It is a game of millimetres. Hussey is hit on the pads in the third over and Aleem Dar raises the finger. Hussey refers the decision and it shows the ball pitched outside leg. The new ball has some bite and caution is Mr. Cricket’s companion in the opening overs. England will rue this moment for the rest of the series.
Anderson bowled a searching seventh over and Hussey was lucky to be given not out. England had used up their referrals and the England press corps around me were more than mildly aggrieved. The first forty minutes saw Australia score 10 runs with all the trepidation one associates with a visit to the dentist.
The first four was straight driven by Haddin on the last ball before the first drinks break. It had been a long wait in the Dentist’s chair but the wisdom teeth of both batsmen were still intact.
Haddin must have had a drink from Asterix’s magic potion because he expanded into his customary straight driving after the first break and in a flash the score was 5 for 257. Fourteen in the first hour and then 23 in eighteen minutes. This was partnership batting with Hussey rotating the strike to Haddin who was looking to attack.
Australia reached parity with England in 20 overs more than the visitors. Haddin was in full flight now and two successive boundaries off Finn took him to 51.The first a rasping square cut and the second an openfaced square drive that was more timing than power. The backlift was minimal. It had taken him 134 balls and he had been the junior partner in a stand of 125. Hussey had been becalmed on 92 but he looked composed and was comfortable with Haddin driving home the advantage.
Swann was introduced after ninety minutes and Hussey danced down to his second ball and off drove the spinner for four to move to 96.He had dominated Swann from the moment he came in yesterday and showed why Australia is such a desert for finger spinners. You have to have the stamina of a camel to survive.
An imperious off drive saw the crouching tiger fist pump and raised two arm exultation as Hussey reached his 12th Test ton and third against England. Arguably, this was his most important as it came in the first innings of the First Ashes Test and when Australia was a shaky 4 for 143. In the context of the series this may well be one of the defining moments.
Hussey had played with the determination of a man that had nothing to prove to himself but a lot to prove to a public hurting from the ignominy of being ranked number five. The refrain from my illustrious England correspondent on my right was: “Not good.” And to add to his woes Hussey spanked another short offering from Swann to the mid wicket cemetery. This was the sixth time he had buried Swann.
Strauss was in damage control and predictably brought on Paul Collingwood. The lead was now 39 and every run from here would have Paradise Lost written on it. A skied loft from Haddin just eluded Cook at long off and the perverse Lady continued to smile upon Australia. Two balls later Haddin shows Collingwood how the lofted drive should be played. Collingwood shrugs his shoulders and thinks he will have to be satisfied with one MBE.
With lunch approaching Haddin and Hussey seem content to smell the roses and saunter the inviting single, seemingly, at will.
Hussey is being severe on anything loose and short. He back cuts Anderson, England’s best bowler, for two fours and the odds from Betfair show Australia as firm favourites to win this first Test. As Australia head to lunch they would be satisfied they have prised some of England’s sticky fingers off the prized urn.
Robbie Deans is fond of playing what is in front of you. Hussey and Haddin showed a refreshing ability to read the tempo of the game. They defended when the bowling was good. They took full toll of the wayward offerings. Swann changed ends and commenced from the Vulture Street End after lunch. Hussey, once again, showed his mastery by advancing down the pitch and patting it away with composure. Swann has a penchant for dismissing lefties but not Michael Hussey.
When H& H had put on 188 they erased the record for the 6th wicket against England held by the redoubtable duo of Steve Waugh and Ian Healy. This partnership had the same “no mercy” resoluteness that defined Waugh’s batting. Haddin continued to drive Anderson straight and in the air. He is a joy to watch when he plays straight.
Hussey is hitting his cover drive as fluently as he ever has and follows up with an on drive for four taking the partnership past 200. England’s fielders stand with their hands on hips and some hunched on their knees. They are bowed and it needs some more blow- torching before they are beaten.
Haddin hoicks Swann for a four and at 94 stands poised for his century. Hussey plays out a maiden from Finn and the expectancy builds. Haddin defends the first two from Swann. The third ball is effortlesslessly straight driven for six. Haddin has brought up his third test ton in style. Swann as the pre match Messiah has been underwhelming.
Finn spoke at the end of day two of bowling in the right areas and how England, as a unit, were pleased with their efforts. Today he was in the no-go zone and Hussey was both emphatic and disdainful in pulling him off the front foot.
Swann has joined the two batters with his own bowling century and Hussey is remorseless as he lofts him to wide of a deepish long-off. Approaching the midpoint of this third day Australia has scored a run a minute and the lead is 126. Another three hours of this water torture and England will be asking Mike Atherton to come out of the commentary box.
Hussey is reprieved on 148 as Anderson does a crazed dance under a skied ball and his sprawling figure tells the tale of England’s desolation. Next over a misfield grants Hussey his 150 and England are looking anything but the team that rode in an open double decker last year. Their chariot is not exactly on fire but it is threatening to go up in smoke.
When you can’t get wickets blame the ball and 52 overs with a fruitless new ball has Strauss calling for a more forgiving fruit. The partnership is 254 and the lead a threatening and neck choking 137. Not exactly terminal but close to it.
The new “old” ball is no relief as Haddin stands and delivers past the bowler and next ball slams it forward of point for four. After these two brutal blows Haddin daintily caresses the next from Collingwood past the non-existent slip. This is Paul Keating saying to the opposition: “I’ll do you slowly, mate.”
The lead passes 150 and England’s fielders are scattered like the Foreign Legion. And no leave pass in the offing!
Records are falling by the wayside as the sixth wicket registers the highest ever Australian partnership at the ‘Gabba. 278 and counting. Australia’s bowlers will be loving this and, conversely, England’s foot soldier’s will be counting their callouses.Looking ahead to Adelaide they could arrive a tired and beaten side. At 2.30 PM on this the third day Strauss will be feeling much like Nasser Hussain did in 2002. At least he has the consolation of knowing he did not insert Australia.
After tea Hussey pulls Finn for four, passes his highest Test score and brings up the 300 run partnership. This is an inexorable tightening of the noose. Not only does 1-0 to Australia loom as a distinct possibility but 2-0 after Adelaide is not out of the question.
Haddin is finally dismissed, caught low by Collingwood at slip off Swann. It was an innings of 138 tempered by caution and sparingly embellished with Haddin’s patented straight lofts hit with consummate timing. The lead was now 190 and the stage set for a Johnson blitzkrieg.
However, it is Hussey who continues to employ the pull shot with the practiced deftness of the bell ringer at Notre Dame. He is assured as he progresses to what seems like an inevitable double hundred. The word “inevitable” is anathema to the cricket gods and Hussey duly holes out to Cook off an innocuous Finn delivery. That was a tired shot but Hussey had ensured Australia took a stranglehold in this match.
Doherty and Johnson would attempt to push the lead past 200 and consign England to more misery. Finn lifts England as he bowls Johnson off his pads and his 4 wickets have been just reward for a young man determined to make his mark. But the celebration was muted as England was in cricket’s quicksand and the more they tried to fight the harder it would get.
Today was a calculated and disciplined approach by Australia. They were conservative in the morning and assertive in the afternoon. Wickets fell late in the afternoon when the work was done and anything beyond a lead of 200 would be the icing on the cake. Finn got his five as Siddle went for an ambitious pull and England would not be looking to the fall of the last wicket and the nervous half hour before stumps. Finn ensures a jittery final 20 minutes for England as he takes his 6th wicket and Doherty makes 16 on debut.
England would be praying for as little damage as possible. They survived with all ten wickets intact but still 202 in the red. The pitch has been suffering from amnesia and Australia will be hoping it regains its memory and pace. There are some cracks appearing and a hot day will widen them. Luck has been with Australia so far. Now it remains for the weather to bake the English and make Keating happy!