Hussey plays the percentages, and the field
Michael Hussey is probably the world's most organised cricketer and in an Australia team so unsettled that they haven't picked the same XI in consecutive Tests for 11 matches, his reliability is invaluable. Hussey has become so good at stabilising potentially worrying situations that he could get a job straightening the Leaning Tower of Pisa.
Australia's circumstances here were far from dire, although when he came to the crease at 2 for 49 on a pitch where scores of 500-plus are commonplace, solidity was required. Ricky Ponting currently features in a television ad where he calls his helmet "the rock of Gibraltar" but in most situations the term would be more appropriate for Hussey. His calmness and dependability allowed Ponting to lead Australia in strengthening their position with a terrifically fluent half-century.
When their hundred partnership came up, Hussey's contribution had been 27. Ponting was drawing applause for his frequent boundaries while Hussey was disciplined but no less important. It is a role that has become Hussey's niche in the past year. When he burst onto the Test scene with a Bradmanesque first couple of seasons he was coming in after Matthew Hayden and Justin Langer, arguably the most in-form opening pair in the world, and Ponting at the height of his powers.
Langer has gone, Hayden is struggling and Ponting is still a menace to opponents but with bigger gaps between peaks. The batting line-up remains relatively strong - 3 for 241 is an excellent position at stumps on day two in Adelaide replying to 270 - but it is less intimidating than it was. As a result, Hussey's role has been tweaked: he is the No. 4, the anchor and usually the trickiest man to get out. A self-described traditionalist, Hussey is a throwback to Test batsmen of old and he stubbornly protected his wicket on a benign Adelaide surface where the likes of Bradman and Clem Hill played much of their cricket.
"It's still not easy you know," Hussey said after finishing the day unbeaten on 69 from 178 balls. "Test cricket's hard. You have to do a lot of hard work to reap the rewards at the end of the day. I think we've just got to get back into that mode of being patient, working hard over long periods."
If Australia lose Hayden over the next year an in-form and confident Hussey will become even more important. In Hussey's short Test career he has constructed more purple patches than Barney the Dinosaur's tailor, so it's tempting to view his 2008 average of 46.78 as below par. But that is an unfair assessement and although Hussey felt scratchy earlier this year, he is sure that his best form is not far away.
"I felt pretty good in India to be honest," Hussey said. "But I've felt like since being back in Australia I've had to work very hard for my runs again. I have been working on a couple of technical things since the start of the season, since we were up in Darwin and I've continued to work on those. It feels pretty good."
Hussey has so many plans and set thought processes in his head it's a wonder it doesn't explode. He is an obsessive list-maker and is constantly thinking through the way he should construct an innings. When he batted with the brilliant Ponting, he knew his task was simply to turn over the strike and watch the boundaries tick over at the other end. But when Ponting pulled to midwicket, Hussey's role changed. At the time he had 28 from 105 deliveries; his tally from that moment onwards was 41 from 73.
"I felt more comfortable after tea because I had been in for a while and I was sort of used to the conditions a lot more," he said. "I felt I was trying to get some scoring options against [Daniel] Vettori. But you do feel probably a little bit of added pressure when the man that's set gets out, you feel like right now it's my responsibility to go on and bat throughout the day and try and build a big score."
Hussey would be a good poker player. He is an excellent judge of situations and doesn't gamble with what he can't afford to lose. He is a frustrating man to deal to because whatever he is handed he can make work to his advantage and most importantly, he plays the percentages to a fault.
He is no cross-bat slogger but at the Adelaide Oval, where the square boundaries are so short that fans on opposite sides can wave hello to each other, Hussey slowly started to use the venue's dimensions for his own purpose. His eight boundaries all went more or less square of the wicket and he was able to sweep against Vettori, whose 28 miserly overs cost 54, and clubbed him over midwicket to reach his half-century.
The fans cheered, although they had more reason to roar for Ponting earlier in the day. Ponting's 79 from 124 balls featured 13 fours and it is the innings that the spectators on this Saturday at Adelaide Oval will remember. But for a team that will in the next year face one of the world's best pace attacks in home-and-away Tests against South Africa and then proceed to England, where they lost the Ashes in 2005, Hussey's consistent contributions might get the attention they deserve.
Brydon Coverdale is a staff writer at Cricinfo