Couch Talk 186 (Play)
Guest: Mike Hussey, “Winning Edge: Behind the scenes of Elite Cricket”
Host: Subash Jayaraman
Subash Jayaraman (SJ)– Hello and welcome to Couch Talk. Today’s guest is the former Australian batsman, Mike Hussey. He talks about his new book – Winning Edge: Behind the Scenes of Elite Cricket, his role as batting consultant in the Aussie T20 side, T20 batting plans, captains he played under, and future coaching plans, among other things.
Welcome to the show, Huss!
Mike Hussey (MH)– Great to be on it! Thank you!
SJ– It is absolutely my pleasure!
You have a new book out – Winning Edge: Behind the Scenes of Elite Cricket, and this follows your autobiography, Under the Southern Cross. What was the motivation behind this book and what did you want to accomplish with it?
MH– I guess the main motivation for the book was, as a player in the top level you are taught about the game, but there are a lot of things that you are not taught about. You sink or swim, really, and you have to learn on the job. You have to learn on how to deal with the media, the extra pressure of the international game, travelling to different parts of the world, different cultures, dealing with different coaches, different formats of the game, all kinds of things like that – which can be very challenging. The game is hard enough at the top level, let alone having to deal with all these distractions. All that was motivation to make young players aware and perhaps give them some ideas on how they can deal with all the external distractions.
I want to talk about certain aspects of the book in detail. One main thing I want to talk about – you spent a fair bit of time in the book about players losing ownership of the game in modern cricket, with the number of support staff. You are one of those now – a support staff with the Australian cricket team at World T20. So, how do you maintain the balance between doing your job and still allow the Aussie players be responsible for their own game?
MH– Yes, as I am learning to be a coach, that is what my philosophy is – to impress son the player that he has to work by himself in certain situations and play through certain stages of his career on his own. Obviously, there are a lot of questions he is going to ask, people will throw him balls and help work on his skills. But, at the end of the day, you should take responsibility of your own game. You should figure out how you play best and then I will impress something on the players that I am involved with.
SJ– Is that the theory behind why you got rid of all the support staff at Sydney Thunder, you and Paddy Upton?
MH– Yes, definitely. We didn’t want a lot of support staff around, and for that exactly, we wanted the players to take responsibility for their own games and their own preparation. Even if a young guy had some problems with their batting, Paddy’s idea was to get Jacques Kallis, Usman Khwaja and Shane Watson together and I am sure we have got the expertise in the room to help solve the problems that the young guys have with the bat.
SJ– Teams generally have a batting/bowling/fielding coach depending on if it is a Test or ODI or T20, nowadays. You are a batting consultant with Australia. What does your job entail as a batting consultant, and how is it different from a batting coach?
MH– I am not here for the whole tournament. i am here up till the end of the qualifying matches, and I am hoping that Australia can got o the semis and finals and all the way. The role is similar to being a batting coach. You throw a lot of balls in the net and things like that. I try and offer as many as my experiences and learning over a long time if any of the guys have any questions or things that they want to talk about their game or batting, I am free and available to talk about cricket.
SJ– You played your fair share of T20s, for Australia, in the IPL and the BBl as well. we have heard a lot from bowling coaches and bowling consultants about the bowling plans that they need to have for the first and last ball of the over, the most important ones, and execute variousl deliveries – Yorkers, bouncers, slower ones, cutters, etc. but, what does a batting plan look like, within the scope of T20 cricket. How do you go about sending one out game to game, venue to venue, opposition to opposition?
MH– You probably come up with one on the big day!
There are plans for different players, which are different for each player down the list. There are plans for different players, conditions, pitches, you have to chop and change frequently. I try and press on the players to play in their way. Everyone has their particular role in the team. That is the most important thing, to make sure that each player knows what his role in the team is. Then, get him in the right spot – batting at the right positions, batting in the right situation in the game, batting according to the situation in certain conditions. If you can get the right players in the right spots, they can just go out and play their natural game, play on their instinct and hopefully come out on top.
SJ– Could you expand further on how your approach was. You played at the top of the order most of the time in T20s, in franchise cricket. Could you explain how you broke your approach – the first 10 or 20 balls. You are not going to face more than 50, I guess, in any given game.
MH– I try to keep it pretty simple. I didn’t try to complicate things much. It depends on where I was batting in the order. In the Australian team I was often batting at 6 or 7. You have a lot of time to get in and get going. I might be playing only a handful of balls. For me, it was focusing on a couple of areas to hit a four or six. If the ball is in the area, I will go for it, if not I will just try to get bat on ball and run as hard as I could between the wickets.
When I batted at the top of the order, my plans were pretty simple here too. I try to be nice and positive in the first couple of overs and then I try to get some boundaries on the board between overs 3-6, and then try to take it as much as I could after that, having a couple of boundaries in your bag here and there. I don’t try to do too much different.
SJ– I think it was our former teammate, Ed Cowan, who had written a piece about a metric that you had come up with, where the average and strike rate summed must be 160 or more, especially for a top order batsman. Was that your own work or form the team analyst?
MH– No, I certainly can’t take credit for that. The first I heard about it was from Scott Styris form New Zealand, when I was playing IPL with him at Chennai Super Kings, we discussed. We didn’t really have a measure for a player being good or not. The mantra, by adding their average and their strike rate indicated good players at the top of the order, where you expect the average to be a little bit higher but their strike rate a little bit lower. Down the order, you expect the average to be a little bit lower but the strike rate to be higher. We figured 160 to be the mark. If you are around it, you are generally among the top players.
SJ– How has the use of analytics changed or improved/evolved within cricket dressing rooms? You have had 8 or 9 years of IPL and BBL, CPL etc. there is a lot more focus on breaking things down to finer pieces and take advantage of it. how has that changed along during your career?
MH– It has changed a lot. when we first started playing T20 cricket in Australia, it was pretty much hit and giggle – just go out there and slog and you don’t think too much about it. Today, there is a multitude of statistics that you have access to, probably too many. But, the idea is to make sure that you ask the right questions of the analysts and try to get the information that you really need. That might be different for certain teams and certain conditions. For me, personally, it was studying a particular matchup. There might be a batsman that got out to left armers more often than not, that might have struggled to off spin bowling – you try and find a matchup there. and you try and find out what their go-to shots are, and try to bowl away from that or set a field according to that. That is the basic things that look for.
SJ– In terms of the individual matchups, batsman vs bowler, the batsmen has to take their own responsibilities and the bowlers have to realise where their need to bowl for a particular batsman. As a captain that you ar for your franchise, how much of that responsibility falls to you to keep a handle on everything? or do you leave it to the players to know and execute the plans?
MH– I try to take responsibility for that as much as I could. I try to be as well prepared as I possibly could for every single game and every single player. But then, I also leave a little bit for the bowler as well, he might have a few plans on what he wants to do and I generally back that plan. I could always offer some suggestions, if required, because I have done my homework.
SJ– There is a continuous theme within the book about the growth of T20 and how it has changed the landscape of cricket in the last 7-10 years. Nowadays, players are involved in 1 league or the other for about 4 months a year. There used to be an international primacy of cricket, national representation, etc. But now, T20 has provided this additional pathway, where international cricket can become secondary. How do you see it within the up and coming youngsters both in Australia and around the world?
MH– Good question. I am not sure if this is the right answer, but I know that for most of the current players, the Test is still the pinnacle. That is what you want the most as a player, by your peers, that is the true test as a player. But, youngsters, with the path-work of T20 cricket for tomorrow, the next generation may see the game differently. I don’t know, I don’t have a personal vote for that. But, what I would say is that T20 cricket has been good for the game. It has attracted so many more people to fall in love with the game of cricket, especially in a country like Australia where there is so much competition for sports, for young athletes to play in different sports. T20 cricket has proved a really attractive vehicle to introduce the game to many new people and get the youngsters to fall in love with the game, and hopefully we can introduce them to the 50 over game and Test matches after that. I also think that if has improved the kills of the players. They are executing a lot more balls as bowlers under a lot more pressures, batsmen are trying a lot more shots with a lot more power. I think that can spill to 50 over format and Test match formats, where we are seeing a lot more attacking cricket and exciting cricket. That is good for the game.
SJ– I want to get to another topic that you also deal with quite a bit in the book. That is about captaincy and leadership. You played under Tom Moody in WA (Western Australia), Ricky Ponting and Michael Clarke and Adam Gilchrist for Australia, M.S. Dhoni for CSK, etc. Let’s talk a bit about these captains, and how you felt as a players within their schemes. Was there any particular one whom you felt most at ease as a teammate-player?
MH– It is difficult for me to answer. I enjoyed playing under all those captains and they were all different in a lot of ways, but very effective in their own ways as well. Tom Moody was a very strict disciplinarian and very hard on youngsters, but fair as well and really made you earn your place in the team and made you feel like you had to earn your spot. Ricky Ponting led by example, as did Michael Clarke. They tried to back you as much as they could and had faith in you. You really wanted to play with those guys. M.S. Dhoni shows a lot of faith in his players as well, but he is a very calm character as well, and tries to take the pressure off the players, helps them relax and lets them enjoy and play the game. Especially in a country like India where it is so intense which is cricket mad, he tries to help and relax the players and let them enjoy the game.
SJ– As you mentioned, some of the captains are very calm and show no emotions at all, whereas some – you can tell exactly what they are feeling. Case in point being, Ricky Ponting for the second case and M.S. Dhoni for the former. How do the players within the team react to those different styles?
MH– Everyone is different and people react differently. What I would say about Ricky is that he was such a competitive guy and wanted to win so badly. He backed his players and showed faith in his players that you wanted to play for him; you wanted to go to war with him. He was a very inspirational captain. Sometimes, the emotions get a bit heated, and that is a part of the game as well, and that shows how much he is passionate about the game.
MS is a very inspirational character of the game as well. The way he plays the game, he has a lot of passion. He might not show his emotions in a lot of ways, but I have also seen him pretty fired up at times as well.
SJ– You had mentioned this in Under the Southern Cross, and also in this one, that playing under Michael Clarke’s captaincy you felt that you were looking over your shoulders a bit, worried about your spot in the side. It is not ideal for any player, especially for one of your stature; at a stage of the career that you were in. how did you deal with that?
MH– It was a difficult time in the Australian team. We had a lot of players retired – Gilchrist, (Matthew) Hayden, Ponting, etc. It was a lot of new faces in the team. It takes time to build the trust and relationship with most of the team. It takes time for the culture to build as well, as we get to know each other. It was a tough time in the Aussie team, it is natural when you lose a player who you have been playing together for ten years and knew each other like brothers. It cuts into each others’ player relationships. Suddenly you had 5-6-7 new players who you have never played with before. It takes time for the new relationships to build. I really felt that we grew well as a team.
SJ– The team culture philosophy – when you play together for a long time, you go through ups and downs, you develop these intangible bonds. However, as we see now, players spend 4-5 months on the road, playing for various franchises around the world and flying in to play for their national teams, and then go away again. How does that change 1. the team dynamic, and the 2. the modern player mindset? I am a professional and this is what I am expected to do, I have to put up the numbers and this is my job, more than being part of a family/culture/team-philosophy.
MH– I think that goes hand in hand to a degree. Certainly, the guys in the Australian cricket or international cricket in general spend 8-10 months together. Tthere is pressure on you to perform, and be a part of the team to earn a spot in the team. But, because you got touched by a relationship in a great culture, you are desperate to be want to be a part of that team and that family. That pushes you to perform at your best as well. That is how I felt, anyway. I wanted to perform for my country, yes, but, because I loved being around my team and my teammates, I was desperate to stay there.
There are a couple of questions. There are a few hilarious situations that you narrate. One, where you told (Sir) Mick Jagger to basically not come into the Aussie dressing room. Could you tell the listeners a bit more about that?
MH– I am never going to let that one down, that is for sure. We were midway through a World Cup match against Sri Lanka, in 2007 World Cup, in Grenada I think. It was a big game, Sri Lanka is a very good team. We were in a pressure situation in the World Cup game and Ricky Ponting must have been batting in the middle, with Adam Gilchrist, I don’t know where Matthew Hayden was. The manager looked at me and said “I think you are the next most senior player in the team. Mick Jagger wants to come into the dressing room.” I said, “Manager, we are in the middle of a World Cup game, I don’t think he should come in here now. I would love to have him after the game and meet the players. But, probably not now.” The manager had to send the news back to Mick Jagger, and once he told the boys after the game, they couldn’t believe it.
SJ– And, one last question – you mentioned in the book that you had said No to both Mahela Jayawardene and VVS Laxman when they asked you if you would be interested in their respective national coaching jobs. Do you see yourself becoming a national head coach, whether with Australia or somebody else?
MH– Certainly not in the short term. I think I do have a passion for coaching, being involved with the team, emotionally involved too. But, I think one of the main reasons I retired was because of spending too much time away from home. I have got a young family at home, and if I become the head coach of an international team where I am away for 8-10 months, it is not sustainable for me at the moment. As I said, I can’t see myself doing that in the short term.
SJ– So, once the kids are grown up, you see that as a possibility?
MH– It is definitely a possibility in the future, I guess, but not just yet on the short term.
SJ– On that note, Huss, thank you so much for being on the show. It is an absolute pleasure! All the best with the book, mate!
MH– Thank you so much for having me on!
Transcribed by Bharathram Pattabiraman