost everything outside the line of off-stump and Waugh had already pared his game back severely, Healy and Hussey didn’t reduce their games to scratching around and taking what the bowlers offered and batted confidently and with controlled aggression, a sight that Aussie fans have hoped for with Mr. Cricket since his form slump. In recent times has looked like he’s concentrated more on not screwing up rather than on building an innings, focusing more inwards than outwards and as an obvious extrovert perhaps that’s not been in his best interest.
Some people are able to focus more inwardly with the most famous example perhaps being Greg Chappell, a man or marked introverted nature. Another intense type, Steve Waugh, curbed his aggression through that magnificent Sydney knock in ’04 until his headlong dash towards that elusive hundred. And it’s not like at that stage of his career he was playing the full range of shots, having shelved some a decade prior. Taylor was again outwardly ebullient but had the steel to look inside himself and reduce his game and this in itself this was enough to reignite his career. But he didn’t keep his game that way: if he had, his 334* would have been near-unwatchable.
Healy and Hussey however, are more outgoing and as such probably need to be free in their batting to a greater degree than Chappell or Waugh. The thing with career-saving hundreds is they only delay the inevitable – Healy lasted two further years before Gilchrist’s sheer weight of runs won him the Baggy Green and Orange Gloves. Mr. Cricket’s replacements, as we recently examined, just haven’t put the right runs down at the right time unless you consider Brad Hodge a suitable replacement. For this series, all that Ferguson and Khawaja have in their favour is a brighter long-term future and the freshness of youth, a freshness that Mike Hussey may just have rediscovered.
With Kevin Pietersen and Marcus North also fitting the pattern of extroverts trying not to screw up rather than do as comes natural perhaps they can take a lesson from Hussey’s triumph. The Ashes series will be all the richer for it.
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