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Hussey's new approach pays off

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Tom Fordyce | 10:12 UK time, Friday, 26 November 2010

Brisbane, Queensland

Two days gone, and clear themes are starting to emerge in this Ashes series. As in 2005 and 2009, this is shaping up as a battle that will decided by small margins and one or two outstanding individual performances.

At the Gabba on Friday that margin was two inches, the distance that Mike Hussey's first-ball edge fell short of Graeme Swann's grasping fingertips at second slip. The outstanding performance followed on shortly afterwards.

Hussey, on a dreadful trot and seemingly on the brink of losing his hard-fought place in the national side, will resume in the morning 81 not out. On an afternoon when England's bowlers hit back hard after the disappointments of the first day he held Australia's frail middle order together.

If he's still in after lunch on day three, he may be guiding the home side towards a priceless series lead.

A week ago Hussey couldn't remember what a run looked like. Having managed only two tons in his last 51 Test innings and averaging just 26 in his previous six Tests, he was dismissed for an 18-ball duck in a state game against Victoria. Thirty five years old and greying at the temples, he seemed an unlikely candidate for rejuvenation.

Australia batsman Mike Hussey

Mike Hussey switched to an aggressive approach - and it paid off (Photo PA)

But there was life left in the old dog. In the second innings of that state game he struck an unexpected century, full of attacking shots.

In the nets here in Brisbane he hit, by the reckoning of former Australian opening batsman Michael Slater, "two and a half million balls". Out in the middle, his country in trouble, that application paid crucial dividends.

The usual Hussey big innings is a mix of nudges and tucks, a gradual accumulation that sneaks up on you while your eyes are on the fireworks and flashy stuff elsewhere and leaves you wondering where all the runs came from.

Not this one. From the moment of that early escape he played with uncharacteristic aggression, stepping back to pull through midwicket time and time again, footloose and fancy-free even as the wickets tumbled at the other end.

Thirty eight of his first 40 runs came in boundaries, nine of his 13 fours clouted through the leg side with the loose-limbed liberation of a man secure in his place and certain of his ability.

"The difference between being in form and out of form is your mentality - your technique doesn't change," says former England skipper Michael Vaughan, working here as an expert summariser for Test Match Special.

"When you're struggling, you need the mental toughness to concentrate on the delivery you're facing and nothing else.

"Going on attack is always the way to get out of a bad run of form. You can get pushed into a corner, and the only way out is to play positively. Look at Andrew Strauss in Napier, or Paul Collingwood a few years ago. Ask any player - you'd always rather go down fighting than defending tamely.

"Hussey's game-plan was excellent. He opted to defend off the front foot and score off the back foot, and his shot selection was excellent. He latched onto anything short of a length, played the pull shot and cut exceptionally well, and deserves enormous credit.

"One big partnership could change this game. There hasn't been a hundred partnership in the match yet, but if Hussey and Brad Haddin make one, or Hussey goes on to make a big ton, it could win Australia the match."

Hussey's derring-do pulled his team-mates out of a slide that threatened to waste the advantage won by Peter Siddle's hat-trick heroics on Thursday.

In the last Ashes series over here all the flaws seemed to lie with the tourists. This time, as in 2009 in England, the fascination is coming from watching two closely-matched teams attempting to land killer blows while disguising their own glass jaws.

It produces an utterly absorbing cut-and-thrust during each the day's play and a fluctuating balance of power that could shift several times over the next six weeks.

With Australia 78-0 after 26 overs, the shine gone off the ball and the early grey clouds overhead burnt away by the harsh Queensland sun, the forecast looked ominous for England.

Simon Katich was crabbing his way towards a half-century, as effective as he was low on aesthetics, with Shane Watson playing with his usual muscular simplicity. James Anderson had bowled 10 overs without taking a wicket, Broad's aggression had been wasted on a little too much show-pony short-pitched stuff and Finn was struggling to stay on his line.

Even when Watson went, poking a little nibbler to Strauss at slip, the sight of Ricky Ponting bustling to the wicket to huge cheers from the bellicose local patrons served only to dampen English spirits.

The Australian captain has scored centuries in the first Tests in three of the last four Ashes series, and has an average of 66 at this ground. Against England that climbs to 100.

Of all 22 men involved in this match, Ponting is the sole all-time great, a player classy enough to feature in any Australian Ashes XI of any era. At the same time, even the legends lose their lustre at some stage.

The once-indomitable Ponting is now 23 days short of his 36th birthday. His Test average over the last 12 months has dropped to 41, respectable enough for most number threes but well down on his career figure of 54.

The talk has been all of how he's increasingly vulnerable on the pull, always one of the most destructive weapons in his armoury, or to the old favourite of full and fast early on. That he was strangled out, flicking an innocuous leg-side loosener from Anderson straight into Prior's embrace behind the timbers, was both an unexpected bonus and the catalyst for England's best spell of the series so far.

When Katich was brilliantly caught and bowled by Finn shortly afterwards, Australia had lost three wickets for 22 runs and while Hussey helped them avoid adding another entry to the list of recent inauspicious collapses (126-3 to 223 all out in Bangalore; 87-0 to 192 in Mohali; 171-2 to 253 at Lord's against Pakistan) their worry-lines were still visible elsewhere.

Michael Clarke looked a shadow of his best, taking 15 balls to get off the mark. When he fell in Finn's excellent second spell, his nine scratchy runs had required 50 deliveries.
Marcus North, Mr Vegas Or Bust, went even quicker. He's now been out for single figures in half his 20 Test matches.

Pick of England's bowlers in that clatter of afternoon wickets was Anderson -match figures of 1-195 here four years ago - probing relentlessly on off stump and just outside, squeezing hope from unhelpful conditions. Finn wasn't far behind, recovering from that poor start to punch a hole through the Aussie line-up. For a 21-year-old in his first Ashes Test, it was a heartening display.

Swann had it harder. Australia went after him from the off, well aware how pivotal his frugality is to the balance of England's attack. His first four overs cost 34 runs. Undaunted, he fought back to take North's wicket for the fourth time in six Tests and found turn where none could be expected. His next six overs went for just four.

"Australia will aim to play more positively against Swann," believes Vaughan. "It was a shame he dropped it a little short - he probably wasn't at his best. But the longer he bowled the more he got used to the pace of the wicket, gave the ball more air and got more drift.

"I do think he could be a real threat to Australia in the second innings, batting second on this pitch. To spin it as much as he did on the second day at the Gabba is unheard of.
"But England have to give him some runs to bowl at. Give him 200 to play with an England have an excellent chance."

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    "Swann had it harder. Australia went after him from the off, well aware how pivotal his frugality is to the balance of England's attack."

    I disagree. Lots of people keep saying that Swann is our attacking threat as well as the man who has to keep a lid on it as well. That's asking an awful lot of a guy who, as demonstrated today, needs to get used to Australian wickets.

    The man who is pivotal to England being frugal is Anderson, and he did that splendidly today. We saw in the summer how he changed his tactics when the ball wasn't swinging and concentrated on a good line and length. Of the seamers, he is the one best suited to that role. Five overs or so with the new ball, see if it moves, and then taking on a more measured approach, not quite the Hoggard 'shop floor' role that Duncan Fletcher created, but one that offered England control. Anderson is becoming a far more all-round bowler. Everyone knows what he can do given swinging conditions but the Anderson we saw today showed he's come a long way in the last year.

    Returning to Swann, there will be those who write him off already. They should think back to Cardiff in 2009. He didn't bowl well at all and looked thoroughly out of sorts. Nerves? I'd say so and I suspect there were some here too. He's already exceeded his Cardiff performance by picking up a wicket.

  • Comment number 2.

    Good blog, as always, Tom. Not sure I agree fully about your praise of Hussey though - he undoubtedly batted well but England made it easy for him by feeding him a load of legside half trackers that he could put away. You have to get him driving and on the front foot if you want to get him out, he's always been vulnerable in that area. Hopefully the earlier start tomorrow will help England's bowlers to get a bit more movement.

    Michael Vaughan made an excellent point on TMS about 'back to basics' cricket. On this pitch all you need to do is find the right length and stick to it, with an orthodox field. As soon as Strauss stopped messing round with silly fields the wickets started to fall.

  • Comment number 3.

    SirWilliam99:

    Good point about the fields and the 'back to basics' approach. I'd say that the nerves over this First Test have caused a few people to approach things differently. Swann's nerves I've written about above but Strauss has shown a few with his unusual dismissal first up and his early field placings. Rather than doing the basics, he's opted for a few more exotic actions, which is unusual given his generally fairly conservative nature. Both sides undoubtedly feel the tension and it's making for some very interesting cricket.

  • Comment number 4.

    not so many aussies today!

  • Comment number 5.


    Aussie here...

    Definitely disappointed that Ricky went for a cheap, unlucky shot.

    But our batting depth is good enough to recover. Certainly is not the GABBA we know. Huss, Haddin, Johnno to send us to a good 1st innings lead.

    Everything about this series spells close call...with Oz winning

  • Comment number 6.

    A very brave innings from Hussey, who seems to have found the right door (for him) to exit the last chance saloon.

    Another good day's play and it's shaping up to be a memorable tussle tomorrow.

    Here are our observations on the day - Mr Cricket Thwarts England - Brisbane, Day Two http://bit.ly/h47p6Z

  • Comment number 7.

    not many aussies today?! At post 4 there arent too many pommys either, especially given that this is a UK publications website!

  • Comment number 8.

    I think this is going to be a great, closely contested series, I still think England will edge it 2-1.
    Great to see Finn performing and I am sure Swann will come good, for me these 2 are key. Very heartening to see Jimmy bowling well on a surface that does not really suite his bowling.
    I think if England can keep the Aussies to a lead of 80-90 or less then they have a very good chance in this game if they can bat just a little better in the 2nd innings.

  • Comment number 9.

    Thought we fought back well and with a good start and a couple with the new ball we're right in this one. Be nice to keep them below 300 and then it's anyone's game....3 English bowlers playing in their first Test in Aus so I thought the attack held their nerve when the early wickets didn't fall.

  • Comment number 10.

    I am an Aussie living in the US for a long time now - a process that has made me less partisan - so English supporters, don't fret. I think it is already clear that England are going to win this series. For me the biggest difference between the sides now is the fact that the key Australian middle order can no longer dominate. Worse, they have become ultra-negative. If the selectors had the balls to drop Ponting (who frankly has been a cheap wicket for any opposition for at least 3 years now), Clarke (who just can't score in any form of the game now), and North (who is a marginal Shield-level player at best). Whoever could believe that on a pretty decent track an Australian batting line-up would fail to score 200 runs in a day. That was the worst batting performance by an Australian team I can remember in nearly 30 years. By contrast, even though England were rolled over on the first day, at least they were positive. I'd much rather see Trott or Peterson or whomever get out playing shots than watch Michel-no-idea-Clarke bat. Ever. Only Hussey showed the requisite intent yesterday. Maybe the only way to get Punter and Clarke to do the same is for the selectors to say: "You have the 2nd innings. Major score in the right style or you are done"
    So, I think this series will be won by England 3-0. I can't see this lineup, no matter how well they bowl, scoring the runs to win a test match. If they get rid of the dead wood (which they won't), however, it could be a different story!

  • Comment number 11.

    Excellent batting by Hussey.
    Now England will be using new ball tomorrow morning and if England bowl very good tomorrow, they can get quick wickets. But if not, Australia will get a significant lead over England

    I still expect Australia to win the Ashes 3-2

  • Comment number 12.

    Disagree that Hussey has put australia in charge...the match is evenly balanced...sure in the morning seesion if Hussey and hadin are not removed then yes Australia in charge...however, new ball, some cloud about bit of moisture about and ball swing ing and England take 2/3 quick wickets, then all different...to me the morning session is crucial to THIS test, not the series as things seem to happen between these two sides now like never before..I for one will try and stay up and watch morning session and see how we go from there

  • Comment number 13.

    G'day Limeys!!! One person cannot be a threat, the team has to be a threat. Cricket is all about reading the situation, taking, making things happen. It'll be an interesting Ashes series. The field is there to experiment.
    HHHHooooooooWWWWzzzAAAAAAAAtttttttttt.......0

  • Comment number 14.

    And so the remorseless Aussies streamroller on - Hussey imperious and Haddin, ton up in style, beligerent and supportive. This Test is already lost and what makes me sick, given the amount of hyperbole that has been thrown around about this English team, is that the shoulders are down, the fast bowlers have been seen off and Swan has failed in this Test simply because the Aussies have done their homework and have attacked him and he is rudderless now. The psychological blow will probably be near fatal for England - 170-200 run lead and England lose by an innings. I'll bet on it. The penalty of believing bullshit, especially in the case of some of the players, believing their own. Come On Aussie Come On - and I'm English! But sick of these performances by England. Permanent flattery but to decive, save for the odd Test or two after which they're called world beaters and worse, believe it!!

  • Comment number 15.

    Closertofine:

    2005 - Australia win the First Test convincingly.

    2009 - Australia come within one wicket of winning the First Test. Swann fails to take a wicket in the entire match and bowls absolute dross. 0 for 131 from 38 overs, outbowled by Panesar by Hauritz. England totally outplayed in the batting department.

    Care to remember who won those series?

    'course, if you'd prefer to come to some hasty gibberish conclusion halfway through a Test match about England, go for it.

  • Comment number 16.

    Mr AndyPlowright to be sure - nothing hasty, no gibberish - called as I see it and that is the correct measure - not picking out random, inconsequential comparisons from earlier Series. Hisory, as Napoleon said, is "Stories told by old men" and what happened in 2005 and 2009 is irrelevant. What matters is that an overhyped, arrogant English Cricket Team is receiving a lesson in the hard tak of playing the Aussies in Australia - look at the score, look at the demeanour of the English players - they are lost, bewildered and will lose this Test and are most unlikely to pulTl the Aussies back anywhere else. Yhey are NOT good enough. Q E D

  • Comment number 17.


    Wibur # 10

    Today's play proved that our middle order CAN still dominate, they've just been a bit rusty. Nothing like time in the middle to get your mojo back.

    "Michael 'no idea' Clarke" has been our most consistent performer over the last 2 years and was the pick in England last time. And ask England if they consider Ponting as a "cheap wicket". He's the key wicket in every game and has been holding down No.3 for 10 years. You don't have an average in the mid-50s by being "cheap". Respect where it's due.

    You've been in the States too long mate.

 

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