Mike Hussey steered Australia to a 3-0 sweep of Sri Lanka in his last international cricket match to underline what the team will miss in its remaining 13 Tests of 2013 against India and England.
Hussey, who announced his surprise retirement Dec. 29, hit 27 not out to help guide Australia to a five-wicket win in Sydney yesterday after arriving at the crease with the home team 37 runs short of its victory target of 141.
The 37-year-old was still in the middle when Mitchell Johnson hit the winning run and was applauded off the ground by the Sri Lanka players and the crowd. He hugged his teammates, who had formed a guard of honor, and was carried off the field on the shoulders of Johnson and fast bowler Peter Siddle before leading the squad in its victory song for the final time.
“He’s won a lot of games for Australia,” national team captain Michael Clarke said at a news conference. “That’s probably the one thing that I’ll remember most about Huss. It’s not his statistics, it’s the way he plays the game, it’s what he gives to the team and how much he loves playing for that Baggy Green cap.”
Nicknamed “Mr Cricket” for his enthusiasm and knowledge of the game, Hussey ended a 79-Test career that began in 2005 with 6,235 runs, including 19 centuries, at an average of 51.52. He finished as the highest run scorer in elite five-day matches between Australia and Sri Lanka with 994 runs at 110.44.
After he signaled his intention to quit at the end of Australia’s home season following one-day series against Sri Lanka and West Indies, Hussey’s retirement was brought forward when he was yesterday omitted from the limited-overs squad.
“I would have liked to have played but the selectors spoke to me and said they’re starting to look toward the 2015 World Cup,” Hussey told reporters at the Sydney Cricket Ground. “I totally understand where the selectors are going.”
Finding a replacement in the Test team will be difficult, according to Clarke, who was named as the player of the series after top scoring with 316 runs at an average of 79.
Australia is scheduled to play four Tests in India starting Feb. 22 before back-to-back Ashes series against England, which won the past two contests between the archrivals.
“We’ve got some time, fortunately,” Clarke said. “We’ll never be able to replace him, but what it does do is present an opportunity to someone else. Whoever gets that chance will know they have a big job to do.”
Hussey, whose retirement follows that of Australia’s all-time leading run-scorer Ricky Ponting, said there are “probably half a dozen very good candidates” vying to take his spot in Australia’s middle order.
“I’m not worried about the team at all,” he said. “History’s shown that the game always moves on. Players come and go, but the team always moves forward. There’s some brilliant candidates to come in.”
Usman Khawaja, who played the last of his six Tests in December 2011, and Australia’s Twenty20 captain George Bailey were among the batsmen picked for the one-day matches, where they will get a chance to audition for the India tour.
Hussey yesterday officially named spin bowler Nathan Lyon as his successor as custodian of Australia’s victory song, which helps foster the team culture.
“He plays the game for the right reasons and he understands and respects the fabric of the Baggy Green cap,” Hussey said. “That’s what I want to come through from him when he leads the team song in the future.”
With a tour of India and two Ashes series in the next 12 months, Clarke said his team is still a work in progress following a home Test campaign that also featured a 1-0 series loss to No. 1-ranked South Africa.
“What you’ve seen this summer probably sums up where we’re at,” Clarke said. “We are improving slowly as a group but we know the next 12 months is huge for us. We’ve got a lot of tough cricket in conditions that are generally tough to play in. We need to keep trying to get better.”