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Soup of This Day #281: I Smell The Blood Of An Australian

January 6, 2013

This is a sandgroper, a subterranean insect that is related to grasshoppers. Since the 1890’s Western Australians have been referred to as Sandgropers. Maybe this is because we’re all into tunnelling and we have modified shovel-like fore-limbs. This last bit does make us good cricketers, particularly on balls that have to be dug out – Photo: Glen Dillon, 2008. Glen Dillon is not affiliated with Longworth72. Image cropped by Longworth72.

I’d like to tell you a story about a guy I went to school with. I’m going to call him Sven Svensson, mostly because that is nothing like his actual name and I’d like to preserve his anonymity.

I can tell you that he shares a name with a Canadian Prime Minister. Sven didn’t sound like a Canadian though.

Wherever he hailed from, Sven was a friend of mine. In a small country town you can only have so many buddies and Sven used to hang out with me. We’d ride around on our bikes, float rafts, build cubby-houses and throw stuff at each other. It was basically a Huckleberry Finn existence but we weren’t juvenile vagrants. Eh.

That last bit was just in case – I’m pretty crap at reading accents.

Sven used to play a form of tag with whoever was there at the local swimming pool, which often included me and Brother of Longworth72. The game was constrained to the top half of a 50m pool, which meant that, while you could run around the pool, at some point you’d have to dive in and cross it to complete the circuit.

This posed a problem for Sven, or so we thought. Sven you see was only average on the swimming, whereas we were good at it. Sure, he was slightly better at sprinting on land but this advantage was more than equalled by our mad swimming skills – I could take a flat, running, dive that could see me pretty much cross that pool without too much resistance. You know when you get the perfect skipping stone and it just whips across a pond? Well that was me.

You know how you get a not-so-perfect skipping stone and you let fly, only to see it plough into the water like a depth-charge? Well, if you imagine the depth-charge rebounding back in the direction it came from, before weakly fizzing into a tangle of legs and arms a metre or so from where it was launched – That was Sven.

And that was just the dive. The swimming was better but still time-consuming. Time is not on your side in a game of 3-person tag. It just isn’t. Patience is not a virtue either – You want to get shorn of the tag as quickly as you can, lest you get tired out rope-a-dope style and find yourself stuck in a nightmarish purgatory whereby you can’t catch anyone, even that fat kid that can barely run and is for once laughing with the other kids.

At you.

Conventional wisdom had it that if you got into this scenario, your best bet was to exit the game, maybe feigning injury to something other than your pride. Something temporary and mysterious, like cramp, that could be cleared up with recharged batteries and once that fat kid had been tagged.

Yep, tag is about the explosive and retreating when you’ve thrown your last grenade. Sven’s persistent damp squib was just not going to play in any normal circumstance.

Sven though was not a normal guy. He was a weird guy.

So weird that he had this way of tearing the fabric of normalcy and resetting the parameters of life vis-à-vis tag.

He didn’t retreat.

Not. Ever.

He had this single-minded pursuit thing going on, running a smooth marathon pace on land, before hurling himself into the water, threshing his way to the other side.

And he would do this for hours, waiting for you to slip up, to maybe try doubling back. Or for you to go for an ice cream. Or a toilet break.

Or even for your Mum to call you home. He’d chase you all the way to the car and if your Mum was slow off the mark then he’d pursue the car like the T-1000 in Terminator 2. He wouldn’t catch up, but days later he’d walk up to you in school and quietly announce that you’d been tagged.

It would be easy to mark Sven down as a war of attrition kind of guy, that went out with a conscious plan to wear the opposition down. But that wasn’t Sven and that would be selling him short.

Sven was an accumulator. I know that sounds crazy when we’re talking about tag here but that was Sven. Crazy.

He wasn’t setting out to wear you down – There was no plan to take 2 hours to square away a hard-won tag. What there was instead was a constantly evolving strategy – A recognition that some plans might not work but a belief that some of them would. Even in not catching anyone, Sven was gaining knowledge, restructuring for his next move and he was doing all of this on the fly.

Sven accumulated opportunities, and he did so in tag or any other activity he chose to target.

If he’d have played cricket he’d have been Mike Hussey. I’d like to now tell you a story about that cricketer. I’m going to call him Huss, mostly because that is his actual nickname. He is sometimes known as Mr. Cricket, due to his knowledge and dedication around the game, but apparently this is embarrassing for a humble guy so I’ll stick with the simpler handle.

Huss is an accumulator. A cricketer who constantly works to create opportunities, either with the bat, his speciality, or in the field, or even with his deceptively gentle off-breaks. Wherever he is, there’s Huss, looking to make something happen and patient enough to work at it. And because of this he’s accumulated opportunities like no other in Australian cricket over the past 7 or so years: Need a batsman to work with the tail to win a Test? Hussey would be the man. Need a guy to make a cracking catch look everyday and easy? That would be Hussey. Need a big stand to eat into a massive total? Hussey will get some big runs and he’ll allow the guy at the other end to get more.

Yep, Mike Hussey will get you opportunities alright.

It’s ironic then that he had to wait until he was 31 before he got his. It’s not that he started late either – Before his maiden Test for his country he’d amassed 15,313 1st class runs, a prodigious total and at a decent clip too. He’d garnered those runs at home in his native Western Australia and abroad, scoring them by the ton for a trio of English County sides. Of note is the then record 329 not out he notched up for Northamptonshire in 2001. He broke his record in 2003 with a follow-up 331, again unbeaten.

But for all that it seemed like it was just never the right time or circumstance when it came to Australia.

Until 2006 when the then 31 year old got his break. In for the injured Justin Langer Hussey stuttered and then roared into a Test life – He knocked out 3 centuries and 1 50 in his 1st 5 Tests and by the time he’d played 20 Tests had 8 tons, 8 50s and a Bradman-esque average approaching 100.

A little over 6 years later and Hussey is now 37 and calling it a day in the Test arena.

Today marked the final scene of Mike Hussey’s Test career. It was his 79th and that was about enough for 37 year old to handle. Sure, he could still be 1 of the best out there but his heart wasn’t in it – A modern cricketer can spend many months on tour, sequestered away from family and absent from home. Huss has 4 kids and faced with parting from them yet again for the northern summer campaign, just couldn’t get excited about the cricket.

Like in his stroke-play though, Hussey has shown remarkable timing in his decision to retire. For starters, his final Test was against Sri Lanka, a side that he has plundered runs from like no other. His average vs the visitors was a remarkable 117.75 going in to the match and by the time it was done that figure was still above the stratosphere at 110.44.

The Sri Lankans found him hard as hard to get out as we did avoiding 1 of Sven’s tags.

Given that, it was pre-destined that he’d be in the centre as the winning runs were struck – He’d needed to be – With 32 to get the Australian side got the wobbles and had slumped to 4 for. The veteran was needed to steady the ship 1 more time and that he did, efficiently timing boundaries through gaps that had eluded his preceding comrades and scampering singles like 1 of the younger tyros.

As the victory became a near-certainty the crowd willed him to hit the winning runs, applauding as Mitchell Johnson at the other end blocked out the deliveries to ensure that Huss got the strike.

That’s not for a team guy like Hussey though. With scores tied and presented with the opportunity for a quick single he launched from the non-striker’s end, giving Johnson no option but to run on a defensive push that had squirted away on the leg-side. The match was won for the team irrespective of who got the last run and that says everything that the casual fan needs to know about Mike Hussey.

Onya Huss – Now come back home – Western Australia needs you to dig our cricket team out of a hole.

I Smell The Blood Of An Australian

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