Should Mike Hussey have played in the Sydney Test?

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Michael Hussey waves to fans after retiring from Test cricket for Australia (Image: AP Photo/Rob Griffith)

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Mike Hussey has played his final Test match. In a flood of emotion, the man affectionately dubbed ‘Mr Cricket’ bowed out in style with a victory, while also unselfishly refusing to hit the winning runs.

It was a fitting farewell for a classy individual who has always put the team first.

However, given that Hussey had announced he was retiring from international cricket, and had therefore voluntarily removed himself from Australia’s future Test plans, should he have even been playing?

It’s a question that hasn’t been asked, but perhaps it should have been.

Whether anyone at Cricket Australia wants to admit it or not, the Ashes are the primary focus for the Australian Test side.

The number one world ranking is unquestionably important, but victory against the Old Enemy is really what matters most, across both Ashes series to be played in 2012/13.

To that point, if Hussey was not going to be in the team for the heavily anticipated series with England, then why was he playing in a dead rubber against Sri Lanka?

Would it not make sense to have a look at another batsman, or give the selectors an opportunity to blood his replacement?

Not everyone gets the ‘Farewell Test’. Time and time again we’ve been reminded that there is allegedly no room for sentimentality in cricket.

The most infamous example was Ian Healy reportedly requesting “one more game” in front of his home crowd at the Gabba, yet selectors coldly denying him and instead inserting Adam Gilchrist into his role.

So, knowing that Hussey wasn’t going to play any further part in the Test team’s fortunes moving forward, one could argue that he should have been dropped for the Sydney game, and his likely replacement given a chance to audition for his role in a significantly less pressurised atmosphere than the sub-continent.

Let’s be honest, four Tests against India on their home soil is no easy task, nor is it an ideal preparation for the Ashes, especially for an inexperienced batsman.

However, a Test at home, in a dead rubber, against a weak opposition, could have provided a fantastic opportunity for Hussey’s replacement to be eased into Test cricket.

At the very least, it would have provided selectors with one additional chance to tinker with the side for England.

Yet as it stands, the selectors were fully aware that a player who won’t be on the plane to India – let alone England – would be playing in Sydney.

That doesn’t seem like sound planning, nor would it appear to be putting the best interests of the team first.

Ok, now that I’ve played the role of a very unpopular Devil’s Advocate, allow me to completely debunk my own argument. And yes, I realise I sound like a mad man by quarrelling with myself.

First of all, Hussey had already been chosen for the Sydney Test before he announced his retirement, so I’m not sure the selectors could have dropped him anyway.

With regards to the point about giving a new batsman an easy game against Sri Lanka to acclimatise to the step-up in standard, the counter-argument is that if you want Hussey’s replacement to be ready for Test cricket, then a meaningless Test against a vastly inferior nation – one already beaten and broken – is not the best preparation for what awaits in India and England anyway.

The words ‘fool’s gold’ come into mind.

Indeed, if there was a desire to provide Hussey’s replacement with the best opportunity to emulate his career, the chance to witness his preparation, patience, temperament, professionalism and technique one last time is probably not a bad thing.

For those that agree that there is no place for sentimentality in cricket, it’s worth noting that Hussey was not a passenger in the side. In fact, on current form, he would have been the second player picked for the team.

His playing in Sydney was not a gesture from the selectors that said “We’ll give you a goodbye Test as a thank you for past deeds”, nor was it a case of allowing emotion to make decisions.

First or all, they didn’t know he was retiring. Secondly, from a purely rationale point of view – sheer weight of runs – Hussey deserved to be in the team. There was nothing sentimental about his selection whatsoever.

In any case, even if it was an emotional decision, who cares?

I actually believe Healy should have been given a Brisbane send-off, and I would have had no issue whatsoever if Ricky Ponting played one more Test so he could complete his career in his home state of Tasmania.

I like the notion of a little bit of emotion coming into modern day sport.

Even if you wanted to raise the often quoted cliché that ‘modern sport is a business’ and is therefore no place for emotion, consider this: Hussey playing probably boosted the crowd attendance in Sydney.

Let’s face it, the Test was essentially a nothing game until we leant that Mr Cricket was declaring on his career.

It would have therefore been a shrewd business decision by Cricket Australia to give Hussey a farewell game and inflate the crowd numbers, even though that’s not what happened.

Additionally, if you really want to talk business terms, then the fans are Cricket Australia’s customers, and what the customers want, they should get. I’m fairly certain fans wanted to say goodbye to The Huss.

Finally, and most importantly, few players have deserved a farewell Test more than Mike Hussey.

Here is a player that has given so much to Australian cricket. He played with dedication, commitment and passion, and no one was prouder to wear the Baggy Green. He was as classy off the field as he was on it, and played the game in the right spirit.

He was, and is, universally respected.

No one earned their shot at Test cricket more than Hussey, as no one had scored more first class runs before their Test debut.

From a performance perspective, he was an all-time great and finishes with a fantastic batting average above the mystical 50 mark. His cover drive was among the best I’ve ever seen.

His fielding was as rock solid as his presence in the middle order.

Above all, he also played a major role in many important victories, and that is truly how greats should be judged: by winning.

Does that sound like someone that deserved a farewell Test? I think you know the answer.

However, if anyone wants to make the cold argument that he wasn’t going to be around for the Ashes and therefore someone else should have played, then I would agree that it makes for a compelling case, and I would therefore respectfully have to listen. . .

Before telling them – and the nagging voice in the back of my own head – to pipe down.

 

Ryan is an ex-representative basketballer who shot too much, and a (very) medium pace bowler. He's been with The Roar as an expert since February 2011, has written for the Seven Network, and been a regular on ABC radio. Ryan tweets from @RyanOak.