Phil Jaques justifies call-up
Test days will not get a lot more difficult for Phil Jaques and he proved he could thrive. In the years spent waiting for Justin Langer's spot to become available he must have wondered about coping with the extra strain. He can stop worrying.
Jaques is taller and bulkier than Langer, but he did a fine impersonation of his predecessor as he fought through an exhausting opening morning and expanded over the rest of the day. The century was immensely satisfying and he lifted both arms as he ran up and down the pitch while waiting for his back-foot drive to reach the boundary and bring up three figures.
Since Langer announced his retirement at the start of the year, Jaques has been hoping to replace him, but he had to survive almost a year of analysis and a competition for the spot that gained applicants from across the country. He was the right decision.
Only a fierce fast bowler could have made things harder for Jaques after Australia were sent in on a moist surface under gloomy skies. In damp conditions similar to his first Test at the MCG, where he popped Shaun Pollock to short leg, Jaques was not bothered by the weather delays that forced him to start his innings three times. Taking the strike ahead of Matthew Hayden, he absorbed the first over without problems before the rain came and on returning took another 28 balls to gain his first single.
He might have felt the frustration, but it didn't show. He left balls and defended them like he was set. There was tension in the stands but was not visible on the pitch. It was an amazing performance in only his third Test, and this was before he started to score.
An over later he glanced for four and connected with a full swing at a drive. More confidence was pumped into his body with each positive stroke and after lunch he was free to unveil his attacking repertoire. Sri Lanka's bowlers were unable to maintain the early pressure.
A Jaques pull shot in front of square earned a boundary off Dilhara Fernando and a couple of back-foot drives went for four off Chaminda Vaas. Ricky Ponting arrived with two pats on the back as he went past and they were soon able to celebrate. Jaques' second Test half-century came with another powerful pulled boundary that underlined the milestone. It had taken 125 balls, a long time by modern standards, but was entirely appropriate.
As the bowler arrives Jaques stands like he's preparing to sit down. The knees bend and bounce while his bat hangs towards gully and the ball magnetises his eyes. The eyes let him down a couple of times against Muralitharan, who watched catches dropped in his growing slip cordon when Jaques was 60 and 90, but were focussed when he wanted to sweep.
Muralitharan waited for another error and it came seven balls after the surge of emotion for the batsman's century. Jaques' concentration, which had been so strong throughout, briefly left him as he charged at Muralitharan and was stumped. It was the only time in 203 deliveries that he didn't look like a Test batsman.
Peter English is the Australasian editor of Cricinfo