England v Australia, 1st npower Test, Cardiff, 3rd day July 10, 2009

Clarke and Hussey tread different paths

They have been ships in the night; two careers that embarked from different ports, intersected ever so briefly, and then continued in opposite directions

They have been ships in the night; two careers that embarked from different ports, intersected ever so briefly, and then continued in opposite directions.

When Michael Hussey made his blazing entry into Test cricket in 2005, Michael Clarke was bracing for an inglorious exit. A difficult Ashes series followed by an indifferent performance in the Super Test had dimmed the lustre of Australian cricket's one-time "golden boy", and when the axe finally fell in the ensuring series against the West Indians, few were surprised. Clarke managed just five runs in his final Test for 2005. Hussey, in just his second appearance in the baggy green, scored 137 and 31 not out.

How times have changed. Clarke, reprogrammed into a middle-order accumulator these days, compiled a determined and composed 83 before strangling a Stuart Broad delivery down the leg-side to Matt Prior in the failing light in Cardiff. That took his tally to 824 runs since the beginning of the last Australian summer, all at the robust average of 58.85. The golden boy has become the steely man.

Hussey, meanwhile, continued his worrying slide with a scratchy innings of three that barely advanced his record to 325 runs at 21.66 over the corresponding period. The batsman who once redefined "intense" at the crease looked only tense against the second new ball, and eventually fell pushing at a full, subtly-swinging Anderson delivery in the period before lunch.

Whether this was a temporary glitch, or a sign of insidious decline, is yet to be determined. Hussey's innings of 150 and 62 not out against a strong England Lions attack in Worcester last week convinced many that the drought was set to break, but the first innings in Cardiff has left his recent record parched.

"He's one guy that's probably not had the best year in Test cricket and we certainly let him know that," Jimmy Anderson said. "Luckily we got him cheaply today because we saw what good form he seemed to be in at Worcester."

Clarke, too, was impressed with Hussey's form in the West Midlands, and predicted "a big hundred was not far away" for his middle-order partner. Certainly, the Australian vice-captain has played his part in easing the pressure on Hussey during a year in which his own consistency has covered for his team-mate's stumbles.

Only once in their respective international careers have Clarke and Hussey struck form together; a period that began with the triumphant Ashes campaign of 2006-07 - during which they combined for in excess of 800 runs - and carried through to the ensuing home series against Sri Lanka. Since then, the fortunes of Australia's No. 4 and 5 have traveled in different directions; a pattern that continued at Sophia Gardens on Friday.

Clarke's mission to atone for an underwhelming 2005 campaign in England began strongly. A cover drive off Graeme Swann took him to his 14th Test half-century, and a pull-shot to the mid-wicket fence propelled Australia beyond England's first innings total of 435.

"I would have liked to have been there for the end of the day," said Clarke, ever the perfectionist. "I'm just disappointed to get out like that. You always would love a hundred, especially when you get to 80. I'm disappointed with the shot more than anything. I've played enough cricket under lights and with rain around to know the ball skids around a little bit. The replay looked like the ball was bowled across the seam as well, should have ducked it or let it go."

Alex Brown is deputy editor of Cricinfo