Lessons on life by Mike Hussey

The formula for writing a tribute to a retiring great is fairly standard.

Dig up a few memories, toss in some noteworthy numericals and a summary of successes, follow this with a charming knockabout yarn or two make sure you keep any career controversy to a minimum, and you’ve got yourself a read.

A departing demigod like Mike Hussey deserves a bloody good one of these, of which thousands will be written. Based on career evidence, they will almost all read of cricketing near-perfection.

An endorsement deal with Taubmans awaits.

An endorsement deal with Taubmans awaits.

Mr Cricket’s modus operandi is a blend of a selfless team-first mantra, an almost paranoid drive for success and an undying commitment to the spirit of the gentleman’s game. He is the benchmark as the ultimate competitor.

We are all aware of his crazy numbers, his early sky-high average that had us questioning our Casio, the speccy grabs in the gully that had us rubbing our eyes and the matches saved that had us thanking our respective creators.

So I’m going to leave all of that practical stuff for others to write by keeping this composition entirely personal. This will be all about what ‘The Huss’ meant to me, a tragically devoted follower who was kept in a constant state of awe while he watched the length of a magnificent career that transcended the game.

I’m penning these thoughts on a piece of paper stained by my tears of disbelief, so please excuse me if my words seem emotionally waterlogged.

First and foremost, the Huss is a one-in-a-million freak cricketer who constantly skins his elbows for Australia and who will depart the arena on a dreamy high of personal form. That alone gets him a lifetime invite to all of my barbecues.

It’s his qualities as a human being that sets the man apart.

Huss has always been there to teach me the basics. To flog the one-percenters of life with a purposeful back lift, to get on the front foot and concentrate like a man possessed, even as the shadows lengthened and the sweat stung your eyes. And do it for hours, sessions, and days if required.

He has always taught me to grit the teeth and dig in, and to bust your guts whether when at practice or playing for keeps. On a dustbowl or concrete, treat every ball like a potentially wicked cluster bomb, as if it could be your last. Especially when batting with Phil Hughes.

Huss has coached me in the art of voracious hunger, to snaffle life’s aerial cut shots like a ruthless mousetrap stationed at gully, and to celebrate like your life was dependant on getting a critical wicket before stumps, all the while wearing a feature wall’s worth of zinc.

He has inspired me to carry myself like the spirit of the game desires by setting a spotless example. A tidily adorned humble gentleman with single-minded intentions to grind his opponent out of the game with a sweat-soaked chanceless hundred. And all done with impeccably polite manners.

Finally, Huss has taught me that military medium pies with a hint of gentle outswing will forever be rad, and not to mention a genuine option when trying to break a partnership.

I just assumed that Mr Cricket would play forever. It’s hard to fathom that his day of departure has come around and that in a matter of weeks he will be gone, visible only to those in his hometown as he inhumanely buries grade cricket bowling attacks into the Perth soil.

Watching him sign off from Test cricket in Sydney will be special, but watching the start of the following series in India without him will be just plain weird.

Thanks for the hard yards, Mike Hussey.

Now let’s start a push for his comeback.

 

 

Silk hands and secured sodas: Australia’s greatest fielding XI

Fielding is the poor third cousin of cricket’s disciplines, but over recent weeks it has waved for attention with a couple of notable moments.

Firstly, there was the sight of Shane Warne’s well-trained wandering hands shelling a few simpleton sodas in the Big Bash League, much to the mirth of those with much less glamorous girlfriends than his.

Secondly, there was the cool-headed kamikaze approach to specialist fielding by Jordan Silk in the Hobart Test that showed that some of us are only one team injury plague away from working on an arena with legends.

Mark Waugh post-mullet.

Mark Waugh post-mullet.

These inspiring moments in the outer got me thinking: what would Australia’s strongest fielding XI for the modern era look like?

So here’s my attempt at a team based on a garden variety formula of six batsmen, an all-rounder, a wicketkeeper, three quicks and one leftover who is a whiz on the cordial mix.

Mark Taylor – A dapper slipper with hands like a bed of feathers. As temporary captain of the ODI side in 92/93, he sent the SCG faithful into a whirlpool of madness with a brilliant one-handed take on a damp surface against the Windies in a tight low-scorer. At one point, ‘Tubby’ held the world record for most Test catches and when the chewy was put away for good, finished with 157 and a reputation as a sovereign of the Australian cordon.

Boon: bringing sexyback to short leg.

Boon: bringing sexyback to short leg.

David Boon – The rotund Tasmanian could make a leg side look stacked when standing solo at short leg. Cat-like reflexes and an ability to stretch for the tantalising dollies made life under the lid in close his realm of expertise, with his best example being the capping of Shane Warne’s hat trick with a diving fingertip effort in 1994.

Ricky Ponting – It’s natural to remember Punter for his billions of runs, but what about his exploits in patrolling the inside of the middle? If he wasn’t turning quarter chances into acrobatic catches, he was sniffing about for anything remotely resembling a run-out chance and usually concluding them with rifling direct hits. Finished his career on 177 Test catches.

Allan Border – Our hard-nosed former skipper was the multi-tasker of the inner-ring, bringing specialist skills to the full 360 degrees of the park. His ultra-precise left-arm effected many a run-out, and as for his catching, just ask John Reid and Gus Logie about the difficulties of bypassing an aerial stroke past him. A one-time holder of the Test cricket catching record with 156.

Mark Waugh – It doesn’t get much easier on the optic nerve than the effortless motions in the field of ‘Junior.’ This fielding doyen has a bursting back catalogue of slip screamers and freakish run-outs, and was super-flexible with his ability to also catch bullets between his teeth in the short positions in front of the wicket. Also a one-time holder of the Test catches record and finished his career with a massive 181 grabs.

Deano and his clothing store.

Deano and his clothing store.

Dean Jones – Who could forget the rhythmic bounce of the curly mullet as this tearaway tracked down balls in the outfield? The sheer commitment of the iconic Victorian was his trademark, and this was no more evident then when he was the first to employ the slide and dive manoeuvre to desperately keep a ball off the rope. A laser arm from the deep complemented his dedicated chasing, not to mention his top catching ability.

Andrew Symonds – This man cast a huge shadow across the point and cover region as he prowled for any loose scraps or off-cuts. His seemingly laconic approach belied his penchant for the wicked and astonishing, with the best examples being some of the ridiculous return catches he used to take when bowling. Don’t forget his deadeye-throwing arm that could get batsmen hastening when he let fly from the boundary or in close.

Ian Healy – Just take a look at Heals’ mangled fingers; there’s no way those things haven’t been through 11 years of pouching everything that has come their way. A one-time world record holder for most Test dismissals, the diminutive Queenslander was the most watertight custodian with his super-tidy approach and the benchmark in Australia for modern-day glove work. Hung up the inners in 1999 with 395 scalps.

Symonds didn't enjoy Flintoff's extreme approach to mental disintegration.

Symonds didn’t enjoy Flintoff’s extreme approach to mental disintegration.

Mitchell Johnson – He’s worn plenty of flak for his delinquent bowling in the past, but you can never doubt the athleticism in the field of this wild left-armer. Possessing excellent agility for a big man and a devastating arm from the deep or at mid on/off, he can be relied upon to snaffle a chance- like his desperate caught and bowled against South Africa this summer- or drop the ball on top of the bails from the outfield with great regularity.

Brett Lee – The sulphur-crested Superman of Australian pace was not one to rest on his bowling laurels when it came to contributing to the cause, and this was no more apparent in the way in which he selflessly flung himself around in the name of saving runs in the field. His slide and pick-up move followed with his harmonious throw was classical music for the eyes.

Glenn McGrath – Narromine’s finest didn’t exactly glide around the outfield with an artful flow, but he gets a guernsey thanks to his pinpoint throwing ability. Pigeon’s guided missiles always flew in from the deep with a lovely flat trajectory, making batsmen almost always decide to forego that sneaky extra on the arm. Nailed down his title as fine leg upper crust with an unforgettable dive’n’scoop catch to dismiss Michael Vaughan in an Ashes contest in 2002.

12th man: Steve Smith – One look at the Smith dossier and you could argue that he’s the greatest ground-fielder on the Australian scene at the moment. Spectacular catches, dazzling saves on the boundary and youthful liveliness in close makes him a pleasure to witness on the field. Gets a start as drinks waiter due to his lack of ability with bat and ball.

 

Backyard medicine by Pat Howard and company

After another depressing display of dysfunctional muscle fibre from an Australian cricketer on the weekend, I reckon it’s time to turn the heat lamp of scrutiny on to Pat Howard and his team of flummoxed medicine men.

The amount of highly paid bowling firepower that has crocked on the watches of these guys shows no signs of abating. Just have a peek at this lengthening list!

Hilfenhaus cuts a forlorn figure as he searches for answers inside his headwear.

Hilfenhaus cuts a forlorn figure as he searches for answers inside his headwear.

Pat Cummins, James Pattinson, Josh Hazelwood, Ryan Harris, John Hastings, Shane Watson and now Ben Hilfenhaus have all left their overs columns with irritating decimal points in recent times, so surely it’s time for a collective ‘what’s doing?’ to be boomed in the direction of those making the calls on when these blokes bowl, stretch, eat and probably scratch themselves. It’s only natural to ask, considering that faulty fitness has caused the glaring faux pas of short-changing Michael Clarke for the second time in three Test matches by leaving him one workhorse light mid-game.

This kind of repeated inconvenience paints a foul picture for the faceless white coats and their finely crafted workload plans. It begs serious questions, such as which Thai cosmetic surgery college did they attain their medical qualifications from? Do they diagnose using Google? Are they just dental school flunks?

Australian fans are sick of enduring heart palpitations every time they see a bowler heading off to the sheds to use the latrine or check a greyhound result. The lot of us are cowering from too much lost trundling time, rehab shoptalk and worst of all, butchered results.

Some dependability needs to be instilled. Answers are required to the current mess, and it starts at the top where the big decisions are made. And that’s Mr Howard.

On the back of an Ashes pounding and the Argus Review, the appointment of the former rugby player brought fresh optimism to Australian fans hankering for some stability. When he hit the scene, his philosophy was to nurture our stocks with a cotton wool approach, however it seems the only soft fluff in the place now is the muscle and tissue of the quicks, and our supposed depth is suffering because of it.

Howard flanked by what he thinks is a set of stethoscopes.

Howard flanked by what he thinks is a set of stethoscopes.

What’s the use of having a much-vaunted backlog of bowling capability if the majority of them can only accelerate so much before blowing a tyre?

Things seem to be going backwards, and it’s making me think that Howard’s job title of ‘High Performance Manager’ means something different than once thought.

Performance? It seems we are still patiently waiting on that to fully flourish. But at least he’s got the ‘high’ part right anyway, as him and his unit must be on something strong judging by the unwavering faith they place in their supposed state-of-the-art plans which produce nothing but twinges, pulls and shanks.

So what’s the answer to returning to the good old days of former methods that involved long-term health, sturdiness and resilience, the plans that were considered out-dated and ineffective when the new regime took over?

I know my medical expertise- two series of ER, a few games of ‘Operation’ and extensive reading of Panadol packets on Sunday mornings- probably doesn’t run deep enough to have the critical solution to these busted capers. But let’s at least get the conversation started in an attempt to iron out this cricketing quackery.

Do we make the bowlers bowl more net sessions? Less net sessions? Back to 1980s basics with less mollycoddling? Do we make the batsmen bowl? Perhaps they need less Swisse?

Whatever the answer is, it needs to be implemented pronto, otherwise our bowling division could be sliced down to honest domestic cricketers doing replacement jobs for the Ferraris that are always on the hoist for re-tootling.

For Howard and the clipboard contingent, it’s time to take the medicine. We need a change in practice.

Reservation for three. The Cook eats at the top table.

In the ongoing debate to determine the planet’s broadest bat, this Australian summer has seen loads of manic yak about the wide-ranging sword powers of Michael Clarke and Hashim Amla and which of these two should be fitted for the yellow jersey.

And with good reason.

There’s no doubt that these two trundler tormentors are worthy selections, with their recent data causing runs columns to bow under weight stress as well as force commentators into blurting awkward terms like ‘purple vein of form.’

But surely the recent batting feats of Alastair Cook under the responsibility of the England captaincy, coupled with his amazing career record thus far, demands he be mentioned along with Clarke and Amla as members of the leading pack?

Imagine how good he would be if he knew where the handle was?

Imagine how good he would be if he knew where the handle was?

Cook must appear like a telephone booth planted in front of the sticks to exhausted attacks around the world who are fast becoming bereft of ideas on how to dupe him in to a muffed stroke. When this resolute scoring automaton scratches his mark to take guard, consider the blinkers of fanatical focus super-glued down over his eyes and a reservation booked to stay in the middle for an indefinite number of days.

Deservedly so, the sterling portrayals currently rain down on the man like vigorously distributed podium champers.

Reinforced crease titanium. Arctic-cool cucumber temperament. Statistician’s fantasy. Probably a real stubborn bugger to play poker against.

And now arguably the world’s best batsman.

Cook is indestructible either as an innings saviour in troubled times or as a purveyor of pain when the sun is shining, and with each passing innings his notoriety as a genuine contemporary batting superhero further expands. His unflappable and somewhat private demeanour off the field, offset with the fierce street-fighter determination and ruthless hunger of his on-field alter ego, make him the closest thing to a cricketing Batman with an Alfred accent.

The meticulous leftie has kicked on stupendously after the numerical heroism he produced when last on our shores for the Ashes horror of 2010/11. Since those days of psycho-anguish for Australians, records that have stood long in the rich quilted history of the game have continued to be picked out like old stitches and replaced with the English silk of the man affectionately known in his homeland as ‘Chef.’

Over in India at the moment, the recently appointed replacement as skipper for Andrew Strauss has made the long term sight of his padded-up backside at the wicket a fixture as regular as the crease markings. The supposed pressure of captaincy has been firmly toed far into the stratosphere with five centuries in his first five matches as Pom chieftain, along the way setting a new mark for most runs by a captain in his first five games at the helm, a record previously held by another handy bat in Sir Don Bradman.

To add to this, he was officially crowned as England’s King of Goin’ Large when he tallied a typically-stoic 190 against India in Kolkata, a score which sent him alone at the top of the Test century-making tree in the Old Dart with 23. Not bad when you consider the calibre of countrymen he surpassed in Geoffrey Boycott, Wally Hammond, Colin Cowdrey and one-time tattler and now-cheek smooching teammate Kevin Pietersen.

He’s the youngest batsman to reach 7000 Test runs, and at the spritely age of 27, he has many other landmarks in the crosshairs. Graham Gooch’s English Test record of 8901 should be the proverbial tradie hammering out a new kitchen before smoko, with longer term goals such as the all-time record held by Sachin Tendulkar (15463 runs) a few storeys higher but very likely provided he steers clear of injury, sweaty nightclubs and the off-field company of boozehounds like Pietersen.

And if you think that prediction makes me sound like I’ve been on the warm Boddingtons with KP myself, then consider this: no other batsman in Test history has accumulated more runs before their 28th birthday than Cook. And when I say nobody, you can include even the Little Master himself. With his current average of 50.02 on the rise with the buoyancy of leadership, it would be a game man to say that Cook’s steady target shooting is going to cease any time soon.

Right now, Cook has the shimmering set of scores and scrapbook full of smashed records that should make him an undeniable candidate for world batting MVP alongside fellow heavyweights Clarke and Amla.

The top table should have a booking for three, with one seat saved for the Chef.

Who will Israel have crying at the Waratahs in 2013?

How did you symbolically label the sight of code chameleon Israel Folau wearing a fresh coat of Waratah blue on Tuesday?

You may have seen it as another red-letter day for contemporary individualism? A plunging blade to the lungs of team-orientated traditions? Or perhaps a young rich man standing near a series of blazing bridges with a can full of gas and a hand full of matches?

However you viewed it, one thing can be safely ascertained. Folau’s latest hop has caused a couple of raging rivers of tears to run under those flaming overpasses in the last few days.

So far, the lion’s share of teeth-gnashing and wailing has come from Ricky Stuart and the Eels, the NRL’s developing defence force in the perceived ‘War on the West’, and to a lesser extent, any lazy AFL analyst in need of easy prey. Nothing short of a Hallmark card from Folau containing the message ‘Forgive me mate, I needed to put 16 carat bread on the table / I couldn’t stand your game’ would be required to turn the raging torrents of anguish in to dry river beds of forgiveness for this dissatisfied lot.

So fitting that a man who has burnt bridges is pictured with another recent combustible: the trusty crane.

So fitting that a man who has burnt bridges is pictured with another recent combustible: the trusty crane.

However, before you lay a wreath for the mistreated interests of those above, spare a thought for a victim who is currently silent and yet to be determined.

Won’t somebody think of the poor back at the Waratahs who is going to lose his spot to Minto’s soldier of fortune in 2013?

We all know how this works. Big name recruits crossing the floor from other codes are given special pardon when it comes to important squad laws such as earning their spot, putting the runs on the board and showing proficiency in match situations. Usually, the new guy is given a pre-season of off-field osmosis, then plays 40 minutes of club rugby in front of a media scrum before being cannoned straight in to the first 22. It’s certifiable code-hopping science.

The murky downside is that an established squad member, with the game running through his veins and shaping his every instinct, who was kicking for touch from the crib before churning through the game’s nurseries and systems, will be either rotated, benched or flicked to club land to accommodate a man who hasn’t found himself in a ruck since his teens and was kicking a Sherrin only months ago.

At no other club will this be more evident than the Waratahs, a place where big name recruits seem magnetised towards despite a cobwebbed trophy cabinet and a steady marshmallowing of the underbelly over the years.

So that begs the question: Which blokes at NSW will be contemplating a sneaky trip wire for the new mungo recruit at training, or perhaps some Laxatives in his water bottle?

Obviously, depending on where new coach Michael Cheika chooses Folau to ply his trade will determine who sweats most.

Seemingly the best fit for him would be on the wing, which unfortunately for him is a position containing a conga line of established talent. Where will he be wedged when you have internationals Drew Mitchell and Lachie Turner looking for a game, along with boom youngsters Tom Kingston and Peter Betham? Even allowing for one spot as cover on the bench, there’s still going to be someone significant on the outer.

Okay, so out wide is like a carriage on a peak hour train. So how about slotting him in to the centres where he can muscle and bustle towards the line?

You’ll need to shuffle the deckchairs and upset a figurehead there as well, as this is the domain where veterans Tom Carter and Rob Horne are firmly planted.

That leaves only one more possible position and that’s the highly pressurised position of fullback, a place where you simply do not roll the dice. Unfortunately for Folau, it’s sardines here as well, with 2012 breakout star Bernard Foley tussling with regular Wallabies Adam Ashley-Cooper and Berrick Barnes, both who can also play in Folau’s other two proposed positions of wing and centre.

See what I mean?

There’s no positions vacant at the Waratahs yet they are overstaffed by one, and there will be pressure from above for the newest and least experienced off-cut from another code(s) to be turned out on the big stage post haste.

Unless there’s a spate of busted hinges, Folau will take the position of somebody adept at the game of rugby union when it comes to selection time in NSW, as I highly doubt he will be forced to bide his time and bang down the Super rugby door from the lonely backwaters of the club circuit.

I’ll be weeping like Ricky Stuart for whoever falls victim to code crossing team politics at the Waratahs in 2013. You know it’s on the cards.

After South Africa and before Sri Lanka, riddle me this…

There were many big crossroad moments across this regrettably brief Test series against South Africa that caused Australia and its thirsting fans some knotted knickers of excitement and inflated chests of belief.

Ultimately however, when top-ranked Protea horsepower roared and that ice-cold bastard known as ‘reality’ awoke along with the visitor’s pace attack, Michael Clarke’s go-getting bunch were mercilessly handed a jumbo WACA pantsing, resulting in no trophy and more water-treading at third place in the ICC rankings.

clarkey

Clarke: clone this man.

Graeme Smith’s lads, slowly drifting in and out of coherence through the series before viciously snorting the smelling salts for Perth, ensured those sweet endorphins of unexpected Australian supremacy- seemingly so close for Baggy Greeners mid-Adelaide- would cruelly stagnate into a pint of confusion clouded with the powder of a soluble selection jigsaw.

It’s another whacky moment in the recent history of following the Australian side play cricket, a task akin to watching a movie that has been badly edited by a visually impaired speed addict. Just take a look at the hair brain mosaic we’ve had to compute in this series alone.

Whopper totals. Collapses. Avalanches of wicket taking. Sahara-sized arid spells. A strange watery substance coming from the beady eyes of Ricky Ponting. The name ‘Faf.’

And that’s before you even look at the averages, the combinations, the horses and the courses.

All of this needs to be pumped in to the hierarchy’s high-tech data-spewer, and we haven’t even mentioned variables regarding the South African side of things. Remember the tourists carried additional Lay Down Sallies in all matches with former stoners, busted cargo, faux leggies and Dean Elgar effectively reducing them to ten for each match?

The smoke isn’t clearing, is it?

Seeing that things are still hazier than Nimbin, even after a proud and encouraging performance against a diamond team over three gruelling matches from our boys, I’ve used my issues heat map to determine the buds that need to be nipped by the CA consulate in time for Sri Lanka in eleven days.

This may induce sleep or insomnia for those searching for answers.

What supplement is required to make the top order collectively stand up at the same time?

I’ve won money backing clusters of wickets at the start of Australia’s innings in recent times. Ed Cowan, David Warner and Shane Watson regularly dazzle on an individual basis, always seeming to know when to produce a score that is going to keep their noses clean. But what about some kind of cosmic moon alignment where the trio hits the perfectly-sweet notes all at once to produce a thunderous symphony of early innings accumulation? It happens so rarely that you would think these blokes are so in awe of the legends below them in the order that they’ll do anything to watch them bat. Does this spluttering triumvirate need to be separated?

Quiney: keep the ball out of his hands and all is sweet.

Quiney: keep the ball out of his hands and all is sweet.

Is it time for Michael Clarke to ascend like the batting god he’s become?

We are finally seeing pay dirt for all of those years of Pup as a badly-coiffed Milo advertisement, and it’s time to stop wasting him as a rescue mission at five and start using him as a rescue mission at three. As mentioned above, the top order regularly wets itself in the face of the world’s barking bowlers, so why not chuck an experienced counter-attacker with Sir Don-like finesse at first drop to give the penthouse some much-needed concrete?

Should Mitchell Johnson keep his kit bag packed?

The popular line of thinking is that Johnson was a one-off hired gun for Perth and that he will be sent back to the factory lines of Shield cricket until Australia plays on another heavily compacted strip of cement. But we all know it’s never that easy with Johnson, and with his above-average showing in the last Test, his poster on the wall of Inverarity’s bedroom and Australia’s washing machine of bowling talent tumble-turning, no doubt he’ll be a discussion topic over future selection sushi sessions.

Does Rob Quiney have hairy enough arms to replace Ricky Ponting?

Like a backyard that’s had a gumtree uprooted, the middle order is now 13,000-odd runs down in experience with Monday’s big sayonara to the fleecy forearms of Punter in Perth. Life’s laws dictate that Quiney should be given first dibs on the role considering his fingerprints were the last seen on the revolving door of the top six. Does he have the years in front of him- not to mention the stones required- to competently replace a man with 41 Test tons?

Watson at six means more time for physio and grooming.

Watson at six means more time for physio and grooming.

Is the Shane Watson experiment at the top of the order gaining six-appeal?

Let’s face it: we all knew it was too good to be true when Watson went on that unbelievable streak of half-centuries as a makeshift opener from when he was pole-vaulted to the top in the 2009 Ashes, and there’s no doubt when the big fella is plundering attacks and losing interest in the 70s, he was one of the first picked in the top three. But now that his front-foot aggression has begun to open him up as an LBW candidate, coupled with the fact that his bowling is now ridiculously valuable, shouldn’t he be given his Danny Glover moment by moving him from shooting new ball crims in the front line to light paperwork in the back office?

 

 

Don’t forget peeps that you can also read my dross observations on TheRoar.com.au and at SportingJournal.com.au. Plus I flick crap all over Twitter too so follow-up! @PlayUp_Roosters is the handle to…. well, handle. Cheers!

Warming the Pine

Sport for those with comfortable couches.