The Mysterious Vanishing David Hussey

Posted on December 6, 2012

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By SB Tang

Twenty-seven runs needed off the last 12 balls. With five wickets still in hand, it is a challenging but doable task for the chasing side. The batsman on strike is a right-hander new to the crease and international cricket, but he has earned a reputation for clean hitting and rapid scoring at domestic level. This, surely, is his chance to prove that he belongs at this level. The bowler is a left-arm seamer.

The first ball of the over is on a length and wide of off. In my mind’s eye, I can already see the batsman driving it sweetly through the covers, as he’s done so many times at domestic level. Instead, he attempts to hoick it over mid-wicket for six. His bat meets nothing but air. Twenty-seven needed off 11 balls now. The second ball of the over is nearly identical to the first: wide and inviting the drive. The result is nearly identical too: a clumsy, pre-meditated attempt to slog it over mid-wicket for six. Bat fails to make contact with ball. No run. Twenty-seven needed off 10 balls now. The third ball of the over is a head-high full toss. No-ball. Finally, on the fourth ball of this crucial, penultimate over, the batsman lays bat on ball, inside-edging it onto his pads for a scurried single.

In the space of four balls, the target of 27 runs off 12 balls has become 25 runs off 9 balls: a challenging task has become a mightily improbable one.

As you’ve undoubtedly guessed by now, the batsman’s name is Brad Haddin, the bowler is RP Singh and the match is the semi-final of the inaugural World T20 in Durban in 2007 which Australia lost by 15 runs.

With his two extravagant air-swings and one inside-edge which sent India into the final against Pakistan that they won by five runs, Haddin unwittingly did more than any other individual to conceive the brave new world where “franchises” are cricket teams that we’re told to support, rather than something typically associated with Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurants.

Having stayed up till an ungodly hour at home in Melbourne to watch the game on telly, I was about to tuck myself into bed when I received a text which asked: “Where was Huss jnr?”

It was a pertinent question. In a format which was unfamiliar to most Australian cricketers and cricket fans, we’d left behind arguably our most fluent practitioner — David John Hussey. His batting strike rates in the preceding two English domestic T20 seasons read: 142.50 and 149.80. At a time when most Australian cricketers barely played T20 — Australia’s leading run-scorer in the 2007 World T20, Matthew Hayden, had only played two T20 games in his entire career before the tournament started — Hussey was, thanks mainly to his winters spent at Nottinghamshire, already a seasoned pro, having totalled 38 matches in his career, most of them in England.

The text came from a mate who was then in the Victorian squad and turning out for the Victorian second XI. He used to love to regale me with tales of David Hussey’s awesomeness that he’d witnessed at Victorian training sessions. A phenomenon. The cleanest striker of a cricket ball he’d ever seen in the flesh. The one-man cure for any and all of Australia’s limited-overs (and especially T20) ills. To hear him talk of Hussey, I imagined a comic book superhero combining the effortless grace of Mark Waugh, the hitting power of Sir Vivian Richards and the run-scoring appetite of Sachin Tendulkar.

From the moment Hussey crossed the Nullarbor in the winter of 2002 at the age of 25 in search of first-class cricket, he became something of a legend in Victorian cricketing circles. It was said that he was able to clear the longest of boundary ropes with a languid swing of his bat. He immediately began clearing them at will for his adopted Melbourne club Prahran and, by early February 2003, he had forced his way into Victoria’s 50-over and Sheffield Shield sides by topping the Victorian Premier Cricket run-scoring chart with 660 runs at 60.

He took to state cricket like a teenager to a Playstation: he smoked an unbeaten 35 off 27 balls on his 50-over debut, notched his maiden first-class half-century in just his second Sheffield Shield match and made his maiden first-class century — a 106 off 140 balls against Queensland at the Gabba — in his fourth Shield match. In his 10th first-class game, a Sheffield Shield match against New South Wales in Newcastle in January 2004, he turned his comic book superhero act into a big-budget, live-action Hollywood movie, smiting an unbeaten 212 off 218 balls in the final innings to chase down a victory target of 455, the second-largest final innings run chase in Sheffield Shield history. No other Victorian batsman reached three figures in that innings. Steve Waugh, who, in his final season of first-class cricket, happened to be captaining New South Wales in that match, was certainly impressed, describing Hussey’s performance as “exceptional” and observing: “He’s got to come into contention for national selection, I would have thought, in both forms of the game, the way he played there.” Hussey’s first-class career was only 10 games old and, already, one of Australia’s greatest living cricketers was talking him up for Test selection.

How, cricket lovers wondered, could such a talent not have been picked in a single senior match by his native state of Western Australia and then have to cross the 3000 kilometre expanse of a continent in order to make his first-class debut at the age of 25 for an adopted state?

Hussey’s talent had never been in doubt as he’d ascended through the state ranks from Western Australia Colts to the Western Australia Institute of Sport and the Western Australia Second XI. His talent hadn’t gone unnoticed in the national youth setup either as he’d won Australian under-19 honours and selection for the Australian Cricket Academy.

But, he hadn’t been able get into the Western Australia’s Shield side.

The legend, as told to me by the same Victorian second XI mate, was that this had nothing to do with a messy bedroom, being too fat, a lack of runs, sub-standard fielding, a poor attitude, an inadequate work-rate or any of the multitude of stereotypical criticisms which are nowadays levelled at young professional cricketers, but rather, was caused by an issue which sounded like something culled from the discarded script notes of a straight-to-DVD comedy — he couldn’t bat in the nets. Yup, like Rube Baker, the good-hearted and otherwise highly competent baseball catcher in Major League II who couldn’t throw the ball back to the pitcher, legend had it that Hussey had a mental block which rendered him incapable of performing a seemingly straightforward task — batting normally in the nets like he did in matches. As a result, he kept getting castled in state net sessions, which didn’t do wonders for his prospects of selection in a highly competitive Western Australian Shield side.

It is now more than eight years since Steve Waugh first put Hussey’s name forth for Test selection.

Hussey has yet to play a Test, although he has played over 100 limited-overs internationals for Australia.

Hardly a week goes by that someone doesn’t mention how unlucky Hussey has been at the Australian selection table. And it’s easy to see why — over the past decade, Hussey has built one of the most impressive domestic CVs in world cricket: 12,459 first-class runs at an average of 53.70 and a strike rate of 70.54; 7,353 List A runs at an average of 39.74; and 4,670 T20 runs at an average of 31.34 and a strike rate of 135.63.

When Hussey was dropped from the Australian XI during the 2012 World T20, Ian Chappell was outraged, telling ESPNCricinfo: “They [Australia] are handicapping themselves when they are leaving David Hussey out of the line-up”. In November 2010, Darren Berry, the former Victorian captain and Shield legend who famously never played a Test, wrote in his column in The Age: “It is a mystery why a player of his [ie David Hussey’s] skill has not registered on the Test radar, given he has scored more than 11,000 first-class runs at an average of 55. … Something doesn’t add up; something smells a bit fishy about Hussey junior and the manner in which he has been ignored.” Just last month, The Telegraph’s Steve James highlighted Hussey’s misfortune: “He can boast a remarkable first-class average of 55 but has never won a Test cap.

One would think that Hussey has been the victim of gross and pervasive injustice at the Australian selection table.

He hasn’t.

As much as it pains me to say it as a Victorian, the empirical truth is that Hussey’s form in Australian colours barely warrants his continued presence in the limited-overs squads, much less the Test XI. After 64 one-day internationals, his batting average is a measly 32.70. His solitary century came against Scotland back in August 2009. Some might say that these mediocre-sounding stats are all a product of his low position in the one-day batting order. But he was given a fair go in the top four of Australian one-day batting order and failed to make the most of it — in a seven-match run at number four in early 2009, Hussey passed 50 just once and averaged 20.14 at a strike rate of 71.57.

His record in T20 internationals is even worse. Yes, worse. After 39 matches, his strike rate is 121.34. Compare that with the strike-rates of the world’s leading T20 international batsman: 145.25 (Chris Gayle); 148.48 (Shane Watson); and 141.51 (Kevin Pietersen). Perhaps the most astonishing statistic is this — in T20 internationals, David Hussey, one of the purest strikers of a cricket ball of his generation, strikes at a rate less than his older brother Mike, the once stodgy opening bat who, through sheer hard work, converted himself into a turbo-charged, middle-order, limited-overs finisher. Fourteen point nine five less to be precise. To anyone who watched Australian state cricket in the mid-2000s, that statistic is about as plausible as the news that Lindsay Lohan has just been appointed the Chair of the White House Council on Women and Girls.

Then, there is the manner of Hussey’s dismissals in the big T20 international matches. In the 2010 World T20 semi-final against Pakistan, with Australia 4/105 in the 12th over chasing 192 for victory, Hussey attempted to work an unremarkable Abdur Rehman delivery through mid-wicket for a single. He succeeded only in getting a leading edge straight back to the bowler to be dismissed for 13. A nothing shot as one of my schoolteachers used to say. Two years later, Hussey was, by popular demand, recalled for Australia’s 2012 World T20 semi-final against the West Indies. History repeated itself: with Australia 4 down for not very much chasing an imposing total, Hussey tried to work a ball — this time a shortish delivery from Ravi Rampaul — through the on-side for a single and spooned a leading edge straight back to a grateful bowler. A two-ball duck for Hussey on his return to the Australian side after all the controversy about his earlier omission. In two World T20 semi-finals, he has registered two of the tamest of dismissals. As the great Ricky Ponting alluded to on the eve of his retirement, it is the manner of a batsman’s dismissals, as much as the score that he is dismissed for, which can tell you whether a batsman is good enough for the level he’s playing at. Unfortunately for Ponting and Hussey, both their recent scores and the manner of their dismissals point in the same unwelcome direction.

But, what about Hussey’s exceptional first-class batting record? Surely, a career first-class average in excess of 53 merits a crack at Test cricket? But even this oft-cited statistic — the silver bullet in the armoury of Hussey’s legion of supporters — is not quite as impressive as it seems at first glance. His first-class average for Victoria is a mortal-sounding 45.50. His career first-class average of 53.70 includes his winters spent at Nottinghamshire for whom he averages 64.82 in first-class cricket. In a period in English cricket history when Mark Ramprakash was the undisputed King of the Shires, David Hussey was the Lord of Casterly Rock, comfortably ensconced in the midlands and second in run-scoring power to the King, but only just. English county form isn’t irrelevant, but it has never counted for as much at the Australian selection table as Australian domestic first-class form. If it did, then Stuart Law would have played 100 Tests for Australia.

If anything, Hussey has been lucky at the Australian selection table. Despite his mediocre international limited-overs record, Hussey is still regarded by many — including, it seems, Australia’s selectors — as Australia’s limited-overs saviour. Despite not having a Test cap, he was handed one of only 17 national contracts for the 2012–13 season — the only player on that elite list without one.

Nowadays, the Australian Test batting order, an organisation which was once about as easy to get into as the International Brotherhood of Teamsters in the ’50s, has regular vacancies due to injuries, poor form and sudden retirements. Hussey still dreams of wearing the baggy green and has always consistently maintained that for him, “[p]laying Test cricket for your country is still the ultimate.” It says much about the rude health of Test cricket in Australia that one of the most formidable domestic T20 cricketers in the world, a bloke with a US$1.4 million IPL price tag on his head, would consider retiring if he didn’t still retain the hope that he could play Test cricket for Australia.

But, the puzzling empirical truth remains that, in Australian limited-overs colours, the slayer of county bowling attacks disappears as completely as a ghostly apparition in an RL Stine novel. Right now, Hussey doesn’t deserve to be in the Test XI. Not until he starts scoring consistently and heavily for Victoria in Shield cricket and for Australia in the international limited-overs formats.

I hope he does.

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