Swann recovers flight and chirpiness after Mr Cricket's early onslaught

After Mike Hussey achieved so much on a second straight day of brilliant Ashes cricket, including rescuing his front-line career, it was maybe impertinent to suggest to him he had still failed in one extremely brutal ambition.

But then you had to believe it was also the truth behind a victimisation of England's Graeme Swann that had contained most everything in the way of intimidation except one final, killing blow.

Hussey, the veteran who came late to superstar status and the starry nickname of "Mr Cricket", could hardly have done much more to reject the more recent label of Mr Crisis – or more dramatically than when he lofted the normally buoyant Swann for a straight six after sending two pulverising pull shots to the boundary.

These were some of the high points in an innings of superbly measured belligerence to bring Australia back from the possibility of the kind of batting collapse that afflicted England on the first day.

But then, surely, he also had a preconceived plan to knock down Swann, whose often swaggering belief in his power to spin the ball is seen by many Australians as the leading threat to their attempt to win back the Ashes.

He may not be a reincarnation of their beloved Shane Warne but there is no doubt about the fact that he might just be, with any encouragement at all, the best weapon of the Poms.

"No, it's not true," said Hussey after returning the edge to his team following the mid-order collapse that saw the cheap loss of captain Ricky Ponting. "I attacked Swann because I know what a fine line all bowlers, and especially spinners, have to operate on here at The Gabba. I realised I needed to use my feet and be aggressive.

"But there was no plan to single him out. I felt I needed to be assertive with all the English bowlers, who did so well in the middle part of the day. It just happened that I had a few opportunities. But then I thought he came back and bowled very well."

This, apart from the impressive rise in the confidence, and smoothness, of lead seam bowler Jimmy Anderson and the regained nerve of young giant Steve Finn – they claimed four of England's second-day five wickets – was unquestionably the bonus England took into this morning's attempt to prevent Australia pushing into a commanding lead with their last five wickets.

Swann may not have been the jaunty figure who started the day confident that he could take away at least some of the regained Aussie belief that they haven't become a team so demoralised by the departure of great players, and three straight Test defeats, ready to roll over at the first hint of serious English pressure.

Swann is not a man easily separated from his self-belief. Indeed he has acquired, along with an enviable willingness to boldly flight the ball in almost any circumstances, the image of a man impervious to the heaviest of pressure.

Some recent evidence of this came in the build-up to this first Test when England captain Andrew Strauss was asked what steps he was taking against the kind of apprehension which so undermined the team here four years ago.

Then, England were so nervous it was a source of both disbelief and encouragement to the Australians who had made clear their ambition to avenge the loss of the Ashes at The Oval. The battle-hardened opener Justin Langer heard Swann's predecessor Ashley Giles tell a press conference about the pressure felt by his team-mates on the drive to The Gabba and said, "What is the point of playing Test cricket if you don't love this kind of pressure? Isn't this why we play the game?"

So what was Strauss going to do about the problem? "I'm just going to leave it to Swanny," said the skipper.

That option seemed to be disappearing before Strauss's eyes when Hussey carried forward the assault on Swann which started in the last session on Thursday, when Australian opener Simon Katich welcomed him to the action by putting him away for successive boundaries.

When Hussey advanced down the pitch and flogged him over the ropes, Swann's body language can rarely have been more subdued since he was first acknowledged as certainly England's and possibly the world's most dangerous spinner. He marched back to his fielding position so glumly he might have been summoned to some higher court, one perhaps even more merciless than Hussey's onslaught.

But then something happened to remind you that you don't quite so easily tame the quirky impulses of a man who has reason to believe that he may indeed be the one to make the biggest impact on the series, especially if Australia are obliged to pursue a target of more than 250 on a wearing pitch.

Swann's bowling survived the ravages of "Mr Cricket", a fact confirmed by the excellent delivery which forced Marcus North, such an obdurate figure at times in the last Ashes series, to nudge a catch into the slips.

That brought some of the old hauteur back to Swann – and also a rare burst of unstinted praise from maybe the most acerbic of all critics of English cricket, Geoffrey Boycott. He declared: "Graeme Swann has had so much success in Test cricket and not many starts like the one he has had here. When the Australians, and particularly Hussey, attacked him it was a bit of a crisis for both Swann and England – but I thought he came through it very well indeed.

"The ball that got North wasn't Jim Laker on a turning wicket – but it was a very good delivery. It has also shown that he knows how to fight when the pressure is on."

For England in the early hours of this morning that pressure was considerably less with the knowledge that when the new ball began to lose its shine Graeme Swann regained at least a little of his own.

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