Cricket: Hussain the hammer of the Aussies

FIRST TEST: Breathtaking double century and Thorpe's cultured 138 tighten England's grip as toiling tourists sweat in the field: Australia 118 England 449-6
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If disbelief was still suspended after their riveting performance on Thursday, it was surely banished for good yesterday as England batted Australia out of this First Test match. By the time rain brought a premature end to the day's play they were 331 runs ahead and still batting.

Domination on this scale, particularly against the Aussies, has rarely come easily to England, and it took a double century of quite breathtaking assurance by Nasser Hussain, as well as a fine century by Graham Thorpe, to set the occasion up.

For Hussain and Thorpe this was clearly payback time, not least for the previous torments inflicted upon them by this opposition. Their reward, after a second successive morning of glory for England, was to break and extend by some 66 runs the record for fourth-wicket partnerships against Australia, a milestone previously held by Walter Hammond and Eddie Paynter, who put on 222 at Lord's in 1938.

Records, however, were incidental on a day which, if not possessing the adrenalin buzz of the first morning, was still an enthralling day of Test match cricket, and another good one for England. It is not often Australia look quite as helpless in the field as they did when Hussain and Thorpe strutted their stuff, and watching them labour will have brought a perverse pleasure to many.

Hussain, in particular, treated the Australian attack as he might treat the net bowlers on a flattie at Chelmsford. Part of the privilege of watching professionals play at the height of their powers is to marvel at how easy they make it all look.

Like Mark Ramprakash, Hussain has had to conquer his own personal demons over the years. But if frustration and disappointment used to be confronted by tantrums, this passionate man has now managed to separate the tempest from the tempestuous heart - a leap fully endorsed by those who have backed his appointment as Atherton's vice-captain.

Apart from a few palpitating moments early in the day, when he padded up to a couple of Glenn McGrath's inswingers, the Essex vice-captain treated the bowling with a princely disdain that ought to have silenced his many critics. On a day of many pleasures, Hussain's shot selection was about as perfect as it could get, but then so was the execution.

His dismantling of Shane Warne was nothing short of masterful, and it was the crowning moment in what is surely the best innings of his career. In the over that led to his double century he took three boundaries off the leg-spinner.

There has been no more emphatic gesture against the Australians since Botham clobbered them about Old Trafford in 1981 and Hussain's celebrations - the spit of Christo Redentor overlooking Rio - as the whole of Edgbaston rose to pay homage were justifiably exultant.

A fast-food junkie, Hussain spent Thursday night eating Chinese take- away in his room. But if his penchant for a bit of stir fry plays havoc with the latest nutritional advice (Mike Atherton's men have apparently replaced a post-match beer and fag with mineral water and pizzas), it was nothing compared to the chop suey he made of Warne, whom he cut and drove to the boundary with impunity.

Watching Warne struggle is not something any serious cricket fan will glory in. Apart from being the best thing that has happened to cricket in the last 10 years, his wrist spin has helped revive not only a dying art, but interest in Test cricket too.

His problems, however, are undoubtedly self-inflicted, and his prodigious talent has meant a workload that beggars belief. But if getting his side to the top was a challenge for Warne, keeping them there has required Herculean efforts which have inevitably taken their toll.

From watching him yesterday, as Hussain alternated between caressing him through extra, and cutting him past point, he appears to be carrying a sore shoulder. It is an injury every wrist spinner dreads, and one which is clearly compromising Warne. Even the trademark Al Jolson moue with zinc-whitened lips has taken a back seat, as his 35 overs went for 110 runs.

Even so, he probably sensed some kind of decline himself: why else would someone who has taken 99 per cent of his 241 Test wickets with just two deliveries - the hard-spun leggie and a beautifully disguised flipper - want to cook up any publicity about mystery balls. It was not all uphill and he later had the consolation of taking Hussain's wicket as the batsman, closing the bat face on a leg-break, edged behind to Ian Healy.

Warne was not the only bowler found wanting. Without the pace of Jason Gillespie, who pulled a hamstring, there were some long faces among the Australian attack, as Thorpe and Hussain piled on the agony. The Surrey left-hander was the first to reach the three-figure mark, but the real celebrations began when his long time mucker Hussain joined him there a few overs later.

After lunch, Thorpe mishit McGrath's first ball loosener to Michael Bevan at mid-wicket. The dismissal caused something of a mid-afternon lull to set in as John Crawley, struggling to find his touch, tickled an outswinger to Healy off the deserving Michael Kasprowicz.

It was a period that would not have worried Atherton unduly. If they can help it, England will only want to bat once, irrespective of how long that innings lasts. That is the way to win Test matches and Australia's only hope of wriggling out of the noose now will be to make England bat again.

Second day; Australia won toss

AUSTRALIA - First Innings 118 (S K Warne 47; AR Caddick 5-50; D Gough 3-43).

ENGLAND - First innings

(Overnight: 200-3)

M A Butcher c Healy b Kasprowicz 8

16 min, 13 balls, 2 fours

*M A Atherton c Healy b McGrath 2

10 min, 4 balls

A J Stewart c Elliott b Gillespie 18

51 min, 33 balls, 3 fours

N Hussain c Healy b Warne 207

439 min, 336 balls, 38 fours

G P Thorpe c Bevan b McGrath 138

293 min, 245 balls, 19 fours

J P Crawley c Healy b Kasprowicz 1

19 min, 14 balls

M A Ealham not out 32

135 min, 108 balls, 4 fours

R D B Croft not out 18

55 min, 37 balls, 3 fours

Extras (b4,lb7,w1,nb13) 25

Total (for 6, 512 min, 129.1 overs) 449 Fall: 1-8 (Atherton), 2-16 (Butcher), 3-50 (Stewart), 4-338 (Thorpe), 5-345 (Crawley), 6-416 (Hussain).

To bat: D Gough, A R Caddick, D E Malcolm.

Bowling: McGrath 32-8-107-2 (nb7) (5-2-14-1 9-1-43-0 7-2-20-0 7-2-24- 1 4-1-6-0), Kasprowicz 34.1-7-94-2 (nb4,w1) (7-0-24-1 4-1-12-0 4-2-2-0 14-4-37-1 5.1-0-19-0), Gillespie 10-1-48-1 (nb1) (5-1-22-1 5-0-26-0), Warne 35-8-110-1 (nb1) (3-1-12-0 15-2-55-0 6 -2-14-0 11-3-29-1), Bevan 6-0-34-0 (2-0-10-0 3-0-20-0 1-0-4-0), S Waugh 12-2-45-0 (nb2) (1-1-0-0 7-1-30-0 4-0-15-0).

Progress: First day: 50: 58 mins, 13.1 overs. Tea: 74-3 (Hussain 23, Thorpe 18) 19 overs. 100: 114 mins, 26.1 overs. 150: 157 mins, 36 overs. 200: 220 mins, 53 overs. Close 200-3 (Hussain 80, Thorpe 83) 56 overs.

Second day: 250: 270 mins, 67 o vers. 300: 310 mins, 78.3 overs. New ball taken: 311-3 after 82.2 overs. Lunch: 335-3 (Hussain 158, Thorpe 135) 89 overs. 350: 382 mins, 96.3 overs. 400: 439 mins, 110.3 overs. Tea: 418-6 (Ealham 20, Croft 1) 119 overs. Rain stopped play: 4.40pm.

Hussain's 50: 135 min, 95 balls, 7 fours. 100: 253 min, 189 balls, 17 fours. 150: 327 min, 245 balls, 26 fours. 200: 441 min, 321 balls, 37 fours.

Thorpe's 50: 84 min, 67 balls, 8 fours. 100: 190 min, 164 balls, 14 fours.

Umpires: S A Bucknor and P Willey.

TV Replay Umpire: J W Holder.

Match Referee: R S Madugalle.