Clarke and Hussey put Australia on track
Sri Lanka 2 for 31 (Atapattu 19*, M Jayawardene 5*, Lee 2-4) trail Australia 4 for 551 dec (Clarke 145*, Hussey 133, Jaques 100, Ponting 56, Symonds 53*) by 520 runs
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Twin centuries to Michael Clarke and Michael Hussey gave Australia's scorecard a familiar look for their first Test innings of the home summer, which Ricky Ponting finally closed at 4 for 551. In reply Sri Lanka suffered from a Brett Lee double-strike and gratefully accepted an offer of bad light, finishing the second day at 2 for 31 with Marvan Atapattu on 19 and Mahela Jayawardene on 5.
Clarke remained unbeaten on 145 when the declaration occurred and Hussey made 133 before he became the only Australian to fall on day two, ending their 245-run partnership shortly before tea. Their efforts meant further embarrassment for Jayawardene, who probably spent the better part of six sessions regretting his decision to bowl first on a Gabba pitch with a few green patches.
He had hoped Australia would not repeat their strong recent Brisbane form; it was the third time in four years Ponting's men had posted 500-plus at the Gabba in the first Test of the summer. Sri Lanka's seamers had almost no impact and too much was expected of Muttiah Muralitharan, who toiled hard for 27 overs on the second day with no reward, finishing with 2 for 170 from 50 overs.
Muralitharan was considerably less threatening than on the first day, as Sri Lanka employed more defensive fields and loosened the pressure on Hussey and Clarke. That helped Australia continue their simple adjustment from one-day to Test cricket, with the pair looking comfortable in full-concentration mode following 31 ODIs and no Tests for the past ten months. Just for good measure, Clarke and Andrew Symonds switched back into a limited-overs mentality as they added a quick 75 from 12 overs after tea while the declaration approached.
Symonds was responsible for most of that late boost as he raised a brisk 53 not out from 61 balls. He enjoyed the freedom of building on a solid platform with no questions over his place in the side, and celebrated his first Test at home in Brisbane with a series of vicious cuts to the boundary off the fast bowlers.
Clarke continued to play a sensible and relatively risk-free innings and made it hard to believe he was not in Australia's preferred side when the Ashes started this time last year. A few weeks ago when he was mentioned as a potential long-term successor to Ponting as the team's captain, Clarke said he was simply focussing on holding his Test position.
His level-headed application backed up those words. Clarke took 187 deliveries to register his fifth century and he watched the ball tirelessly, using his feet effectively to Muralitharan as he often came forward to play handsome drives or rocked back to cut hard. There were moments when he slipped back into a coloured-clothing mindset - he flat-batted a pull straight over the bowler Farveez Maharoof's head for four after a quiet patch - but generally his concentration was strong.
When he hit in the air he was well prepared, like when he advanced to consecutive Muralitharan deliveries just before lunch, launching a six over mid off and striking over the bowler's head for four. But Clarke was also impressive against the fast men and perhaps his best stroke was a cover drive off Chaminda Vaas that found the tiny gap between cover and short extra cover and raced away for four.
At the other end Hussey worked hard to make the partnership last almost through the first two sessions after Muralitharan had troubled him early in his innings. He gradually became more confident against the spin, picking Muralitharan more easily, while continuing to rotate the strike against the fast bowlers.
Hussey was strong when driving through the off side and used what was essentially a more patient version of his one-day strategy, pushing ones and twos, running hard with Clarke and waiting for loose balls to safely put away. His sixth Test hundred came from 197 deliveries with a pair of leg-glanced fours when Vaas strayed too straight.
Dilhara Fernando finally removed Hussey when he drove on the up to short cover where Atapattu clutched a reflexive catch above his head but his celebrations were understandably muted - he had dropped Hussey at midwicket on 13. Hussey now averages 82.38 from his 17 Tests and remarkably needs only a century at the SCG to have reached triple-figures at Australia's six major grounds. The first-innings centurion Phil Jaques might be taking notes on Hussey as a perfect example of how to nail down a spot after years of waiting.
While Jaques' 100 has secured his position, the other fresh face in Australia's side, Mitchell Johnson, had his first taste of Test cricket when Sri Lanka endured a 16-over period late in the day. Johnson was immediately sharp and hit the mark - he nudged 150kph in his first over - but it was the new spearhead Lee who troubled the top order.
Sanath Jayasuriya was controversially given out caught behind for 7, while Michael Vandort edged to Gilchrist off Lee for 0. The double-strike was exactly what Sri Lanka desired from their own new-ball team, but it will need to be their batsmen who emulate Australia on the third day if they are to escape from their deepening Gabba hole.
Brydon Coverdale is an editorial assistant at Cricinfo