Underneath the Southern Cross, page 1
I dedicate this book to Amy, Jasmin, William, Molly and Oscar for inspiring me to be better every day.
By Allan Border
It was a throwaway line, and I only meant it tongue-in-cheek. But Michael Hussey’s reaction says a lot about the type of cricketer he is.
I was coach of an Australia A tour to Scotland and Ireland in 1998. Michael was one of a group of outstanding young cricketers who couldn’t break into a very strong Test XI. It’s not too parochial to say that Australia A was just about the second-best team in the world.
We had a training session in Edinburgh, and the boys were resting after short hit-outs in the nets. I said something along the lines of, ‘It’s no good batting for fifteen minutes in the nets and thinking you can put it together for six hours in the middle. Practise as you want to play.’ To be honest, I don’t remember it very well, and am sure I didn’t mean it literally, but there was one player who took my half-joking remark and ran with it.
Some time later, I heard that Michael Hussey had gone back home to Perth and followed my ‘advice’, batting for three two-hour net sessions in an exact replica of a full day’s play, and telling people he was only doing what I’d told him!
Jokes aside, there is a serious lesson there, one of many that a young cricketer can learn from Michael. He was always wondering, ‘What’s going to make me a better player?’ And once he found it, he would go to any lengths to achieve it.
There are many such lessons from Michael’s extraordinary story. After waiting so long to become a Test cricketer in his thirties, he ended up being an outstanding international batsman not just in Test matches but also in one-day and Twenty20 cricket. In 2013, after retiring from the international scene, he was the top run-scorer in the Indian Premier League, which is amazing in itself. Any young cricketer who wants to find out what makes a great career, in all formats, would do well to read Michael’s story.
When I first came across him, I was near the end of my playing career and he was at the beginning of his. Queensland was playing Western Australia at the Gabba in 1995–96. Michael, who was opening the batting, was very fidgety. He reminded me of Graeme Wood, the former West Australian Test opener. He never stopped moving: shuffling about, marking his crease, walking towards square leg. But although he was nervous, and didn’t rate himself as highly as his peers, I was immediately impressed and thought his quality stood out. Oppositions see a different character from how the individual sees himself, and we had a healthy respect for Michael’s batting. We could tell he was intense and passionate, well prepared and fit, and it all came through in his actions. I can’t remember how many runs he scored in that first game, but there was something about him.
When I coached Australia A, he got involved in the team environment with typical enthusiasm. Sometimes a game of touch Australian rules was the only way to get the boys training in the cold weather in Scotland and Ireland. In games that quickly descended into tackle, Michael was in the thick of it, loving every minute. But he was still very modest and respectful. He says he was too shy to tell me that he had become a left-handed batsman because as a kid he’d decided to copy me. I guess we’re both embarrassed by that sort of thing, but some years later, once he’d loosened up and grown more comfortable, Michael revealed the truth.
He had his ups and downs before realising his dreams. I was a national selector during that very rich period for Australian cricket, and Michael had to wait a long while. He was even sent back to club cricket after being dropped by Western Australia, so it was by no means an easy road. But he studied hard for his university degree in education, giving himself a fall-back position if cricket didn’t work out. Marriage and fatherhood also helped make him a very well-rounded character by the time he became an international cricketer.
I am among the millions of Australians who took great pleasure from his success. The cricket public has an innate ability to recognise an Aussie battler doing his best, no rubbish, no pretentions. They see Michael as what he is, a good bloke who works hard, and they want him to do well. His popularity comes down to that whole package: he played well, he’s very humble, he’s intelligent in his dealings with the public, and he’s always ready with an encouraging smile. That he spent all those years battling away to get to the top made it that much more rewarding when he did.
Off the field, Michael celebrates as joyously as anyone, has a great sense of humour and sense of fun, and is an all-round good bloke who has contributed to every team he has played in. Australian cricket really misses him. Let’s hope that his experience can be utilised to the utmost. Michael is very much the prototype of the modern cricketer, adapting seamlessly between the three formats, while also playing the game for the right reasons.
Michael deserves strong recognition for the role he has played in Australian cricket over the years. He is a cricketer and a man for whom I have the greatest respect. These pages tell his extraordinary story.
By Adam gilchrist
What was that saying? Something about good things coming to those who wait.
Well, wait Mike Hussey did. He waited for an opening in the team, a form slump from someone else, an injury perhaps, and eventually it came. With it came a mountain of first-class runs. As Mike himself would agree, so too any cricket follower, the end result was well and truly worth waiting for. He built a brilliant international cricket career based on good old-fashioned values, dedication, professionalism and respect.
Not many people like a nickname that others bestow upon them, and Huss was no different. Unfortunately for him, the moniker ‘Mr Cricket’ was just too perfect a fit for it to be shaken off. But whilst that nickname may lead to the correct assumption that Mike was meticulous in his preparation, training, research into the game and execution of match plans, there was so much more that made the name so appropriate.
Huss was amazingly committed to whatever team he was a member of, which resulted in friend and foe always regarding him highly. Various tales throughout this book show his desire to carry out the team requirements, often foregoing any personal accolades in the process. To receive the great honour of leading the Australian cricket team victory song wasn’t so much an indication of Huss’s vocal ability, but more an indication of the respect his teammates had for him and appreciation for the commitment he afforded them.
There can’t have been too many more nervous players in the history of the game than Huss whilst waiting to bat. The legs would be constantly bouncing up and down, his body fidgeting, and he’d be jumping up into a full stretch of the legs, sides, arms and neck. But somehow he curtailed that nervousness as soon as the w
Like anyone in a profession that requires mountains of time away from family and friends, Mike also faced challenging times away from the hype, profile and glamour of game day. He and Amy have navigated their way through these times via a strong bond and understanding, with the result being a gorgeous young family who care not for Mr Cricket, but only for Dad.
Huss is a wonderful mate. He is intelligent, informative, entertaining, engaging and respectful, exactly the words I’m sure you as a reader will find ring true throughout this recollection of his experiences.
For as long as I played cricket, I was never sure, deep down, if I was good enough.
At every level of the game, any success I had was like a sugar hit. The satisfying sense that I’d proved myself only lasted as long as the next failure, when the old demons came creeping back in. I tried to keep this insecurity to myself, but it was a big burden to hide, and sometimes it just became all too much.
Kingsmead in Durban was a cricket ground haunted, for me, by an incident in the second Test against South Africa in March 2009. We had just lost a Test series at home for the first time since 1993 – to these same South Africans. The Proteas were the number-one team in the world, and played like it. We were trying to rebuild after the retirements of some of the best cricketers to ever play the game: Shane Warne, Glenn McGrath, Justin Langer, Damien Martyn, Adam Gilchrist and, at the end of that series in Australia, Matthew Hayden. You can’t lose so many players of that quality and recover quickly.
But against all the odds, we were doing just that. We had gutsed out a face-saving win against South Africa in Sydney, and then, when the teams travelled to Johannesburg, we shocked them again. Mitchell Johnson, Marcus North, Ricky Ponting and Michael Clarke produced brilliant performances, and I led the team into the middle of the Wanderers ground to sing our victory song with three debutants: North, Ben Hilfenhaus and Phil Hughes. I wanted to make Underneath the Southern Cross a special experience for them in their first Test match, and to this day it’s one of my favourite renditions, bringing three guys into the brotherhood, showing them how good it felt to win a Test match for Australia against the odds.
We rode that wave into Durban, and everyone was full of confidence. Everyone else, that is. In Johannesburg, I scored 4 and 0. After the game, I wandered around the team hotel looking for a shoulder to cry on. I said to Nathan Hauritz, ‘I’m finding this game so hard, every innings is like a vigil.’ I went to Michael Clarke’s room and said, ‘I’m really struggling. What can I do?’ Pup said, ‘Get your head down and work your backside off and it’ll turn around.’ That was what I’d been trying to do, and where had it got me?
On the first day in Durban, Ricky won the toss and we batted. Kingsmead is a tough place to play cricket. It’s a long, rectangular, spartan kind of ground, and the heat and humidity are fierce. That day was 30-odd degrees and nearly 90 per cent humid. Plus, the pitch had a ridge in it and the ball was flying all over the place. Later in that match, Mitch Johnson would break Graeme Smith’s hand and send Jacques Kallis to hospital for X-rays on his jaw. When you were as low on confidence as I was, you looked forward to batting on that wicket about as much as walking to the gallows.
But we – actually, the other Australian batsmen – had another incredible day. Hughesy blasted a maiden century, driving Steyn back over his head for six and carving all the bowlers far and wide. Simon Katich, the best man at my wedding six years earlier, was on his way to the sixth of his ten Test hundreds. But when I went in at 2/208, just before tea, I had the weight of the world on my shoulders.
I’m not the only batsman to have struggled against South Africa, but they seemed to have a stranglehold on me. In Australia, I’d had the first really poor series in the four years I’d been playing Test cricket. I had found every possible way to get out, including, in the decisive Boxing Day Test in Melbourne, being given out caught off my helmet. To make matters worse, during the partnership between JP Duminy and Dale Steyn which swung the whole series, I had the most embarrassing moment of my career, fluffing a high overhead catch in front of about 80,000 people. My confidence was at an all-time low.
All South African wickets were hard to bat on. They weren’t as true as Australian wickets, but were still quick, and there was always some movement for the fast bowlers. The bounce just wasn’t even. And they had some very good bowlers. Morne Morkel was extremely awkward to face if you were a left-hander. He was tall, he was quick, he got bounce and cut and reverse-swing. I rated him one of the two or three best bowlers in the world. He’d been the one who hit me on the helmet in Melbourne.
In Durban, I was hanging on by a thread, and when I was on four, Morkel hit me plumb in front. The umpire, Asad Rauf, gave me out. I walked down the wicket and had a long think before referring it to the third umpire. The Decision Review System hadn’t even been officially launched in Test cricket. Video referrals were still an experiment, but I decided to challenge the decision and the tape saved me, the replays showing that the ball had pitched outside leg stump.
While Kato went on serenely, I battled away against Morkel and Makhaya Ntini, who, although he was coming to the end of his career, got more difficult as he got older. With his tendency to deliver the ball from very wide on the crease, he had slid the ball across the left-handed batsmen, allowing me to let a lot of balls pass by. But late in his career, Ntini developed a ball that cut back in. He’d got me out several times that summer. Then Jacques Kallis came on – 300 Test wickets, enough said – and the left-arm spinner, Paul Harris. Many people thought Harris was pretty innocuous, but I found him tough work also. I would struggle to get the ball off the square against the pacemen, and then Harris would come on and I’d think, You beauty, I can cash in. Or at least I wanted to. The truth was, I couldn’t score off him either. Tall and quickish, he bowled into the rough outside my off stump. Some spun and some didn’t. I was too scared to leave the crease. When I wasn’t batting well, which now seemed to be all the time, I found him really tough to handle. If I couldn’t get him away, how was I ever supposed to score a run against the other blokes?
We lost two quick wickets after tea – it was Harris who got Michael Clarke – leaving me with Northy to try to hang around until stumps. In Durban, the light can be good all day but then it closes in quickly. Marcus and I were in survival mode. That suited me, because I was in survival mode anyway. I didn’t mind if there was no expectation to score runs.
I’d limped along to 25 or 30 when they took the second new ball, which meant Dale Steyn was coming back on. I haven’t said anything about my Dale Steyn problem, have I?
All the South African bowlers were a nightmare for me; their wickets were minefields, my confidence was shot, and if the entire catastrophe had a single cause, it was Steyn. He was without a doubt the most difficult, skilled fast bowler I faced. To start with, he was very quick, anything up to 155kmh and rarely below 140kmh. As his right arm came over, his wrist remained cocked back, only to whip forward in the last microsecond. This delayed release was very hard to pick up early in your innings, and his wrist position not only gave the ball an extra jolt of pace but released the seam perfectly for outswing, or inswing to a left-hander like me. On top of that, he was quietly, menacingly aggressive. He wanted to hit you and hurt you and get you out, preferably in that order. He didn’t say much, but you felt that he just detested you and your Australian helmet.
Late in the day the floodlights came on, but all they were doing was making it technically bright enough to stay on. They didn’t make batting any easier. I wished they didn’t have lights. I could have got off the ground and savoured my precious 30 not out as if it was a hundred. But the umpires deemed the visibility g
Like the best fast bowlers, Steyn preyed on weakness. And I was at a weak point. He’d got me out in the first innings of the first Test that summer, back in Perth, and regularly since. It had been his skied slog that I’d made a meal of on Boxing Day. With bat and ball, whenever he was anywhere near me, he was my nemesis. He knew it. So that afternoon he decided to crank it up and hit me with every single ball.
If that pitch wasn’t unpredictable enough already, with Steyn bowling I just didn’t have a clue. I played forward to one ball, and found myself fending it off my eyebrows. I wove out of the way of another, and wicketkeeper Mark Boucher, 25 yards behind me, had to leap overhead to stop it going for four byes. I parried another delivery away from my face, and the next leapt at me so fast I only escaped injury by wrenching my head away from it – not a good look.
Fortunately, that afternoon, Northy – in his second Test match! – took most of the strike, protecting me, and the umpires eventually showed pity, calling stumps after 89 overs.
I was trembling as I came into the dressing room, somehow 37 not out after about three hours of scratching away.
The first faces I saw were those of Brad Haddin and Andrew McDonald, the next two batsmen in. They were ashen. They both came up to me and said, ‘Thanks, Huss, thank you so much.’
I was grumpily getting my pads off. ‘What for?’
‘Mate, you gutsed it out for us, we were absolutely petrified, we didn’t want to go out there. That’s the best Test cricket we’ve ever seen. You fought your way through it.’
I thought, You’ve got to be kidding me. I’d felt like a fourth-grade player out there, out of my depth. But the way they saw it, this was Test cricket at its best. Steyn was threatening to wreak absolute havoc and I was surviving for my country, shielding the lower order. I felt the complete opposite, like someone who had failed. Perception is an amazing thing.
Normally, getting through until stumps gives you time to regroup. Everything looks different the next morning. But when we got to Kingsmead for the second day, it was just as humid but wet and gloomy, ideal for fast bowling. After a half-hour delay to dry the outfield, we were on again, and Steyn seemed even angrier than the previous evening. He was bowling with, if possible, more pace and hostility.