Australia v South Africa, 2nd Test, Melbourne, 2nd day December 27, 2005

Australia's new barnstormer

The MCG has seen few innings as special as Hussey's in 128 years of Test cricket © Getty Images

Michael Hussey has assumed Adam Gilchrist's role as the barnstorming striker and quickly become Australia's key middle-order batsman. With Gilchrist in worrying hibernation and the side holding a soft and unqualified centre, Hussey has borrowed his state team-mate's style with barely believable runs towards three figures accompanied only by willing tail-enders.

At the top of the order Hussey, 30, is a mild-mannered deflector who prefers blunting to biffing. Since changing clothes and accepting the job as a middle-aged middle man, he has grown into a stylish late-innings thrasher. It seemed strange when he was not pushed back to open once Justin Langer twanged his hamstring, but the selectors were wise to keep him at No. 5.

Hussey started the day on 23 and had added only four when Stuart MacGill departed, leaving Australia flagging at 9 for 248. Any more runs with Glenn McGrath would be a bonus, and 300 looked fanciful until Jacques Kallis spilled a regulation chance from Hussey before the duo's first run.

"When Glenn came to the crease, I didn't think I'd score a hundred," he said. "But we had a great partnership and it gave us a good total." Mixing shepherding with clubbing, Hussey launched the half-century partnership with two driven sixes off Andre Nel - McGrath had 2 and would add another nine in the century stand - and then readjusted as he plotted his third Test hundred.

Graeme Smith placed the field back to Hussey, and watched the batsman prod timely singles and 14 well-placed boundaries while McGrath blocked and supported by sacrificing his own easy runs. It was a similar experience to Hussey's second Test century at Adelaide last month, when he exploded to 133 alongside Stuart MacGill. Aiming for a fifth six, Hussey finally fell slogging at Makhaya Ntini for 122. He looks frail and has appeared in only five Tests, but stays as calm as a man with a plaque for 100.

The pair's 107-run combination was the highest 10th-wicket partnership for Australia against South Africa, and it lifted the side from an awkward position. An essential bystander in previous partnerships, including a 63-run stand at Edgbaston in 2001 when he scored an unbeaten single while Gilchrist smashed 152, McGrath's batting has improved steadily and he doesn't deserve the ironic cheers whenever he scrambles a run. He is comfortable pulling and glancing, owns a solid defence and without him, Hussey would have been stranded. For that, he deserved his bat raise for an unbeaten 11.

McGrath was also frugal with the ball and claimed the valuable wicket of AB de Villiers, who hit some strong pull shots in his 61 alongside Herschelle Gibbs' half-century. The pitch was playing slowly and McGrath gave away 17 runs in 14 overs as South Africa had neither the need nor the personnel for an innings like Hussey's.

A week ago, his average slipped below three figures with scores of 23 and 58 in Perth - he dragged it back up to 94 today - but it has not devalued a devastating introduction. Hussey's international initiation came through the lower reaches of Australia's one-day side and his composed late hitting has been swiftly transported to the Test arena. Running fast and striking hard, he has succeeded Michael Bevan in the limited-overs uniform and, during a breathtaking summer in whites, has picked up Gilchrist's cape.

Peter English is the Australasian editor of Cricinfo