WHEN a cricketing Englishman was killed by a lorry while dashing across a road, his gravestone was inscribed with: 'To the end a bad judge of a run.' Whatever else is on Michael Hussey's cricket epitaph, it won't be that he couldn't judge a run. Ever since his ambition to be a maths teacher was thwarted by cricket, he has applied a slide-rule accuracy to his measurement of distance and speed. He is the fastest and smartest runner since Steve Waugh. In 135 Test innings before yesterday, he had only sacrificed his wicket on this altar of regret twice. But the cricket gods are known for their black humour, and they might have ended Hussey's seven years of batting for Australia in this cruel and unusual way. Here lies Mr Cricket. He did not run out of steam, or run out of motivation, or run out of runs; he was just run out.
To that point, Hussey's innings had progressed in the usual orderly fashion. He has spoken of how nervous he gets when he bats. There was no noticeable difference yesterday. Years of repetition and practice have grooved his movements into a kind of automatism, so that when nerves have got the better of him, muscle memory takes over. When he arrives at the wicket, he resembles a schoolteacher readying for work: cup of tea, mark the roll, hand out worksheets. He even took his guard of honour with the same intent busyness as he took his guard, making the Sri Lankans' gesture look like another part of the routine.
In an hour's batting before tea, Hussey faced 40 balls. Through his grille, his eyes peered out, alert and, as usual, seemingly alarmed. He left the ball well, prodded it into the gaps, and picked up singles like completed homework assignments. Not until the last ball before the break did he unfurl the Hussey cover drive. It did not reach the boundary; his mood was studious, not aggressive.
The slow build of his innings contrasted with those of the younger men. David Warner had begun with a blaze before being slowed down, not by the bowlers but by Phillip Hughes, who dominated the strike in their partnership.
Hughes's mood ran hot and cold, some flashy strokeplay alternating with periods when he reminded himself to knuckle down and take the big score sitting on the table. Michael Clarke played as only he can, dictating the tempo when necessary, loosening the knot being tied by Rangana Herath by leaping down and lofting.
All was proceeding to plan for Hussey until, at 3-252, half an hour after tea, Clarke pushed a ball from Dhammika Prasad into the hard turf on the off side. The understanding between Clarke and Hussey is so instinctive - they have been the eighth-most prolific partnership of any two Australian batsmen - that they set off with nothing more than eye-contact. Attention to detail is Hussey's signature. He could only be run out if everything went the fielder's way. For the third time in seven years, it did.
Hussey bolted down the wicket in a race with Dimuth Karunaratne, looming from cover. Hussey was some four strides from his ground when the ball co-operated sweetly with the Sri Lankan, bobbling up like a Cameron Smith grubber. Karunaratne gathered and threw. The ball hit the ground as Hussey left it for his dive. What more iconic sight than Hussey batting on in soiled whites, a smear of dust down his shirtfront? But this time the ball was quicker than the man, bouncing from the ground into the stumps, and the gods had taken back the name they had loaned to Mr Cricket. At the other end, the captain cursed. The SCG crowd groaned as the video replay confirmed what the players knew.
It was the second run-out on a day when the Australians could only get themselves into trouble. To paraphrase Tolstoy, all safe runs are alike; all run-outs are unhappy in their own way. Hussey's was a simple miscalculation, fieldsman beating batsman. Ed Cowan's, earlier in the day, looked like inattention, a batsman running casually for a two which turned out, through some sharp fielding by Nuwan Pradeep, to be a one-and-a-half. Cowan left like a naughty boy sent home from a party before it started, kicking himself all the way to the pavilion.
For Hussey and Cowan, in such contrasting phases of their careers, it was a tale of two pities. Run-outs are increasingly common when batsmen are urged to harass fielders into error. The aim must be psychological rather than material, because the few extra runs gained cannot compensate for the wickets lost. The gamble never seems worth it when it fails to come off. For those hoping to see Hussey finish his career in a more fitting way, there is a silver lining to his dismissal: it increases the probability that he will get another bat.
The story Hussey a sound judge to the last, but gods hand down cruel verdict first appeared on Brisbane Times.