Staying the same
Complaints over the past week have centred on the predictability of Test cricket and the dominance of Australia. More evidence to support the argument came on the first day in Hobart when Sri Lanka missed crucial chances, Dilhara Fernando performed poorly while a better bowler was 12th man, Phil Jaques' century propelled the home team to an enviable position and the Michael Hussey phenomenon powered on. Despite the repetition of events from Brisbane, the play was compelling.
After his job-interview behaviour at the Gabba, where he won approval for his gritty maiden century, Jaques was free to express himself. As an artist he is an unrefined bush painter like the late Pro Hart, but his lack of natural beauty does not devalue the impression. The bottom-hand style won over Steve Waugh, who described Jaques as the "prototype for young players" before he had played a Test. If Waugh is right the future will be muscular.
The present is growing stronger by the Jaques innings and his second hundred in nine days was more brutal than the first. The Sri Lankans restricted his cut shot, placing a man deep behind point, but he was successful thrashing along the ground, over the cordon or past the sweeper. Attacking his strength did not work for Trevor Bayliss, who was Jaques' New South Wales coach until he left for Sri Lanka.
Pulling was another successful shot for Jaques and he was given plenty of opportunities to polish it on a true surface. Unafraid to be hit on the body, which he was a handful of times, he unfurled cross-bat shots that were usually concealed at the Gabba. It was a display as bright as the day and gave Australian supporters more reasons to be cheerful about life without Justin Langer.
Like last week, Jaques waited patiently for his first run, taking 24 minutes and 18 balls, but he was quickly operating at the speed he is used to at New South Wales. He forced the fast bowlers down the ground and altered his tempo with quick singles from defensive shots. Those risky but successful runs added further to Sri Lanka's woes as they failed with direct hits during the couple of occasions Jaques was short of his ground in the first session. Once again the lapses were punished, and he accepted another well-taken single to reach 150.
Lasith Malinga started strongly, adding an early fear element that was missing when he was 12th man in the previous game, and Farveez Maharoof was effective at times without getting the wickets needed to secure his future. The faith the Sri Lankan camp places in Fernando appears to have been misplaced with his inability to hold a steady line and length.
Fernando, who has been keeping quiet about an ankle injury, did claim the first wicket, benefiting from Matthew Hayden's lack of feet movement, but his day was summed up when he tumbled to save a ball on the boundary off Jaques and it went through him for four. Releasing five runs an over compounded his problems and he is running out of days to justify his internal rating on this tour.
Jaques earned back-to-back centuries with a push to midwicket for two off Fernando and this time he delivered the kiss to his helmet badge that was missing last week. However, Hussey was there to give another strong hug and increase the feelings of déjà vu.
Last week Jaques was exhausted by the time he reached the milestone and charged unsuccessfully at Muttiah Muralitharan. Today he stayed in control after his celebration and added another fifty before holing out to deep mid-on. Hussey refused such charity in his unbeaten 101 and if he can reach 160 without being dismissed his average will be an unbelievable 90.
There was no need to speculate during Jaques' display and he swung the day for Australia. Watching new players succeed is not dull, but the sceptics have a point. The more Australia change the more they stay the same.
Peter English is the Australasian editor of Cricinfo