IN TWO months’ time Michael Hussey will be playing cricket in India, but it won’t be against India. He’ll be representing his Indian Premier League team.
Two weeks from this Friday, on the very ground where Hussey will be plying his trade, Michael Clarke will begin his first Test series without his versatile left-hander. Mr Cricket has decided that serving Chennai is now more suitable for him than serving Australia.
Only Hussey will know what drove his decision. Maybe he tired of the relentless international schedule, maybe the financial considerations made it a no-brainer. He certainly stated that he wanted to spend more time with his family.
None of this is meant to denigrate Hussey, one of Australia’s most loyal troupers and someone who has earned the right to do as he pleases. It is merely to point out the destabilising influence of the IPL on cricket generally, and to reinforce the notion that every man has his price. They are sobering thoughts.
With the exception of the Doug Bollinger situation a few years ago, when the left-arm paceman broke down after arriving at the eleventh hour for a Test match, Australian cricket has been relatively unscathed by its players’ involvement in the IPL in the past. But murky waters are looming in the shape of Clarke and Shane Watson.
Let’s be honest, as professional sportsmen go, Clarke and Watson are veritable crocks. Clarke has a good reason for his back-related problems lately: he spends a lot of time batting. But Watson’s entire career has been a saga of being about to be injured, being injured, or recovering from injury. It wouldn’t matter so much if both men weren’t so vitally important to Australia’s cricketing future.
Both players are lucky to make it through a training session these days, yet come April they’re planning to be there when the fireworks announce the beginning of IPL chapter 7. Just a month before Australia’s most important tour to England in years, Clarke will be taxing his hamstring and Watson will be justifying his price tag to Rajasthan by bowling. Yet the entire Australian summer has been compromised by both players’ injury predicaments.
English cricket was thrown into turmoil last year by Kevin Pietersen. England’s best player had long bemoaned his unavailability for the IPL because of its clash with the English domestic season, but he managed to squeeze in a stunning IPL cameo last year before announcing his retirement from one-day internationals.
Lots of twists and turns followed before the restless Pietersen was brought to heel and eventually returned to the fold, but the underlying cause of the entire problem was that Pietersen believed he was missing out on something he was entitled to.
We’ve recently heard Mitchell Starc announce that he will bypass this year’s IPL auction to save himself for future Australian commitments, and after the way he bowled in the Twenty20 against Sri Lanka in Melbourne recently that might be a good idea. But Starc is one of our most valuable young properties and it was refreshing to hear his explanation. He has had a well-planned build-up since the middle of last year at Yorkshire and wants to rest after the Indian series before Australia begins its tour of England in June.
It is important to differentiate here between the IPL and Twenty20 cricket in general. Critics of our own Big Bash League are being narrow minded in many of their assessments. How can a domestic competition that draws more than 400,000 spectators to matches and has millions more watching on television be bad for the game? Of course things need tweaking, but the BBL has got people watching and talking about cricket.
The IPL is a different issue. Its financial and political clout, added to its expanded fixturing, has unbalanced players’ minds and suffocated the weak. In short, it has given India the power to unduly influence too many important cricketing decisions around the world.
Meanwhile, Michael Hussey has been lost to Australian cricket when we needed him most. Rumours persist that he and Clarke were not seeing eye to eye, but if that was the case it certainly didn’t show. And if Clarke was surprised and disappointed by Hussey’s decision, it is perfectly understandable: he’s lost his rock.
The indisputable fact is that while Mr Cricket is running around for Chennai, Clarke will be wishing he was doing the same thing for Australia, both before and after it.
The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Hangzhou Night Net.