Belligerent Hussey uses his feet to dig Australia out of trouble

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Perhaps the sporting gods were always bound to smile on a bloke called Mr Cricket.

What otherwise would be the point of having the name? They did so yesterday when Australia's No 5, also occasionally known as Mike Hussey, played for his career and won.

Hussey came out to bat with his team in some trouble. He had been a contentious selection for the first Test despite his Test batting average of close to 50. He had had a long, moderate run, he is 35 and it was time to move on, as they often say when it is not time to move on at all but time to take stock.

The selectors saved Hussey because he scored a last-ditch hundred for his state, Western Australia, last week. It was nick-of-time stuff and it is said that he was accompanied to the wicket by the Seventh Cavalry. But that meant nothing when he strode out to face England's towering tyro fast bowler, Steve Finn.

His future was still on the line. All he had done was save his place, not establish it. The previous ball had removed Simon Katich, the left-handed opener, who had offered a low return catch which Finn took by his ankles, a considerable feat for one 6ft 7in in height.

Hussey took guard, Finn loped in and sent the ball across the new batsman. He jabbed nervously at the delivery, which went in the direction of second slip but dropped just short of Graeme Swann. Another few inches and Hussey would have been caught. Mr Cricket might well have been walking into the sunset.

Instead of which he proceeded immediately to plunder England's attack, not least Swann, with a string of boundaries. His pulling was effective, brutal and thrilling, his cutting hardly less clinical. These were the strokes which earned him most of his 13 fours as he finished the day, brought to an early close by rain, on 81 not out.

"I was hoping and praying that first ball would fall short," he said. "It just goes to show that playing this game is a fine line. I wanted to be positive, definitely. I do get myself into trouble if I'm a bit tentative and a bit negative. I think Graeme is an outstanding bowler. I guess my plan was to be positive and use my feet."

If it was Swann who helped Hussey to settle quickly because of some short-pitched bowling, it might also have helped that the batsman knows the bowler so well from their days together playing for Northamptonshire. Swann might have become the best spinner in the world since then (when he was about the 500th best) but his former colleague would still have a knowledge of him denied to others.

Hussey, who has presumably confirmed his place for at least the next three Tests, repelled England just when they were threatening to seize control. It had been Australia's morning, losing only Shane Watson to Jimmy Anderson, finding the right length.

England were slightly unfortunate: two umpiring reviews went against them, they narrowly missed a run out opportunity, there was some playing and missing. But as cricketers always aver in their more rational moments, luck tends to even itself out over the course of a series and it did so for the tourists more quickly than they can have dared hope.

The second ball of the afternoon session, bowled by Anderson, was slipping quietly down the leg side when Ricky Ponting, Australia's captain, decided to glance it. The shot was much too fine and Matt Prior eagerly gathered the catch. The most prized wicket of all had been claimed. Ponting had scored hundreds in the first innings of each of the last two Ashes Tests at Brisbane and do not suppose for a moment that he had any other intention but to repeat.

Make no mistake, either, that England are targeting Ponting every bit as much as Australia are gunning for Andrew Strauss. Get the general and the army is there for the taking.

Anderson bowled a lovely spell in the afternoon. There are those who doubt that his particular skills suit either Australian wickets (flat) or Australian balls (also flat where the seam is concerned) but this was perky stuff. He was his usual talkative self too, letting the batsman know precisely what he thought – though Hussey had the perfect riposte later.

"Just like he always does," he said of Anderson's sledging. "I couldn't understand most of what he was saying. Maybe it's that Lancastrian accent." Perhaps it was just as well, though, given England's tendency for painstaking preparation elocution lessons should not be ruled out.

If the choice of Hussey showed Australia's selection panel to be the fount of wisdom, the manner in which Michael Clarke played was not so flattering to their powers of judgment. Clarke was belatedly cleared to play in this match after days of treatment on his chronic back injury.

But his subdued innings, whatever the parlous circumstances, indicated that he was not fully fit. If his back was not playing up again, then something else must have been. He survived an appeal for a catch behind – England using up their second referral when they clearly thought the ball from Finn had taken an inside edge – but was never on top of his game. It was no surprise and it may have been a relief when he played a poorly executed pull against Finn and allowed Prior to become the eighth England wicketkeeper to reach 100 Test dismissals.

Poor Marcus North, another of the Australians whose place is being not so much questioned as demanded on a golden platter before the public, did not have Hussey's stroke of fortune. A notoriously slow starter, he edged a revitalised Swann to first slip on the eighth ball he faced.

While that was to be Swann's only wicket of the day, he did enough to convince that he may still play an instrumental part in this series, as he will have to for England to win. His first four overs conceded 34 runs, his next 16 only 24. He forced eternal vigilance from Brad Haddin and even Mr Cricket showed him increasing respect.