Australia 329-3, Sri Lanka: Hussey and Jaques put Australia in driving seat

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The Independent Online

Groundhog day in Hobart. Although the weather was brighter and the Tasmanian crowd more animated, the cricket followed a familiar course. Australia took first innings, saw off the new ball and then tore apart a modest attack on a firm pitch. Not even the recall of Lasinth Malinga interrupted the flow.

Phil Jaques led the batting. In Brisbane the chunky left-hander had marked his first Test hundred with an uncharacteristic rush of blood, a mistake he had no intention of repeating. His second hundred was composed and evenly paced. At first the bowling demanded respect, especially Malinga's slingers and slower balls. Accordingly Jaques bided his time. Once set he pushed the score along efficiently. Without seeming to hurry, he outpaced both Matthew Hayden and Ricky Ponting. Where his comrades strained and perished, Hayden losing patience and trying a front foot cut against the utterly undeserving Dilhara Fernando, and his captain groping at an undetected doosra, the unflappable southpaw did not stray from the tried and trusted.

Jaques is a considerably more accomplished batsmen than he appears. Much has been made of the hard work undertaken by an admittedly prominent bottom hand. Less attention is paid to his judgement and ability to play the ball at the last instant. Also he covers his stumps by shuffling in front of them thereby protecting them from intrusion. On closer inspection the southpaw does an awful lot right.

Doubtless it came as a relief to the newcomer that his first run came quickly. Sometimes he cracks square, sometimes he steers past slip, sometimes glides through gully.

Michael Hussey widened the breach opened by his team-mate. From the start he was impressive, pulling anything fractionally short, reading Muttiah Muralitharan easily and playing him off the deck, threading the ball through extra-cover with a roll of the wrists and running between wickets with great pace and thoughtfulness. A dash against the second new ball took him to his hundred before stumps. It had taken him 169 balls, 17 more than Jaques required. Hussey has scored 1,000 runs in his first ten Tests and never known defeat.

Amongst the rest, Hayden survived a chance to second slip on 12 off the persevering Farveez Maharoof but could not dominate. Ponting tried to use his feet as Murali aimed at leg-stump but did not last. Upon reaching 150 Jaques lifted carelessly to long-off but Australia did not falter. It was another grim day for the Sri Lankans.