Whatever else England do to Australia on the second day of the second Test it will not be easy to surpass the impact of Graeme Swann's victory over Michael Hussey. It was one of those moments that can shape not just a Test match but a cricketer's career and maybe even his life.
Swann needs to believe he is the world's best spinner. If he can do this, no adventure and nerve is beyond him. Hussey, however much he protests, is the man who has appointed himself to dissuade him. Perhaps anointing Swann with an outright defeat of Mr Cricket remains a little premature.
When Hussey nicked the ball into the hands of Paul Collingwood he was, after all, just a few runs short of his 13th Test century – and had once again supplied an injection of iron which is looking increasingly scarce in the Australian attempt to win back the Ashes. But then Swann versus Hussey is becoming a story within a story.
It is about Hussey's impressive return to potentially huge significance in this series he almost missed because of a heavy decline in his touch and his authority, and Swann's attempt to retain the aura of a man who might impose the kind of decisive action which the great Shane Warne produced on this ground four years ago when England slid to a shocking and avoidable defeat.
Hussey treated Swann brutally at times in the first Test in Brisbane last week and then denied that the boisterously self-confident spinner had been systematically targeted in an attempt to kill off his influence at the first opportunity. In other words, Hussey sought to cut Swann down to several smaller sizes.
Swann survived the mauling at The Gabba and took the vital wicket of Hussey's partner, Brad Haddin, in an impressive stand that gave Australia a hold on the balance of power until England performed some prodigious batting of their own. Yesterday, though, we had been pulled back to that first plot line when Hussey built brilliantly on the debris left by the dismissal of Simon Katich, Ricky Ponting and Michael Clarke for a combined total of just two runs.
A third straight century in three matches – he scored one in a state game which saved his Test place – would surely have provoked another assault on Swann. That it didn't happen was the latest evidence that you can punish Swann quite severely, suggest that he is only dreaming when he thinks he can announce himself as the new Warne of Ashes cricket, but not without the fear that he can strike back at any moment.
Hussey was ambushed by a beautifully flighted delivery and then Swann set up an unfulfilled hat-trick when he trapped Ryan Harris with his next ball. Two for 70 didn't light up the clear blue sky but it did say that putting down Swann may well prove more than one man's work, even if it is the resurrected Hussey who is doing it.
Meanwhile, Jimmy Anderson was making a huge point of his own. It was that if Swann remains viable as the No 1 win-seeking weapon on a wearing wicket, there is no question about who has elected himself the leader of an England bowling pack which, at least until the small hours of this morning, has been relentlessly outclassing their Australian rivals.
While Australia threw in new men Harris and Doug Bollinger after the insipid performances of Mitchell Johnson and Ben Hilfenhaus in the first Test, England were content that Anderson, Stuart Broad and the raw but dangerous Steve Finn continued to refine some extremely menacing acts.
This time everyone got a wicket as Australia were pinned back to an extremely unimposing 245 after winning the toss. Anderson got four and the usual high marks for style and seriously aggressive instinct. We are told the Lancastrian came to Australia in some trepidation after his haunting experiences four years ago. Then, Anderson found Australian conditions not so much a trial as a purgatory. Now they are something to engage with poise and invention and yesterday he employed both qualities to bring the embattled Ponting to what appeared to be something close to despair.
Ponting, we should know by now, is not easily discouraged, short of being, say, stapled to a tree. Anderson plainly came close to creating such an effect yesterday morning. Not only did he dispose of the captain first ball, he promptly removed his vice-captain Clarke.
This was enough to have any gladiatorial figure biting his lip and picking his nails. On the eve of the match, Ponting had taken Clarke aside and given him a crash course in batting fundamentals, so alarmed had he been by the uncertainties displayed in the nets. Now one beautiful delivery from Anderson had put Clarke back into the darkest place of a previously brilliant career.
For Ponting one key is to be found in the ability of Harris and Bollinger to exploit the absence of their under-performing rival Johnson. Going into this morning's action, though, Ponting must have felt that every door he seeks to open has been double locked.
Swann retained his threat, Broad, after some impressive but unrewarded stints at The Gabba, had claimed his first wicket, Finn bristles with promise and Anderson, so comfortably dismissed during the whitewash Australian revenge in 2006-07, was increasingly announcing himself potentially the man of the series.
When Ponting puts these realities together he is confronted with the nightmare of losing three Ashes series, which would be something of a tragedy for an Australian batsman ranked second only to Don Bradman. "Nothing is better than getting a group of new players to the point where they know they can compete in any situation," Ponting was saying a few days ago.
It is a brave and admirable ambition for a great cricketer but besieged captain, who must suspect that the end cannot be far away. Yesterday, Anderson and Swann made it look perilously near. Anderson delivered him a golden duck, Swann the cocky assertion that he may be moving beyond anyone's intimidation.Reuse content