Mike Hussey hoping gamble on Pakistan ‘big stars’ ignites Welsh Fire
New Welsh Fire head coach Mike Hussey expects his gamble on “big stars” Shaheen Shah Afridi and Haris Rauf to come good in this summer’s Hundred, crossing his fingers the Pakistan pair will be available for the full tournament.
Hussey has taken over the Cardiff-based side after two years of disappointing returns under Gary Kirsten and his first major job was to oversee last week’s player draft.
The Fire had the biggest rebuilding job to do, with eight spaces to fill in their squad, and Hussey made some of the most eye-catching picks by landing the electric Afridi for £100,000 and his fellow 90mph quick Rauf for a bargain £60,000.
A handful of A-list overseas players went unselected, with some teams favouring more conservative domestic selections due to uncertainty over their international commitments, but Hussey was happy to take a calculated risk.
He expects the duo to be around for all but one of their group games in August, and is alert to the fact that Pakistan’s scheduled ODI series against Afghanistan at the end of the month is not certain to take place – meaning they could stay for the duration.
“They are big stars, and they’re match-winners as well. Without doubt it’s really exciting,” he told the PA news agency and ESPNcricinfo.
“Obviously they are both world-class performers and have performed on the biggest stage in the past, so hopefully they can have a big impact for us.
“Hopefully we can go really well with the new ball and really own the death as well.
“At this stage, we’ve been told that they’re available up to about the 20th of August. That’s a fair chunk of games, seven, and there’s a chance that the series they’ve got against Afghanistan may be called off as well.
“So it’s a bit of a gamble, but if that is the case, it’d be a huge win for us to have them for the whole season. That would be amazing for us.”
Hussey had the luxury of having both of his top tier £125,000 contracts available following their ground clearing exercise at the end of a winless 2022 campaign and used both slots on experienced homegrown leaders.
Somerset skipper Tom Abell was targeted early as captaincy material, following two injury-affected seasons at Birmingham Phoenix, while well-travelled England all-rounder David Willey was ready for a new start after exiting Northern Superchargers.
Both men will have important roles to play in helping Hussey redefine the culture at a team that looked rudderless in its final days under Kirsten.
“I did a lot of background and got a lot of information from a lot of different sources and the information I got on Tom was that he is an outstanding character and a really good leader,” said Hussey.
“He’s just someone who is a quality player and a quality person, and we can hopefully build something pretty special over the next few years.
“David’s versatility was really attractive to us too, plus his character and the way he goes about his game. He’s a real competitor and that’s what we want around the team, guys that are going to fight all the way and never give in.”
As for the criticism that the team have struggled more than most to engage with their public, Hussey plans to fight that on two fronts: firstly by providing an enjoyable product on the field and second by looking more to their host county for players.
Glamorgan’s Dan Douthwaite was their final draft pick but may be joined by other local talent at the wildcard recruitment stage.
“I’ve heard bits and pieces, and different stories along the way. We need to play a brand of cricket that’s really attractive and entertaining to bring people out to the ground to watch,” he said.
“I do think we have a responsibility to really engage with the local community, really make them feel like we’re playing for them.
“It was really important for us to get Douthwaite in. Hopefully we can add another one – or maybe even two – in the wildcard stage as well. Hopefully we can build a bit of connection there.”
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