June 2009
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Lawrence Booth: Hussey's fall the real concern for Ponting

June 10th, 2009 by Lawrence Booth in The Ashes, Twenty20


The fact that Australia are sitting in World Twenty20 dunces’ corner with Bangladesh, the Netherlands and Scotland is an embarrassment they can no doubt take on the chin. But of the many areas of concern Ricky Ponting must address during his team’s unexpected time off in the east Midlands, perhaps the most perplexing is the demise and fall of Mike Hussey.

Eighteen months ago Hussey was shaping up as the best since Bradman: his Test average after making 145 not out against India at Sydney was a startling 84. Together with Ricky Ponting and possibly Michael Clarke, he was to be one of Australia’s Ashes bankers in a team denuded of several millionaires. But Hussey’s career since then has followed one of life’s golden rules: if something seems too good to be true, it’s probably because it is. And so his next 31 Test knocks brought him one hundred, a grand total of 921 runs and the distinctly un-Don-like average of 30.

Watchers of domestic cricket couldn’t quite believe it when Hussey was left to fester in the county game during Australia’s last trip to England. Now they’re equally aghast to see the sorry figure who was very lucky to make 28 not out off 15 balls against West Indies on Saturday, and rather less flattered to play back to a quicker delivery from Ajantha Mendis and depart for one off five against Sri Lanka on Monday. And that’s before we get on to the fluffed catch at The Oval, which arguably betrayed a man wrestling with his confidence.

Ponting knows he needs Hussey to have a very good series later this summer in conditions he knows better than any of Australia’s top seven after stints with Northamptonshire, Durham and Gloucestershire. But Ponting’s contention after Monday’s defeat that “everyone goes through ups and downs” was mere refuge in cliché. When he added “knowing Mike the way I do and how hard he works on his game he’ll certainly give himself the opportunity to have a big Ashes campaign”, you could barely move for caveats.

Hussey, who turned 34 last month and deserves sympathy for being the epitome of Australia’s lost generation, may well punish England. But if he does, he will be bucking a trend. His last five Test series have brought averages of 22 (in the West Indies), 56 (in India), 35 (at home to New Zealand), 17 and 22 (home and away against South Africa). One good series in five means the tag of banker is no more.

Two bowlers in particular may be licking their lips. Stuart Broad has spent most of the year so far working on a successful round-the-wicket mode of attack to Shivnarine Chanderpaul, one of the few batsmen in the world who can match his fellow leftie Hussey’s powers of concentrations. And Graeme Swann will relish the chance to show that left-handers don’t have to be West Indian to struggle against him.

Hussey’s obsession with the game – not for nothing is he known as Mr Cricket – was previously regarded as a benefit. Now you wonder whether the intensity bespeaks a lack of perspective that can prove crippling when things go wrong. What once looked like impressive industry at the crease now seems frantic. Asked about Hussey’s recent struggles, Ponting claimed he “hadn’t really thought too much about it”. He’ll have more time to reflect now.

Lawrence Booth writes on cricket for the Guardian

Posted in The Ashes, Twenty20 | 4 Comments »

Benj Moorehead: T20 roars amid the rain

June 10th, 2009 by Benj Moorehead in Twenty20


On Friday evening it was raining and cold. The opening ceromony was postponed, postponed, postponed, and then called off. It looked like the cricket would be too, and even if it did go ahead it was England v Netherlands, hardly the firestarter that England v Pakistan might have been.

Of what value are omens? What we had was a thrilling opener to the World Twenty20, a story of underdog glory in which any result was possible when Stuart Broad took aim at the stumps after the last ball was bowled. And most of it was played through considerable rain (what more sums up Twenty20’s spirited defiance of tradition than this?).

This is a tournament that’s thriving under a laden sky through chilly air. To be at Lord’s yesterday was to witness this. Once through the gates the noise from inside the ground was louder than anything I’d heard in St John’s Wood. Strolling around the food stalls proved a carnival of culture, a range of different accents and colours – the bright orange of the Dutch fans competing with the sheer quantity of the Pakistanis. A disgruntled MCC member wandered through looking as if he’d never seen such things at Lord’s before. Who can blame him when a group of New Zealanders are dressed up as the Dutch. This feels like a genuine international tournament.

Each ball – be it a wicket, a boundary, a single or a dot – was greeted with a fanatical roar. As Shahid Afridi (who mercifully gave his supporters what they wanted when he smashed a six way over log-on) kept on taking wickets it felt like a pitch invasion was imminent, so excitable were the crowd. Goodness knows what it will be like if India and Pakistan meet in this tournament.

Even New Zealand v South Africa, supposedly a dead match, was brought to life by the brilliance of the Lord’s floodlights and an insistently noisy crowd. No one was faintly interested in the tube strike, least of all the New Zealand players who danced around like it was the final every time they took a wicket.

Lalit Modi might have a word with the cheerleaders. But otherwise this World Twenty20 is, so far at least, a roaring success. And the sun hasn’t even broken through yet.

Benj Moorehead is editorial assistant of The Wisden Cricketer

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