Going out on top, but Hussey leaves a worryingly big void

Mike Hussey drives in front of a packed Adelaide Oval Hill during the Second Ashes Test of 2010/11. This remains my favourtie photo from the tour…

The old adage that it’s much better to be asked ‘why are you retiring?’ rather than ‘why don’t you retire?’ has never had a better modern-day example than that of Michael Hussey.

Shocking Australian cricket with his announcement via a Nine News interview on Saturday night, Hussey has declared that the New Year’s Test starting tomorrow in Sydney will be his final outing in the Baggy Green.

He’ll embark on something of a national farewell tour during the remaining limited over internationals against Sri Lanka and the West Indies, with his final appearance in Australian colours likely to be the one-off Twenty20 against the Windies at the ‘Gabba – the same ground on which he made his Test Debut – on February 13.

Now, with humble apologies to the editors for what they’re about to let slide, Hussey’s surprise announcement was one of those genuine ‘holy shit!’ moments for me. While the tragic passing of Tony Greig was not altogether surprising, given his battle with lung cancer, news of Hussey’s impending retirement really gave my cricket emotions a jolt.

Simply put, Michael Hussey had long been a favourite player of mine, going back to the days when he was carving up the domestic scene for Western Australia.

That he was only six weeks younger than me, similarly batted left-handed for a somewhat obscure reason, and was also meticulous in his training and preparation, meant that I always felt a kindred sense. Obvious gap in playing level, talent, and ability notwithstanding.

Like Stephen Larkham in the Wallaby no.10, I could watch Mike Hussey bat for Australia all day. The Larkham cut-out pass and the Hussey pull shot share the peak of my sporting beauty scale, and I’m so thankful I saw both as close and as often as I did.

The Hussey pull shot, a thing of beauty. Here it brings up an Ashes hundred at the WACA…

As much as I wanted Hussey to play on forever (just so that there remained someone of my generation in the Australian team), there was little doubt his retirement would come sooner rather than later.

I just didn’t expect it to be this soon.

His form this summer had been outstanding; indeed, his form over the last 18 months or more had been from the top shelf in all forms of the game. He seemed one of the few batting locks for the Ashes Tour in the middle of this year, and unlike his recently retired contemporary, Ricky Ponting, there appeared to be no evidence that his days were numbered.

The questions regarding the batting order’s evident fragility have hovered ominously in recent months, but along with Michael Clarke, Hussey has been a proper batting rock, a literal foundation stone with which the Australian batting could be built around.

Suddenly, things are looking decidedly shaky.

It’s a sobering but not impossible scenario that Australia could go into the Ashes series in the Old Dart with Phillip Hughes and David Warner the most experienced batsmen after Clarke. Neither will have played more than 25 Tests.

Actually, if I’m honest, perhaps his retirement announcement is one of the very few things Hussey hasn’t timed well. His replacement – whoever that might be – has the unenviable task of cementing his Ashes tour berth via four historically uncomfortable Tests in India.

And the replacement options are abundant, even if the supporting numbers aren’t overly convincing. It’s a big six or seven weeks coming up for the Khawajas, Baileys, Doolans, Forrests, Fergusons, Marshes, and Burnses of the cricket world either way.

Regardless, none of that will be of concern for Michael Hussey over that same period, as he winds down his international career in the coloured gear with anywhere up to twelve appearances in seven cities through until mid-February.

His reasons for calling time on his career well before most saw it coming can only be commended, and just reinforce that family will always come first. When you recall that Hussey didn’t go on Australia’s one-day tour of the UK in mid-2012, and left the Champions League tournament early, both for family reasons, it’s hardly surprising at all that this decision has been playing on his mind all summer.

Not everyone gets to go out on their own terms – much as plenty have tried to – and the recent overlooking and retirement of Brad Haddin and Ponting, respectively, provide all the recent proof of that you need.

It will be an absolute privilege and an honour for me to watch Hussey in the flesh one more time in Sydney tomorrow, and I genuinely look forward to seeing that exquisitely timed pull shot (and the cover drive, and square cut, and all the others) one last time.

(Memo to the captain, if he’s reading, you HAVE TO bat first tomorrow; my Sydney schedule doesn’t extend into the weekend!)

Hussey will finish his stellar Test career 12th on the Australian Test runs table (I can’t quite see him bridging the 727-run gap to Clarke), with somewhere in the vicinity of 6200 runs. His current average (51.52) will remain above the ‘greatness’ mark of fifty even should he go out with a pair in his last Test.

Whatever should happen over the next five days in Sydney, the Australian cricket team is about to enter a whole new era. Australia has found replacing the Warnes, Haydens, McGraths, Gilchrists and co. to be difficult in recent years, and replacing Ponting and now Michael Hussey will be no less so.

Happily, for the next five days, we can revel in the brilliance of the man reluctantly known as “Mr Cricket” for one last time. A remarkable career is about to come to an end.

Well played, Huss, and enjoy retirement…

As published on The Roar today. Join the discussion at: http://www.theroar.com.au/2013/01/02/going-out-on-top-but-hussey-leaves-a-big-void/

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