Transcript: Couch Talk with Michael Hussey

Couch Talk 102 (Play)

Guest: Michael Hussey, Former Australian Cricketer

Host: Subash Jayaraman

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Subash Jayaraman (SJ)– Hello and welcome to Couch Talk. The guest today is former Australian batsman Mike Hussey. He talks aboout the late start to his internation career, his realtionship with Mickey Arthur and Cricket Australia, why he didn’t make his retirement plans public, the controversy surrounding the passage about Gurunath Meiyappan in his autobiography, amongst other things. Welcome to the show, Huss!

Michael Hussey (MH)– No worries. Thank you, thank you very much for having me!

SJ– It’s my pleasure having you on.

Congratulations on a fantastic career!

MH– Thank you!

SJ– There were times you thought you would never get to wear the Baggy Green, isn’t it? there is a passage from your autobiography “Underneath the Southern Cross”, where you are discussing with Stuart Clark on your  A-tour to Pakistan, you are talking to each other about how the time may have passed you by. That must have been a dreadful feeling to think you won’t get to do the one thing you devoted your entire life for.

MH– Yes. Exactly. There were definitely times when I thought I wasn’t going to make it. i was  with Stuart Clark in Pakistan, we were having a chat over a bite. We were 29 years of age and haven’t had a chance to play for Australia. It was a big disappointment, a bit down, thinking if we will ever get a chance. Thankfully, we were both lucky enough to  get an opportunity. Stuart Clark did brilliantly well, especially in his first Test series he was the man of the series against South Africa.

SJ– This is a running theme in your book – you always defer it to others. Another thing that was striking was not only your maddening work ethic and you nicety and sincerity, but it was your insecurity and self doubt and some could call it “inferiority complex” that you felt all the way from grade cricket till you retired, which is kind of astonishing coming from a top flight sportsman!

MH– I definitely felt all those things. I certainly, as a youngster, was a lot smaller than a lot of the other kids. I didn’t have many shots, and I had to nudge and glide the ball. Right from a very young age I felt that I wasn’t good enough or as good as everyone else. Unfortunately I had that inferiority complex throughout my whole career, but in a way it might have motivated me as well – to train extra hard, and want to hang in there a bit longer out in the middle. It might have been a positive thing as well.

SJ– You seem to be playing all your cricket in desperation mode. There is constant question about your own form even though you might have just hit a century in the previous match.

MH– Yes. I can honestly say that a lot of players go through those trials and tribulations. You do feel a lot of pressure as an international player, there is a lot of scrutiny on all the players and the matches are very intense and hard fought. It is an extremely tough game and there is nowhere to hide. It is tough and you definitely go through periods where you are feeling under enormous pressure. You feel like your place in the team is in jeopardy. But that is a part of being an international sportsperson, you have to deal with those extra pressures.

SJ– I want to further talk about that insecurities with regards to your decision to retire which you had made but you never divulged it to anybody else outside your immediate circles. Right through the book you mentioned that your wife, Amy, was carrying the burden unfairly, far too much – raising the kids and you miss being away from them and all that. But, you also provide a strong hint that if you had announced your decision to retire earlier you wouldn’t have been picked to play those Tests at home that summer. It looked like that feeling got stronger and worse after Mickey Arthur became the coach of the team and (Michael) Clarke had become the captain.

MH– No, no. My main decision was because of (being) too much away from the family. That was my main reason for retiring. And I wanted to keep it to myself. That was a part of it. i was nervous, there were some big tours coming up – to India, and to England in the Ashes, and I was worried for sure that they might say that “if you are retiring, let’s get a new player in there to get used to playing before the big series.” I was a bit nervous, I guess, but I also made sure in my mind throughout that Australian summer that I was making the right decision. I had made the decision quite early in my mind but I had to be sure and I was going to use that last Australian summer as a chance to confirm in my mind that my thoughts are correct. My mind didn’t change throughout that summer and that is how it turned out.

SJ– How much of a role was the way Simon Katich was let go of the team management played into your decision to keep your retirement announcement to yourself?

MH– That didn’t come into my mind at all. I hadn’t had any of those thoughts in my mind, I really didn’t want to go on tour again – especially for those hard tours to India and England. That was the main reason. I wanted to [play] that Australian summer, it is a great place to play in front of your home crowd, i wanted to use that time just to confirm in my mind that I was definitely making the right decision. That is all that was going through my mind. I kept it to myself because I was a little bit worried that they might want to look for a new player leading into those other series, that was the other side of it.

SJ– Having played for so long, to quit suddenly playing cricket must be a shock to the system. There is a question from a listener, Gautam – How much of a factor was that there is the IPL to play even after you retire, so that you can slowly weed away from cricket?

MH– It is a good question. It is difficult to stop doing something that you have loved doing for such a long period of time, that you have devoted a whole lot of your life to it. But, everything has to come to an end at some stage. As you mentioned there is still the T20 cricket to play for me to keep my head in the game, and while my body is still allowing me to play and while I am still enjoying the game. so, I get to play in the IPL and I am also playing in the Big Bash League in Australia. Those tournaments are great because I can still play cricket at a very high standard but it doesn’t take me away from home for the 10 or 11 months a year that the Australian cricketers are away for.

SJ– I want to go back to the retirement announcement. Once you made that public and you were informed by John Inverarity during the last Test that you were not going to be a part of the ODI squad even though you had expressed that you were available for it. I have a two part question. One, do you think it was a direct result of you not giving sufficient heads up about your retirement? Two, did you feel let down by what seems to be a pretty petty decision?

MH– No. it was a bit disappointing for sure, but I understood their reasoning and I was very fortunate to get a fantastic send-off in Sydney. I was disappointed because I wanted to play in the ODI series but that is the way that they wanted to go and I had no qualms about that. I understood the decision. When I sit back and think about that I feel that I am lucky to have that sort of send-off in Sydney and you couldn’t have asked for anything more, really.

SJ– So, you don’t think that you not getting picked for ODI even though you were fit and in form, and you were a very special ODI player, that they wouldn’t pick you for whatever reason and it was not tied down to your retirement announcement being kept away from them for so long?

MH– It probably justifies my thought on keeping it to myself, but having said that they wanted to look to the future and I wasn’t a part of the future. They had a world cup to prepare for and it was a good opportunity to get some games into some other players that hopefully will be a part of Australia’s world cup campaign. As I said, I was definitely disappointed, no question, but I understood what they were doing and I understood their decision. I got over it reasonably quickly.

SJ– OK! Fair enough!

Let’s talk about the Australian cricket team, and the domestic structure. For a long time, it was the strongest domestic structure in the world. reading form the book, during the grade cricket and Shield cricket days, you played with and against the, basically, who’s who of Australian cricket in the last 20 years – from David Boon to Shane Warne to (Damien) Martyn and everybody else. It is a good nurturing place for a future Test cricketer. Do you think that sort of thing has been lost and the future cricketers coming through the Australian set up might not be ready for international cricket?

MH– I must admit that playing Sheffield Shield cricket was extremely tough coming through it. But, I have to say that, I have played a couple of Sheffield Shield games at the end of last season, and the competition is extremely strong. I think that the standard is still there and Australia can be successful in future. There are quality players coming through the Sheffield Shield.

The one thing that I noticed that has changed a little bit is probably the quality of pitches. A lot of the pitches are very much produced for results, they were very green and the seam bowlers got a lot of help out of them. It made it difficult on a lot of levels – it made it difficult for the batsman to bat for long periods of time and build an innings and to bat all day and make massive scores. It also meant that the seam bowlers were bowling all the time and getting wickets easily and not learning what it is like to bowl on a Test match sort of pitches where the pitches are a lot more flatter and good for batting. The third thing is, we weren’t playing a lot against spin bowlers because the fast bowlers were getting a lot of wickets and the spin bowlers weren’t learning how to bowl teams out on a fifth day of a Test or the fourth day of a Sheffield Shield game. I think maybe that contributed to huge deficiencies in our cricket at the moment and I know that that is being looked at and will be rectified in the next few years.

SJ– I want to talk about the cricket team, the Aussie team itself. It looks like there were fissures and divisions within the team as you were nearing your retirement – the last 6 to 12 months – mainly because how the team management was making the players feel. You mentioned in a part where you said you were made to feel like “naughty school boys” when you had a few beers with the South African players. That happened to be Brad Haddin’s birthday as well. So, that kind of put you all on an edge?

MH– The standards in the Australian team are extremely high, and rightly so. When things we don’t probably stick to their plans or their standards, then you expect to be pulled into line. It was just a case where we went out and had a few beers on Brad Haddin’s birthday and it was sort of seen that we were going too far and we were pulled in line. That was it. there was no issues with it. We were just told that we were not upto the expectations and we were almost done. It wasn’t like we were made to feel like naughty schoolboys or anything like that. It was just adhering to standards of the Australian team.

SJ– I am just quoting you from the book, you used the words “naughty schoolboys”.

MH– Alright! OK. I can’t remember. *laughs*

SJ– I want to further go into that, in the sense that you mentioned about how you once had a chat with Mickey and he said that he was going to reward you guys for winning an ODI by not dropping anyone for the next match. That sort of thing is not good for anyone who is new, for somebody who has a lean patch, and which makes the players worry only about themselves and not for the team, doesn’t it?

MH– That was just one example. It did sort of raise my eyebrows a little bit. We played a fantastic game against India at the MCG, we played brilliantly and won the match and Mickey said “We are going to reward you guys for playing well.” it just made me think “Shivers! what if we lose a match or we weren’t playing so well. What then? Are you going to drop players?” I was very much sort of a guy that if you show faith in a player, you really back them and you give him a  few chances because cricket is such a tough game that you are not going to score runs every game. i just thought that i would have been a better thing to say that ‘we were going to keep backing you no matter if you lose a couple of games and don’t play so well.’

SJ– This is what you hear, especially in the highest level, that 90% of the game is played in your head and if you are going to constantly worry about what is going to happen to you if you don’t score, how are you going to score runs or take wickets?

MH– That is what you are going to deal with being international sports person, it is tough. And you are right, it is played 90% in the mind, such a mental game and such a mental battle. But, the great players are able to put those distractions aside and concentrate on their performance and perform consistently. That is why not everyone can play international sport, because it is extremely tough and challenging.

SJ– Taking a holistic view of what you have written in your book, it comes across that Mickey Arthur wasn’t really a good fit for the Australian cricket team. He was let go.

MH– No, not necessarily I’d agree with that. He was doing a good job. It was unfortunate and i was shocked as anyone was when he was sacked from his position before the Ashes series. No one is perfect. I am sure you could pick things that everyone does really well and there are probably things that everyone doesn’t quite do as well as they would have wanted to. I thought Mickey did a good job and I had a very good rapport with him and got on really well with him as well.

SJ– How do you assess the moves that have been made in the last year or two in the Australian set up. you have a lot of young players being brought into the team because a lot of you have retired, of course. There has been too much shuttling in & out, and up & down the order. Take the example of Phil Hughes or Ed Cowan or Nathan Lyon. You say in the book that that sort of thing makes the team soft and develop a losing culture…

MH– I just really like that they could identify what their best team is and their best players and really show the faith in them. Give them a chance to bed down their position, have a bit of faith in them, show that faith. The young payers are still learning the game – they will repay that faith. They are all very good players, very talented players. If you show them that faith and belief in them, I am sure they will in time repay that faith in spades.

SJ– You talk about a situation where you came in to the team and Shane Warne says “Go, do what you know to do and you will be successful.” Someone like him, a legend of the game is there to tell you, but for some of these guys just coming into the team, except for perhaps Michael Clarke, there is no one else of that stature in the team anymore, especially with all the new players that they are bringing in, and the constant chopping and changing…

MH– I don’t think you will ever be able to replace someone of the stature of Shane Warne – he is one of the greatest players to ever play. I was very lucky to come into a team with so many great players, they could offer all their experience. That is where I think Michael Clarke has done a really good thing by standing down as a selector, so he can have more time with his players and talk more openly and honestly and give his experience to the game. He is a very experienced player and has played  a lot of Test cricket and has a lot of success. A big job for him now is to try and pass on as much of that experience and knowledge and expertise as possible.

SJ– What did you make of how Nathan Lyon has been treated? He goes to India, gets dropped after one Test match, is brought back in, gets 9-fer, goes to the Ashes, gets dropped for the first two Test matches and is brought back in. What did you make of the whole thing? There is no consistency in selection policies.

MH– I was shocked, I must admit. Comingto the first Ashes Test, I thought Nathan would be playing. But, obviously, the selectors thought the other way, they wanted a left arm spinner. It was probably a tactical move to have a left arm spinner against their right handed batsmen in the middle order. That is probably the tactic that they decided to go with. You are part of the Australian squad, and the idea of the selectors is to pick the best XI that they think is going to give them the best chance of winning a Test match. So, that is the way that they decided to go. It is part of the game. unfortunately for Nathan, he missed out on the first game, but he bounced back really well when he was given the opportunity to play.

SJ– Do you think these are all strictly cricket based reasons, and nothing external associated with it?

MH– No, I don’t think so. I think it was purely a tactical view. I felt for Nathan, I thought it would have been good if he could have played. I preferred to go down the route of showing faith and trust in him. He is a fine bowler and he has done a good job. Australia has invested a lot of time into him, coming into that big series – the Ashes. It was a big shock, but they decided to with a different tactical move and that is what it is. That is what they decided to go with.

SJ– Alright!

I want to talk about your relationship with Cricket Australia. First of all, you write in the book that you and the players were a bit disappointed that they didn’t back you guys enough in the Harbhajan Singh – Andrew Symonds controversy during India’s tour Down Under in 2008. There was this other instance where you were told to continue playing for Chennai Super Kings in the CLT20 when rest of your Aussie teammates were already in India for the Test series and you felt that you were basically hung out to dry and you were misrepresented and you got a lot of the stake in the press for going after money, which you weren’t. So, talk about that relationship with Cricket Australia, please!

MH– My relationship with Cricket Australia was excellent. I have no qualms whatsoever. What you got to understand is that our relationship has been going for nearly 15 years. In any relationship for 15 years, there is going to be the odd disagreement along the way. We had the odd disagreement. But, I would say, overall in the 15 year period our relationship was very strong and it continues to be very strong. I have got no dramas. Yes, sure, there were a couple of incidences along the way that i didn’t agree with and I made my feelings felt. That is just a part of being in a relationship, really.

SJ– OK! As always, typical Huss!

Talking about Chennai Super Kings… After your book came out during the recent Champions League T20 tournament, it got a fair bit of traction in the media for the passage where you mentioned that Mr. Gurunath Meiyappan was given the responsibility to run the team. This passage was from 2008 when Kepler Wessels was coach. Were you surprised by the amount of play it got in the media?

MH– Yes, I was a little bit surprised. I don’t know the exact titles of who was running what in that, but certainly Guru was around the team a lot. I knew he was talking to Kepler and the players and we saw him at the training and at the hotel. I didn’t know what his official title was but he was around the team quite often. I was a bit surprised about how much attention it got in the media over in India.

SJ– You do mention in the book later on when you talk about corruption, fixing and other stuff, and I quote you here “It came up in the 2013 IPL where there were allegations made against 3 players and also against the owner of my own team, the Chennai Super Kings.” Are we to think that the CSK players thought of Mr. Meiyappan as an owner of the team which Mr. Srinivasan claimed that he isn’t, that he is just an enthusiast.

MH– As I said, I probably may have written the wrong thing. I didn’t exactly know what his title was. I knew he was a close part of the team, no question about that, and i saw him around the team pretty much every day. I am certainly not going to question the word of Mr. Srinivasan. I think he would know a lot better than me about who is running the show. So, maybe I got that a little bit wrong.

SJ– After all this media coverage for the book came out, were you called in for a chat with the CSK management or did you get a phone call from anybody in the top at the CSK to discuss this matter with you?

MH– I spoke to our manager and our coach and we had a team dinner where Mr. Srinivasan came along. I spoke to him very briefly about it and apologised if I caused him any grief. He was fine and said “No. don’t worry, it is all fine. There is no issue with all you said. it was all written before all the controversies came out, anyway. You don’t have anything to worry about.”

SJ– OK. Fair enough.

You stated in the book that CSK are interested in having you back in the 2014 season and you were also interested in becoming their batting coach at one point. None of these plans will be affected by what is written in the book, right?

MH– I certainly hope not. I have a fantastic rapport with everyone at the CSK. I get on very well with the coach. I get on very well with the players and have had a lot of success with the CSK. I thoroughly enjoyed my time there and they are a fantastic franchise. I would love to continue there in whatever capacity in the future.

SJ– I want to talk a little bit about T20s. You mentioned about how you were smaller in stature as a young boy starting to play cricket and you were always told to keep the ball along the ground. But then, you went on to become one of the best middle order batsman in ODIs and a great T20 batsman, pulling off fantastic chases in both T20Is and for franchises. How did that transformation happen in Mike Hussey?

MH– It is a good question. I tried to develop my game over a long period of time. I took a lot of inspiration from someone like Michael Bevan and the way he played the middle order role for Australia for so many years and I tried to model my game a little bit on his in the One Day game. i had a similar strategy to how he would approach games, and then practiced and tried to develop my games over the years.

SJ– But, you developed your game – your foundations were laid out preparing for the longer format and then moving to the shorter formats. For the kids coming up through the ranks right now – the 10 year olds and the 12 year olds – it is probably reversed. What sort of effect is it going to have on the quality of batsman-ship?

MH– It is a good point. It may have some effect, I don’t know, we have to wait for the future and see. I was quite lucky that I was able to build up a very good base, a very solid technique, a good structure in my game from a very young age. It was built around doing well in the longer formats of the game. the good thing about that is that because your basics are so good and so sound, it helps you to make the transition to the other formats of the game a lot easier. So, I do see that it might be a challenge for some players out there if they are basing their whole game around T20 cricket. It will get a little bit tougher in the longer formats of the game where you need a little bit of patience and probably a sounder technique to have consistent success.

SJ– We see with some of the younger batsmen coming through especially in Australia that they are having trouble. As someone that has played so much first class cricket, Test cricket, and seen everything, is there input from your side to Cricket Australia to perhaps how they should modify their game?

MH– As I mentioned earlier, I think getting our first class pitches to a very good standard is a very good start. Making sure that the games are played on good quality pitches, bringing the spinner in to the game and fast bowlers having to be patient, batsmen learning and practicing to bat for a long period of time. That has got to be a great start. As I said, we have got some quality players coming through the ranks, but we have got to give them the best conditions to be able to showcase their skills over a long period of time. Once they get their confidence, they will be very hard to stop.

SJ– Alright! Now that you have retired and you are playing in the Big Bash and then you are playing in the IPL, for the rest of the time you are a dutiful dad and a husband?

MH- Yes. Pretty much. Fatherly duties around the house – that is a lot of fun, and then raising kids off to school and after school sport, and on their way home they play sport as well. it is just great to be an active member of the family and not trying to communicate from the other side of the world for 8-10 months of an year. So, I have thoroughly enjoyed it so far and the family has enjoyed having me around a bit more.

SJ– Fantastic, Huss!

Thank you so much for coming on the show. Please do tell where and how people can get your book!

MH– No worries.

It is available on bookstores around Australia and I think there are a few coming to India as well. you can get it online as well. “Underneath the Southern Cross”, it is called. I hope everyone enjoys it!

SJ– Fantastic! Thanks a lot, Huss!

MH– OK. No worries, mate! Any time! Thanks a lot.

SJ– Cheers!


Episode Transcribe by Bharathram Pattabiraman