‘A bigger picture than rivalry’: Michael Hussey focuses on England role | England cricket team

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There has been a long tradition of cricketing cross-pollination between England and Australia, which Michael Hussey neatly epitomises. He gave plenty to English cricket during his 60 County Championship games for Durham, Gloucestershire and Northamptonshire in the early noughties, plus another 118 appearances in short-ball competitions. In return – and this has not been an entirely equal relationship – England gave him the nickname Mr Cricket, earned in the Northants dressing room and widely adopted back home. Now Hussey is giving once again.

When England, who face Ireland in the early hours of Wednesday in their second fixture, take on Australia in the T20 World Cup on Friday Hussey will be contributing to a distinct Aussie twang in their dressing room. Matthew Mott was tempted away from the Australian women’s team to join England’s white-ball side as head coach in May, and for this tournament has been joined by David Saker as bowling consultant, and by Hussey as batting specialist.

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Hussey played England 48 times, winning on 27 of those occasions, seeing the rivalry between the nations from both sides – and his conclusion is that it’s not a big deal. “It seems to be a big issue for everyone on the outside,” he says. “For me, there’s a much bigger picture than just that rivalry. I think it’s a great opportunity to be involved with a new environment, a new team, a new country, to see how they go about it.

“It’s great for me to be able to learn, but also hopefully I can impart some of my knowledge and help a few of the players. It doesn’t matter whether they’re Indian, Australia, New Zealand or English, it doesn’t bother me whatsoever.”

It is no longer unusual for a team to have foreign coaches – indeed, England’s first two games in this tournament have been against Afghanistan, who have an English head coach, and Ireland, whose coach is South African. “It’s the bigger picture really – why not bring different thoughts and ideas?” Hussey adds. “But also for coaches around the world, being able to get experience in different environments is fantastic for our development, so it’s a win-win.”

Friday’s fixture is however one in which only one side can prevail, and in which English success would be disastrous for his own nation – though the possibility of Australia’s elimination is another issue which he thinks is being overplayed. “All that stuff about knocking Australia out of the tournament or keeping them in, they’re external distractions for the team,” Hussey says. “We can’t focus on that, that’s not even motivation for this team. Our motivation is looking after our backyard, playing how we want to play, and then hopefully that’s enough to win the game. Then hopefully all those other teams will take care of themselves.”

Michael Hussey celebrates a Test century against India in 2012
Michael Hussey, celebrating a Test century against India in 2012, started working with England three weeks ago. Photograph: Tim Wimborne/Reuters

Hussey started working with England when they arrived in Australia three weeks ago, and will leave at the end of the World Cup. He is a genial presence at training, with a natural and disarming warmth, and has worked with some of England’s players before – most notably with Moeen Ali at Chennai Super Kings – but rapidly building trust with the whole squad has been a challenge.

“It’s hard to make a big impact over a short period of time,” he says. “It takes sometimes years to develop good, strong, trusting relationships where you can break down the barriers a bit further. Most of the guys know their own game pretty well, so it’s about working with them and helping them to get into that mindset where they can just go out there and play their best cricket. I don’t want to stuff things up, really.”

Though Hussey did not instantly accept England’s invitation – “I didn’t have to think for too long but it did catch me by surprise,” he said – he would have “no issues whatsoever” with helping their Test side beat Australia in next summer’s Ashes if invited, and that his character might be a useful contrast to that of England’s red-ball coach, Brendon McCullum. He certainly does not mind being contrary, notably disagreeing with the general preference in T20s for batting second.

“I don’t think it matters so much,” he says. “If you’re batting first sometimes you’re not sure what a good score is, but I feel as though with the conditions the way they are in Australia, especially early season, if you can get a decent score on the board you can build up enormous pressure on the opposition. The way I was brought up was always to get runs on the board, but obviously the game’s changed so much.”

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