Mike Hussey spent a decade on the domestic circuit before he finally broke in to the national side. With the weight of his performances after that, he ensured that the spot remained his.
Hussey called time on a stellar international career in 2013, with 6235 Test runs at 51.52 and 5442 One-Day International runs at 48.15 at a strike rate of 87.12. He has continued playing franchise Twenty20 cricket, and remains good enough to be the second-highest scorer in the ongoing Big Bash League 2015-16. A career in coaching also beckons, and Hussey has already been employed as a consultant with the South African team. His next assignment will be with the Australian team for the upcoming World Twenty20 in India, again as batting consultant.
Hussey’s instantly likeable personality, a deep love and understanding of the game as the ‘Mr Cricket’ nickname suggests, and his own versatility as a player make him the ideal candidate to have on board.
On the sidelines of the India-Australia ODI in Melbourne on Sunday (January 17), Hussey took time out to share his thoughts on coaching, his career, understanding MS Dhoni, and more with Wisden India. Excerpts:
Despite retiring three years back, you’re still going strong. Where does the hunger come from?
I love the contest between bat and ball. I guess playing is still fun. I still enjoy the training, still enjoy competing with the younger guys, sometimes coming out on top, sometimes not. Twenty20 is a little easier on the older body rather than playing all year round in 50-over and Test cricket, and you still get plenty of time away from the game as well. You get time with the family at home but you can also come away and play some cricket as well.
Quite often, if you come in as a new player, you don’t really understand your game as well as you need to and that’s why you can see some inconsistent performances as a youngster and then you might go out of the team and hopefully learn about the game a bit more and come back and have more success.
Going back, did that long wait for an international debut make you hungrier in a way?
Well, I would have loved an opportunity earlier, there’ s no question. But when I got my opportunity, at least I understood my game. I was a bit more experienced, so it gave me a good chance, once I got in there, to be able to have success consistently. Quite often, if you come in as a new player, you don’t really understand your game as well as you need to and that’s why you can see some inconsistent performances as a youngster and then you might go out of the team and hopefully learn about the game a bit more and come back and have more success. We’ve seen that with Steven Smith. He started his career a bit inconsistently. He came out of the team, learned about his game and now he’s figured out his game. Rohit Sharma is probably another example as well. He just knows his game so well.
You’re still in great form. If the selectors were to say we need an experienced hand for the World T20, would you be willing to come back?
(Laughs) No, no. I’m actually with the Australian team as a consultant coach for the first couple of weeks. I definitely won’t be playing. I’ll be throwing balls in the nets.
You did that role with South Africa too. How was that experience?
I thoroughly enjoyed my time with the South African team. It was brilliant. They’ve got some great people there and I really enjoyed being a part of it. I enjoyed learning about how a different team, different cultures go about their cricket. I understand how things work in Australia, but South Africa is a completely different landscape. So to learn about their cultures, religions, customs, the way they see the game, how they talk about the game – it was fantastic.
What was your exact role with the South Africans?
Just batting consultant. It started here in the World Cup 2015, to talk about one-day cricket and different situations and also try and give them insights into conditions playing here in Australia. It sort of grew from that to being over in India with the team [for the limited-overs series]. Mainly just as a batting consultant, to talk to the guys about one-day cricket, T20 cricket, throw lots of balls in the nets … it was good fun.
The conditions do change quite a lot in India. It’s not just the same sort of pitch. The grounds are very different. So just having some knowledge to be able to pass on about the different grounds around the country hopefully will help.
Seemed like they could have used you for the Tests – you left and they started losing …
It looked like tough conditions. The pitches were turning big (in India). It looked extremely challenging. An India tour is always tough. They were there for 70-odd days with T20Is, five ODIs and four Test matches. It’s a long, tough, draining tour in difficult conditions. By the end there, the ball was really turning. I’m sure they gave their best but India are always tough to beat at home.
How was the culture in the South African team different from the Australian team?
Well, you just have to look at the dressing room. They’ve got different religions, different cultures, different colours, different languages. What I found is that they’re very, very respectful to the different cultures in the dressing room. There were Muslims, Christians, white people, black people, coloured people. It was a fascinating mix and they were very respectful of each other. In Australia we’re just starting to get a little bit of that. We’re seeing some Indians, there’s Usman Khawaja of Pakistani origin coming into the Australian team. But they’re probably the first. We haven’t really experienced that in our country before. England probably have, they’ve had more subcontinental players playing. Coming from my background, I’ve never had to embrace different cultures. I found that really fascinating.
What I found is that they (South Africans) are very, very respectful to the different cultures in the dressing room. There were Muslims, Christians, white people, black people, coloured people. It was a fascinating mix and they were very respectful of each other. In Australia we’re just starting to get a little bit of that.
How much of the role is to concentrate on technical aspects?
It depends on the individual. It’s different for every player. Some guys want a bit more technical talk. For most of the guys at that level, it’s more about the mental side of the game – handling different situations, handling pressure. I didn’t need to talk technique with most of the guys. But a couple of the younger guys were more interested in trying to improve their technique a bit more.
As the batting consultant for Australia, what do you think are the key aspects to succeed in the subcontinent?
That’s an excellent question. I’m not sure. I guess having played a lot of T20 cricket in India – a fair few of the guys would have as well – but just having a lot of insights into different conditions. Because the conditions do change quite a lot in India. It’s not just the same sort of pitch. The grounds are very different. So just having some knowledge to be able to pass on about the different grounds around the country hopefully will help. But, also, just talking about different tactics at certain stages of the game as well. I won’t be telling the guys what to do. They’re experienced enough to work it out themselves. But if they want to talk about things, I’d like to facilitate those sorts of conversations. But nothing specific to India that’s different from playing T20 cricket elsewhere.
Do these stints with South Africa and Australia indicate a possible future in coaching?
Possibly, yes. I enjoy the coaching side of it. I think what most people don’t understand is how much work, effort, time and energy goes into coaching a team. It’s not just turning up at the nets and having a net session. There are hours and hours of work that goes into it. All the coaches out there, they deserve a lot more credit than what they’re given because the amount of time and effort they have to put into the job is extraordinary. I’m just at the start of that journey. I haven’t coached a team before. I’m just trying to do little bits and pieces of coaching to try and build up some experience. Obviously, as a player, you learn a lot of things on the way, which will probably help you in your coaching career. But I’m new to it. So I still need a bit more experience.
On full-time coaching:
Not really at this stage, no. Because if you are the national coach, you’re away from home for ten months of the year. That’s why I retired from international cricket, so that I could spend more time at home. At least with the IPL, I’ll be away for two months and that’s it.
So could the next coaching role, as a stepping stone, be that of an IPL team?
Well, I’m in the auction at this stage. I hope to get picked up. If not, I’ll be at home I guess, watching. I don’t know what the future holds.
But coaching a national side remains a possible goal?
Not really at this stage, no. Because if you are the national coach, you’re away from home for ten months of the year. That’s why I retired from international cricket, so that I could spend more time at home. At least with the IPL, I’ll be away for two months and that’s it. Whereas, if you’re an international player or coach, you’re away from home all year round. That’s not what I want at this stage of my life.
In the IPL, did coming back to Chennai Super Kings in the auction last year feel like a homecoming?
Yeah, a little bit. Definitely. Obviously I have a lot of friends and good relationships with the fans, the players and the administration at CSK. I really enjoyed going back to Chennai. I’m happy to say that I really enjoyed my time at Mumbai Indians as well. It was a different experience but it was fantastic as well. The ground there is one of my favourite grounds in the world. The atmosphere at Wankhede Stadium is phenomenal. Obviously having spent so much time in Chennai, you do feel part of a family almost. It’s a shame that we’re out of the competition for a couple of years, but that’s the way it goes.
Having been with Chennai for long, could you give us an insight into how MS Dhoni works?
I think we try and look too much into it. He’s a very relaxed character. He goes with his gut feeling a lot, which I think is very important as a captain. He doesn’t panic under pressure, he keeps his cool. He takes his time. I think why he’s been such a good captain is that India is cricket mad. The players are trying so hard, they want to do well too much and sometimes, the harder you try, the worse you go. Then you put so much pressure on yourself. The fans and the media put so much pressure on the players. He’s got this wonderful ability just to get the players to relax, try and take that pressure off them. Just go out there and play and enjoy playing the game of cricket; that’s what he impresses on the players all the time. I think that’s one of his greatest strengths, particularly in a place like India, where there is so much tension, stress, pressure, so much attention on all the players. He’s got this great ability to try and take that off the players.
On MS Dhoni:
He’s got this wonderful ability just to get the players to relax, try and take that pressure off them. Just go out there and play and enjoy playing the game of cricket; that’s what he impresses on the players all the time. I think that’s one of his greatest strengths, particularly in a place like India.
There was talk in the Australian media that Dhoni’s at the end of his rope as captain. Do you agree with that?
Not necessarily. I think he’s so experienced and experience is important. That’s the other thing about MS. He’s a very honest guy. If he feels he’s not the right man for the job, or if he feels like he’s not contributing as much as he can, I’m confident that he’ll walk away from the job. But while he still feels like he can contribute and be the right man for the job, I would back him 100% because he’s got the experience, the talent, the cricket brain to be able to lead the team well. He’s honest enough to know if he’s not the right man. And he obviously did that in the Test matches. He stepped aside when he felt like he could not contribute. I’ve got a lot of respect for him.
As a former batsman and present coach, what do you think is going wrong with Shikhar Dhawan?
I think he’s a class player. I really do. I think he showed last year how much the Indian selectors got it right. Yes, he had a few battles in Australia and against Australia during the one-day series. But they stuck with the player and the cream always rises to the top. And he showed that during the World Cup and repaid the selectors’ faith in him. The one that stands out is the hundred he made here at the MCG against South Africa. It was a wonderful innings. You’ve got to remember, international cricket is not easy. It’s tough. When you’re facing the best bowlers in the world, you’re going to have periods when you don’t score runs. I actually think he’s a very fine player and I understand why the Indian selectors, even if he’s having a run of outs, stick with him. Because he can play match-winning innings. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with him.
Given the crowds T20 is attracting, there have been fresh questions on ODIs being a dying format …
No, I don’t agree. I think there’s room for all three formats in the game. T20 is a great vehicle to introduce the game to new people — to kids and families. We’ve got a lot of competition in Australia for other sports and T20 is a great way to introduce the game. It’s only three hours, hopefully get kids to fall in love with cricket and then we can introduce them to the 50-over game where there’s still World Cups to play for. It’s a great opportunity for players. And in Australia, a lot of players have got their opportunities in one-day cricket and then pushed for Test selection as well. It’s a great game. I love watching 50-over cricket, I really enjoy it. I love watching the likes of Virat Kohli out there.
You didn’t have it easy, making your way into international cricket. Will that experience of struggle be an advantage as a coach?
I don’t think any international player has had it easy. It’s never easy. But I know what you mean. I certainly never took it for granted and I can empathise with guys that have struggled, because I’ve certainly struggled as well. And I think empathy as a coach is an important ingredient, to be able to understand what the different players are going through.