Like older sibling Michael, David Hussey had to wait a long time and score a mountain of runs in first-class cricket back home in Australia, and in England, to break into the Australian limited-overs squad. A prolific scorer for the national side in both One-Day Internationals and Twenty20 Internationals, the younger Hussey is still awaiting a Test call-up. Nearly 35, time is not on Hussey’s side; in this exhaustive chat with Wisden India, he says he is more desperate to play Test cricket now than ever before. Excerpts:
From being with Kolkata Knight Riders initially to your stint with Kings XI Punjab, how have you seen the IPL grow?
It has definitely changed, that’s for sure. I thought 2008 had more of a rock-star feel. You were always attending parties, doing sponsor functions and the cricket was almost secondary whereas now, it’s fully about the cricket. You have to win games for your franchise in order to make the finals. The first year, everyone thought it was just a new competition that was all about a lot of fun but now it’s big business. Everyone wants to make the finals and qualify for the Champions League.
Were you surprised by what you encountered during that first year?
Yes, I was. I brought my girlfriend over at the time – my wife now – and we were pleasantly surprised. I was thinking, right, we have come to India and people here love their cricket so much, it will all be fully focussed on the cricket. But to see so much off-field entertainment, it was a pleasant surprise and a nice little break from the rigours of day-in, day-out cricket.
Did you ever wonder what you had got yourself into?
I didn’t worry about it, I had a ball and I cannot speak highly enough of my time in Kolkata. I was very well looked after and I loved my time there. It was never a negative experience, it was always positive. It’s just that I prefer it more now because it is more cricket-based. Everyone wants to win now and I like it that it is about the cricket. I prefer the cricket side more. I like going to a game, preparing two days out, knowing your opposition back to front. Formulating plans to beat the opposition team and make it all about the cricket. You do have a small part of a release, a small party or a get-together with your teammates to celebrate a win. I like that aspect of cricket, that’s a nice balance.
Despite having the trappings of a very good team, the Knight Riders didn’t achieve much success during the first three years, did they?
We just didn’t win games of cricket. When you win games of cricket, it helps the off-field stuff. It’s pretty hard – you play a game and you lose, and you have to go to a party or a sponsor’s function and be upbeat and pleasant to be around. I remember one game, we played against Mumbai and we got bowled out for around 60 and they got the runs in about four overs. We had a party that night, a sponsor’s function. We got put up on stage that night and it was rather embarrassing. But you got to front up, man up and do your bit for your sponsor. It wasn’t probably the best night of my life but you’ve got to do that.
You have had to shoulder the responsibility of the captaincy this season through the injury to Adam Gilchrist. What challenges have that role brought with it?
You have to make huge adjustments. You don’t realise all the stuff they do behind the scenes. It’s not only batting orders. It’s about thinking about the opposition, which players play better against certain oppositions, so you do all that preparation for a game. And then, you formulate bowling plans and fielding plans for different batters for the opposition. Once you have got all that prepared, that’s the game. Then once you are out at the game, you always have to think two overs ahead of what’s happening. It’s non-stop, it’s hectic, it’s chaotic but it’s a challenge you really want to take on because if you get something right, it makes you and your team win the game, makes you feel very very good. But on the flip side, if you stuff up and you do something wrong, you are the man to blame. There’s a lot of accountability, it’s a good role to be in.
How have your interactions been with the non-international Indian players?
It was difficult to start with. I was with Kolkata first and then moved to Kings XI. I turned up late the first year because of the birth of my child. To meet all these new young Indian kids for the first time, it was very difficult to get their names right! But once I sat down and got to know to them, it was quite easy. You try and work them out as people first and get to know them better. Then you see them play and you know how talented they are and you sort of gravitate towards the really talented ones. Like Mandeep Singh. I think he is a quality young man and a quality young player, and he is going to play a lot for India. So I sort of gravitate towards him and try and talk to him about different styles of play.
Have you found some players shy and intimidated by the presence of people such as yourself in the dressing room?
There was a little bit of that to start of with. I am Australian, so it’s India vs Australia sort of thing. But the best thing about the IPL is that you are in a dressing room where there are people from a lot of countries. Not just Indian, not just Australian, there’s South Africans, there’s Englishmen, there’s West Indians, there is everybody. And a Pakistani as well – he’s English now. That’s the best thing about the IPL – everyone contributes to what their countries put in place and formulate plans that way and you actually get to know each other better in the dressing room environment just chatting about cricket because that’s your common goal. I have met some of the better Indian players that I probably never got to meet before the IPL started.
Has language ever been a deterrent?
Yes and no. If they don’t speak English, I find it hard to understand Hindi. I understand a small amount of Hindi, but you get other people who understand Hindi and English and they translate for you. But as Ashok Dinda said to me, when I first met him, he couldn’t speak a word of English and now he is really proud of how well his English has come along, so maybe we are educators as well.
What’s it with the Husseys and late debuts?
I am not sure. I was going to say maybe they should have picked us earlier (laughs). For Mike, he did all his apprenticeship work in first-class cricket and he finally got his gig. Once you get your opportunity, you have worked so hard to get it, you don’t want to give it away. You want to knuckle down and play cricket for your country for as long as you can. And I was exactly the same. I probably wasn’t as passionate and disciplined as Mike was – or is – but once you actually get there and start playing for your country, you are not just playing for the 11 people out there in the middle, you are playing for the 21 million people in Australia. It’s quite a good feeling especially if you contribute to a win for your team, and you want to be a part of that for a very long time.
Do you think you must earn your spurs in first-class cricket, or be fast-tracked if the selectors perceive you are extremely talented?
A bit of both. I believe that if you do the hard work, you score the runs, you should get promoted. But if you see a young talented kid coming through, like a Mandeep Singh for example, you just know he is going to be a very, very good player, I’d probably fast-track him. But that’s just my opinion. I think Mandeep is a very good player, other people might not think he is a very good player. Take Steve Smith. I think he is an exceptional player and he got fast-tracked through and he struggled, so they have dropped him back to first-class cricket now. I still believe he is going to get there, play all forms of cricket for Australia but he’s got to work hard, he’s got to go the roundabout way now, get as many runs as he can to get in there again.
How would you define talent?
For me, when you watch someone batting in the nets, if he has got heaps of time playing a quick bowler or playing a spinner and makes the whole game look slow, that’s talent. You are born with certain natural talent but you do have to hone your skills, get your technique in order. Once you trust and believe in you technique, that’s when you have time and everything works out well for you.
What’s it like, playing alongside your sibling for the country?
It’s excellent. It’s more so for the family because you have two people who are representing the country. But for Mike and I, we are just friends. He is like another teammate of mine. When we bat together, it’s not like Oh, we are brothers batting together. It’s more like he’s my teammate and we’d do anything for each other out in the middle. Off the field, we have a beer, we have a chat…
What were the backyard battles like between the Husseys?
It was not great, we were terrible kids. We were very competitive, playing Aussie rules football, squash and cricket. And non-stop, we had to beat each other, whatever happened. We were just too competitive and generally ended up in fights which wasn’t good. My mother, I think she tore her hair out because we were always fighting so much. But I think once he left school and left home and started playing cricket, that’s when our relationship went to a new level and we started getting on better as friends rather than as competitors. We probably missed 16 years but after that, we have never been closer, which is good.
So how did one end up a left-handed batsman and the other a right-hander?
Mike was a right-hand batsman as a kid and he idolised Allan Border, so he wanted to be a left-hander. I remember him saying I want to change to left-hander. I thought this is magic, I would be able to get him out all the time in the backyard. He was probably 5 or 6 then. It took him about 6-7 months to figure out how to do the motor skill and he has become one of the better batters in the world today.
Looking ahead, what next for David Hussey?
I would love to play Test cricket. I am more desperate now more than ever. I am 34 now and getting older. I don’t have too many years left in the game. I think I have two years of good competitiveness in the game. I want desperately to play Test cricket. I’d like to play the Ashes, that would be the ultimate and then secondly, play over here on big turning wickets. I hear all the old stories about Australia, they go to England and they just dominate, they smack the attack everywhere and then they come over to India and they struggle big time. I think they are the two biggest challenges in world cricket for Australians and that’s what I want to do. Once I get in there, that’s if I do get a chance to play Test cricket, I will love it so much that I will want to keep playing as long as I can. To me, Test cricket is the ultimate, it’s streets ahead of the other versions. One-day cricket and T20 cricket on a par at the moment for me. I will never speak ill of one-day cricket because that gave me a chance to play for Australia. I still think it has got a huge future in the game.