A batting masterclass from Mike Hussey thwarted England on an absorbing third day. Referrals, bumpers, pulls, drives, songs and a sudden clatter of wickets came along and, through it all, Hussey remained intact. His contribution presented the visitors with an improbable target. If Australia prevail, the MCG will be packed. And it is a coliseum. Let's hope the pitch is as firm and the cricket as absorbing.
Hussey was superb. Unlike his comrades he did not need any help from fieldsmen or umpires, hardly missed a ball and did not endure an appeal. It is not in his nature to make batting look easy because he is earnest and attentive. Suffice it to say that he did not look like getting out.
Nor did England have any clear idea how to shift him. Like the South Africans three years ago they could not find a fault in a game shaped by ability and experience and driven by devotion and ambition. And to think lots of people demanded his head before the series began. How England wish the selectors had obliged!
Apart from Shane Watson, none of the other batsmen looked like lasting long. Several were rattled by the smell of leather passing their nostrils, or else by the threat of it. Throughout the series, England have played Australia at their own game – ruthless, efficient and physical. Now they kept demanding wickets. Most likely they will retain the Ashes regardless of the result here.
Hussey's innings was a lesson in application, courage and execution. In truth he only played two shots with any regularity, the extra-cover drive and the pull, but he played them well and often. Of his 14 boundaries, eight came with pulls and four with off-drives. These strokes counterpoint each other admirably because they indicate that runs can be scored off both feet and on both sides of the wicket.
Hussey has a hunger for the game that shows in every stroke he plays, every moment on the field. He is a cricketer from tip to tail, utterly involved, single-minded from birth. Here his judgementwas quick and his mind was uncluttered. In a trice he was able to assess length and line, whereupon he moved rapidly and decisively into position before playing his shot. He also knew the pitch well enough to ignore anything bouncing over the sticks unless he felt a riposte was warranted.
Hussey's pulling was the highlight of his innings. It has always been a typically Australian shot born of firm pitches and daring young batsmen. Over the years it has been a feature of most of the best local batsmen, or at any rate those of small stature. His execution was flawless. It is no small thing to pull a fast bowler operating on a hard track thrice, let alone 30 times, and on each occasion to play the shot with complete control. Only great batsmen can do that.
That Hussey pulled and hooked frequently was partly due to England's strategy of bowling to his best shot and setting the field accordingly. Strauss gambled that sooner or later the left-hander would miscue but he underestimated his foe's fitness and judgement.
Placement counted among the left-hander's other strengths. Repeatedly he threaded the ball between cover fieldsmen or else split a collection sent to patrol the leg-side boundary. Doubtless he did find a fieldsmen a few times during his long occupation but the lapses were far outweighed by his pinpoint contribution.
Hussey has always been comfortable against high pace but until recently he has been less sure against spin. The sight of him stepping down the pitch to counter Graeme Swann in Brisbane was the revelation of the campaign. He suffered a relapse in the first innings of this contest and learned his lesson.
Swann was forced out of the attack by the left-hander's capable response. As it happens England benefited from his eclipse because Paul Collingwood promptly claimed a cheap wicket. That too was typical of a well-drilledtouring team.
Hussey celebrated his hundred and then resumed the fight. Long before the end of the innings, Australia were heavily in his debt. And the same can be said about the selectors, captain and colleagues. Thereafter it was left to the flingers to finish the job.