Not for the first time in his illustrious and fraught career, Mike Hussey held the Australian innings together. Ultimately it proved to be a fruitless task but the left-hander cannot be blamed for that. Had his colleagues played half as well, the position would not be as dire. Hussey stood firm but, around him, Australia's woes deepened. The run-outs told the tale.
Indeed, this opening exchange may prove as decisive as the fifth day of the previous Ashes Test on this ground in 2006. Then, England collapsed in a nervous pile on the final afternoon, presenting the hosts with a 2-0 lead. But that was a different England, not as disciplined or as fit or as intelligently led. By the look of things, the same cannot be said about their opponents. Over the last 10 years, 500 has been the average score of teams batting first in Adelaide. Australia scored half that.
Hussey has two traits that served his team well. He loves batting and is adroit at rebuilding an innings after a clatter of wickets. Accordingly he was the ideal fellow to walk to the crease after Australia had lost three for nothing much on a blameless track. So far in this series he has scored more runs than the rest of his side's top five put together.
Usually, everything in Adelaide happens in short bursts, with matches coming to the boil after days of bubbling on a hospitable surface. On this occasion the action took place in the space of 10 numbing minutes at the start. Two wickets fell on the last two days at The Gabba. Three wickets fell in the first three overs in Adelaide.
Even England were surprised by these events. Yet it was not a complete fluke. Jonathan Trott's throw hit the stumps because these fellows practise the skill. Shane Watson was under pressure because Andrew Strauss had blocked his best shot by putting a man deep and straight at mid-on. Ricky Ponting's habit of going hard at the ball had been noted. Michael Clarke's discomfort against lifters had not escaped their attention, but Hussey remained intact.
When Hussey first came on to the scene opponents could not spot a flaw in his game. His subsequent bad patch was due more to upheavals in his mind than any flaw in his technique. Now England felt they could trap him leg- before and so pitched the ball up and set a ring field. Meanwhile, they starved the pull shot that had been his meat and drink in Brisbane. It was smart thinking. The only problem with strategies of this sort is that they are telegraphed. Hussey took care not to play across the line. Realising that the speedsters intended to attack his stumps he tucked the ball away warily and took a couple of runs. Denied his favourite shots, he was still able to score efficiently and safely, often with on-drives executed with a late roll of the wrists and placed between the fielders.
Of course he also ran quickly between wickets. No one in the home camp runs as alertly as this seasoned yet youthful campaigner. Nor has age slowed him, or reduced his hunger for the game and for runs. In his case, passion is as powerful a force as professionalism.
The highlight of his innings was the cat-and-mouse contest with Graeme Swann, a worthy opponent. Swann bowled tirelessly and tightly, exactly the combination his captain needed. Hussey was his equal. For hour upon hour battle raged and eventually the tweaker prevailed, the southpaw beaten by another well-conceived delivery.
Not that it was a lone hand. Watson batted commendably to lunch only to lose his wicket cheaply on the resumption. Now that he has become a regular bowler he is carrying a heavy load and before long he might need to drop down. Brad Haddin also fought hard in his new restrained style only to be involved in another Antipodean folly.
Despite Hussey it was England's day. Australia imploded. Strauss's team maintained its intensity in tough conditions and has a priceless chance to right the wrongs of four years ago.Reuse content