When Durham held a press briefing in early November to announce next season’s captaincy plans, the Ashes cropped up in conversation.
Head coach Geoff Cook, ever the optimist, questioned how many Australians would get into the England team. Dale Benkenstein, who is to resume the captaincy for one-day games, countered: “I think Huss might scrape in somewhere”.
Benkenstein has been a huge admirer of Mike Hussey since they made their Durham debuts together at Grace Road, Leicester, in 2005.
“He was hopping around when he won the toss because it was a poor pitch and he didn’t know what to do,” said Benkenstein. “In the end he took the view that it wouldn’t get any better so we might as well bat. He made 253 and I scored 16.
“Paul Collingwood also played in that match and scored 18. He is currently batting in the same No 5 slot as Hussey in the Ashes series and after three Tests has scored 62 runs at 15.5. Hussey has made 517 at 103.4.at 34.
Collingwood is a year younger than Hussey and will take heart from the fact that the Australian was also under pressure for his place coming into the series. Both have endured lean runs and emerged stronger, and despite his reputation as Mr Consistency, Hussey’s fluctuations in form have been quite marked.
After two years in the Test team his average was 86.18, while it took until his 29th one-day international for his average to drop below 100. Now he averages 52 in both forms of the international game. He was a month short of his 30th birthday and it was beginning to look as though a Test career would pass him by when Durham handed him a two-year contract as captain.
They had finished bottom of Division Two in 2004, losing the final game at home to Leicestershire, a team they had never beaten in the County Championship.
Hussey had made a triple century in each of his three seasons with Northamptonshire, so was probably disappointed to get out for 253 at Leicester.
“I never really felt in,” he said afterwards. “We worked well in partnerships, rotating the strike well. I don’t have any particular technique for maintaining my concentration. I just love batting and want to stay out there as long as I can.”
He batted for ten minutes short of ten hours and Durham emphatically laid the Leicestershire bogey as they won by an innings and 216 runs.
They had never beaten Lancashire, either, in four-day combat. But a few weeks later Hussey carried his bat for 144 at Old Trafford and was unbeaten on 26 in the second innings as Durham won by nine wickets.Hussey averaged 76.71 that season, marginally better than Dean Jones’s 73.68 in 1992. Over the course of a full season it has been bettered for Durham only by Michael Di Venuto’s 80.05 in 2009.
Although he looked better suited to the longer game, Hussey had begun to make his mark in one-day internationals and made his Test debut against the West Indies in November, 2005.
He quickly cemented his place and Durham learnt the following March that the Australian Board would not allow him to return for a second season as their captain.He had secured promotion and said he felt he had “unfinished business” at Chester-le-Street. He can at least rest assured that he played a huge part in kick-starting Durham on the road to the 2007 Friends Provident Trophy followed by their two County Championship triumphs.