Australia's Mr Cricket showed England’s batsmen how to play a Test innings as he ensured his team kept their noses in front after another fascinating day at The Gabba.
Mike Hussey, who has that nickname because of his obsession with the game, came into this Test with his international career in the balance and, as all fine players do, he responded to the challenge with class and courage. When bad light and rain halted the match at 4.15pm local time, Australia were 220 for five — 40 runs behind England’s first-innings total — with Hussey unbeaten on 81.
Hussey was millimetres away from being out first ball to Steve Finn but the edge just failed to carry to Graeme Swann at second slip. The margins that decide this Ashes series might be similarly narrow.
This was a day when England’s attack fought tenaciously to keep their team in the game, with Jimmy Anderson producing a magnificent spell either side of lunch. If only some of the batsmen could have worked as diligently when they had their opportunity yesterday.
Once Hussey had found his rhythm, he was determined to make it count. Jonathan Trott, Kevin Pietersen and, to a lesser extent, Alastair Cook all failed to cash in yesterday after they had built the platform from which to do so. If Hussey picks up tomorrow where he left off today, this match might quickly slip beyond England.
Hussey struck 13 fours and one six in his punchy knock. From the moment he pulled Finn in front of square for his first boundary, his reading of length was immaculate, his timing superb and his running between the wickets full of desire.
Andrew Strauss complained to umpire Billy Doctrove when the teams were ordered off the field just before the new ball but it might prove a blessing for the tourists, who were beginning to look downcast in the field.
With Australia resuming only 235 runs adrift and with all 10 first-innings wickets in hand, England sought rapid success but it was a frustrating first hour for them.
The early-morning cloud cover had dissipated when play began at 10am local time and Shane Watson and Simon Katich accumulated steadily. Finn looked nervous in his first spell from the Vulture Street End, feeding Watson’s drive and conceding three boundaries down the ground to the powerful Australian opener.
Anderson was better from the Stanley Street End and thought he had a breakthrough when Doctrove gave Katich out lbw. The left-hander chose to refer the decision to TV umpire Tony Hill and was vindicated when replays showed the ball would have passed over stumps.
Anderson and Watson exchanged sharp words during the review process and, at that point, England were losing their concentration. They decided to review an lbw decision to Watson that was plainly not out, throwing away one of their appeals in the process.
Luckily, Anderson struck with the next ball, removing Watson with one that moved away slightly off the seam, took the edge and was clutched by Strauss at first slip. Anderson was delighted, letting Watson know about it as the opener trudged back.
Ricky Ponting looked edgy in reaching 10 before lunch and his innings would last only two more deliveries. Anderson picked up the Australia captain with possibly the worst ball of his outstanding second spell of 11-6-18-2, as Ponting flicked a ball heading down the leg side through to wicketkeeper Matt Prior.
Katich had reached a typically crabby half-century but he was soon following Ponting back to the pavilion. It was a marvellous moment for Finn, who swooped to claim a fine return catch for his first Ashes wicket. From being 96 for one at lunch, Australia were
suddenly 100 for three. Stuart Broad had also looked threatening during the morning with his pace and bounce. He did not bowl for some time after lunch, though, apparently nursing a heel problem and was seen taken tablets on the boundary.
Broad did return from the Stanley Street End, though, displaying plenty of menace and clanging Michael Clarke on the helmet with a vicious bouncer.
Clarke was deemed healthy enough to manage his back problem through this game but the vice-captain looked in rotten nick. England were convinced they had him caught behind off Finn for a duck and reviewed the decision. HotSpot suggested no contact with the ball had been made, yet Snicko — which is not available to the TV umpire because it takes seven minutes to prepare — suggested the fielder’s instincts were correct, registering a clear sound as the ball passed the bat.
Clarke could not make good his excellent fortune. Usually such a nimble player, Clarke just did not look fit and moved at the crease as though he were batting in a 19th-century deep-sea diving suit. He ground his way to nine in 54 minutes before he tried to pull a ball from Finn that bounced far too much and top-edged through to Prior.
Where Clarke was sluggish, Hussey — who came into the match under severe pressure — looked in excellent touch. After edging his first ball just short of second slip, the left-hander decided to attack Swann. He hit England’s key man for a straight six and three fours, leaving Swann with figures of no wicket for 34 from his first four overs.
Hussey’s team-mates might follow his example as the series progresses but Swann has not become the world’s No2 bowler for no reason. He settled into his spell — his next six overs cost only four runs — and took Australia’s fifth wicket when he drew Marcus North forward and Paul Collingwood pouched the edge at slip. It was the fourth time in Ashes six Tests that North had fallen to Swann and with Australia 143 for five at that stage, England sensed a first-innings lead.
Yet Hussey was in no mood to grant their wish. He found a sturdy ally in wicketkeeper Brad Haddin and looked more and more at ease with his game as his innings progressed. Hussey’s was a knock that deserved to decide a Test and unless England can be more ruthless, it is likely to do so.
Tom Collomosse is the cricket Correspondent for the Evening Standard.Reuse content