Hussey delivers batting masterclass
Almost without exception, every man to enter the Australian team has described the sight of Ricky Ponting at training as close to their greatest education about what was required of an international cricketer. His intensity was unwavering, his spark ever-present, his attention to detail minute.
Seldom would a session conclude without one brilliant moment of Ponting fielding, like a staggering slip catch or a precision throw to knock back one stump. Similarly, never would Ponting finish in the nets without a sense of progress around his batting, even if in latter days that was not reflected in the middle.
On days one and two in Hobart, in the first match since Ponting exited the training and playing grounds for life beyond the dressing room, Michael Hussey gave a similarly comprehensive education in the ways of mature batsmanship. At 37, having watched Ponting's decline into retirement, Hussey appears remarkably undimmed by advancing years, and remains the foremost Australian batting technician of his time.
Every piece of Hussey's game, which has so confounded Sri Lanka across six Tests dating back to 2007, was fitted into the considered and accomplished whole after careful consideration and often painful experience. Starting life as an opening batsman, he gilded his technique and mental approach with additional knowledge when dropping down the order during county matches in England. When Hussey belatedly debuted for Australia in late 2005, he was 30 years old, and had learned even to temper his customary intensity, the better to profit on the journey.
"When I got to 30 and I was in the Western Australia team I had almost given up hope of playing for Australia," Hussey said. "I was always someone who put a lot of pressure on myself and tried very hard. Almost when I took the pressure off myself and said 'I'm not going to worry about playing for Australia, just relax', that's when I started performing more consistently and got my opportunity.
"Once I got into the team, that was the challenge for me, to keep that mindset, try to stay relaxed, just keep enjoying my game, keep playing my way, and hopefully the same consistency would come. It's a challenge because it's something you want so badly and you want to do so well, it's hard to stay relaxed, but I think that's where I've been able to play my best cricket, when I'm calm."
That delayed entry to international company filled Hussey with desire and resourcefulness to expand on his undoubted natural talent, and knowledge of his strengths and weaknesses that allowed him to grow remarkably quickly into something approaching the complete player. This is perhaps best illustrated by his still critical role for Australia in all three formats of the game - as valuable in the helter skelter of Twenty20 as he is in the extended cut and thrust of a Test.
The latter was very much on display at Bellerive Oval, as Sri Lanka's bowlers did their best to corral Australia on a pitch that was presentable on the first day but has grown subtly more difficult with each hour, and will continue to deteriorate. In recent times Hussey has shown his ability to guide Australia out of one top order crisis after another in the company of the captain Michael Clarke, and this time his commission was eased slightly by a tally of 4 for 198 when he walked to the middle.
"It was sort of a pitch where you never really felt in on," Hussey said. "There was definitely quite a bit of variable bounce, and if you get enough balls in the right area there's a little bit of seam movement as well. It didn't really swing as much as what I was expecting, but there's certainly enough variable bounce there, and a couple that took off from nowhere, and that made it hard to feel really in. It's difficult to score freely."
One of Hussey's greatest attributes as a batsman is to score unobtrusively at times, but always regularly enough to keep himself from becoming inert. This was very evident here, as his innings contained no fewer than 49 singles. On a second morning of careful batting following Clarke's early departure to a lively Shaminda Eranga, Hussey sustained himself at one point with 14 runs in succession collected the hard way. This had the dual benefits of keeping Hussey's tally ticking but also rotating the strike, posing different challenges for Sri Lanka's attack, which remained diligent throughout the period up to lunch. Apart from everything else, Hussey is an outstanding runner between the wickets.
After rain lengthened the interval significantly, Australia's priorities were changed. The time sucked out of the match, and the prospect of more delays over the next three days, lifted the emphasis on runs collected quickly, and the attack to be taken to the bowlers. Hussey and Matthew Wade lifted their rating, and after notching only two boundaries in going to his 50, he cuffed six balls to the fence and heaved another over it on his way to 115 not out.
The only moment in the entire innings when Hussey lost noticeable poise was on 96, when he pulled at Shaminda Eranga's short ball and offered a chance to Angelo Mathews on the boundary. It was the sort of chance that might have been taken this summer if offered by Ponting, but like Clarke, Hussey's luck appears to be in. Some good fortune for Hussey was altogether fitting anyway, given the quality of the innings, and the quality of the player. Right now there is no better man in the world for an aspiring young batsman to watch.
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here