It is on the third ball of the 17th over in the 2010 World Twenty20 semi-final that Muhammad Hafeez settles under the catch at long on. Australia’s slight hopes of a first World Twenty20 final had been diminishing at a fast pace and with Cameron White’s wicket, they are almost gone.
A nation of green, nearly 200 million strong, holds its hands in fervent prayer. On the non-striking end, a country’s hope stands in defiance of them. The task at hand is difficult, but not impossible. Australia know it, Pakistan know it and most importantly of all, Michael Hussey knows it.
However, he does not have the strike, not yet. It takes Pakistan only four balls to send Steve Smith back to the pavilion. When Kamran Akmal whips the bails off to complete the stumping, Australia need 48 more runs from 17 balls, at almost 17 runs per over.
They are out of batsmen and are facing the two best bowlers of the world’s best attack. The odds could not be stacked higher against them and Hussey would not have had it any other way.
To his credit, Mitchell Johnson wastes no time, hitting a boundary off the first ball and scampering through for a leg bye on his second. When Hussey takes strike, 43 are needed from 15. He knows he needs to gamble and that he cannot get out; the match lies on his shoulders.
The next ball he faces is heaved into the stands for a six. They run a quick double on the next before a single on the last ball means Hussey retains strike. For Hussey, the equation is simple; two overs, 34 runs, the best young fast-bowler in the world to face and no margin of error. 4, 2, 2, 2, 2, 4 read the over; 16 massive runs and not a single risk taken. Pakistan’s fervent prayers quickly turn to desperate ones; the millions watching at home know Hussey can snatch this away from them and so do the 11 on the pitch.
The ball is thrown to the best bowler in the world; Saeed Ajmal. 18 runs are required off the last over and Ajmal is notoriously difficult to get away. Johnson edges the first ball of the over to give Hussey the strike, 17 now required from five.
Perhaps the two coolest players in the world face off against each other, a battle of steely nerves. Ajmal blinks and drops the ball short. Hussey does not. He promptly dispatches it over the leg side boundary for a six. Eleven from four and Hussey stands tall as a giant.
On the next ball, he drops down on one knee and sweeps it over long on for another six, a bit squarer than the last one but just as long, just as important. As the ball sails over the boundary, Pakistan realise this is over. Hussey has already won and no amount of praying can stop him. Five off three is a tense situation in the best of times, but here the matter was already decided.
The next ball is outside the off stump and Hussey crunches it over backward point. For a fleeting second, a cruel glimmer of hope flashes through all of Pakistan as the fielder jumps to try and catch the ball. It sails over his head and the boundary means the scores are now level.
When Ajmal runs up to ball the fifth ball of his over, he knows what is coming, so does the rest of the world. Another six, again over long on. Hussey achieves the impossible.
The Australians roar with joy and the hands of their opponents, raised in prayer a few moments ago cannot help but applaud in admiration of the man that has defeated them. The player deemed ‘too slow’ to play in ODIs for Australia a few years ago, had just played the best innings the format had ever seen and is still yet to see.
Perhaps that is where Hussey’s greatest achievement lies; his knack of changing his game to adapt to the situation. He is the only batsman in the world to have performed in all three formats of the game. While he was once considered to be too defensive a player to succeed in 50-over cricket, Hussey finished his career as one of the most successful ODI and T20 batsmen.
Had it not been his misfortune in getting a chance so late in his career, Hussey may perhaps have been remembered as the greatest ever batsman to grace the game. His stats, remarkable as they are, fail to show the match-winning prowess of the man.
He and captain Ricky Ponting were the catalysts of the 2006 Ashes whitewash, which will long be remembered fondly by Australians. Just like Steve Waugh before him, Hussey was the man that got Australia out of many a difficult situation, including the famous 195 in the 2010 Ashes series. And just like Michael Bevan, Hussey also managed to finish countless matches for his team, to the point that while Hussey remained on the pitch, Australianism prevailed.
A team player if ever there was one, Hussey’s averages suffered later on in his career when he regularly sacrificed his preferred three-down position to come up the order. His average on his preferred position almost touches 60, while his average at two-down, the position he frequently adopted for the betterment of the team, is just a little above 45.
A man obsessed with the game, earning him his Mr Cricket nickname, the way Hussey said goodbye to international cricket was fitting with the way he played it. In the middle of a rich vein of form, Hussey’s emotional retirement announcement came as a surprise to everyone, despite him being 37. His reason; he did not feel the same excitement about cricket that he once felt. The moment he realised he could not give cricket his all, he walked away. And behind him, he left a void that will perhaps never be filled.
For the complete Hall of Fame series, log on to www.tribune.com.pk/halloffame/ (http://www.tribune.com.pk/halloffame/)
Published in The Express Tribune, April 30th, 2014.
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