Haddin's silky touch
There is such a light touch about Brad Haddin, whose bat glides in its follow through while his feet skip along the wicket. He is a batsman, not a wicketkeeping thrasher, even though he can find the stands with his driving. A man of average height at 1.8m, he is more about timing than muscle, sitting closer to Michael Clarke in style than his predecessor Adam Gilchrist.
While Marcus North provided the stability, Haddin displayed the pizzazz during a 200-run stand that sucked the spirit from England on a day when the fielders kept looking at the sky, willing it to rain. Instead the boundaries poured from two centurions playing their first Ashes Tests. Gilchrist has been gone for 18 months and moves further into history with innings like Haddin's 121. Andrew Symonds, the previous long-term No. 6, has now been forgotten.
Haddin's second fifty came in 48 balls but at no time did his bat look like breaking. The handle is cuddled, not suffocated, by fingers bent from catching balls behind the stumps. In front of them he dances delicately during his shots before jumping sideways to stop himself from running down the centre of the pitch.
Sometimes Haddin didn't have to bother with scampering towards the bowler's end. The offspinner Graeme Swann was lifted for six to midwicket with all the effort of pushing a single. A straight drive off Monty Panesar, which brought up 150 runs in conjunction with North, sailed over the rope surrounded by gasps from the crowd. Nobody hits in that direction as comfortably as Haddin.
England were already demoralised when Haddin arrived late on the third day, but he and North refused to let them rest on Saturday. They avoided the early danger and were not bothered by the arrival of the third new ball.
North's century came two overs out from lunch and Haddin's fifty was brought up with a single four deliveries before they ate. After the break the plunder continued and by the end of the splurge the only signs of life from England were the puffing cheeks of those chasing the ball.
No batsman, Ricky Ponting included, struck boundaries as smoothly as Haddin. When he strode out to the spinners and Paul Collingwood the spectators between long-on and long-off started to tense. He almost struck a steward with a clearance in front of a Cockspur Rum sign that should have warned "Run".
By then he had reached three figures and the milestone had come in a most un-Haddin-like manner. There was one two and eight singles from him in the 90s, a glance bringing up his hundred and a lengthy double-arm raise in celebration.
"He went out to bat, did nothing silly, got himself in, took his time and the situation allowed him to be free-spirited and play that attacking role," North said. "It's great for him to express himself in that situation."
Haddin's previous Test century had come in a burst of explosions against New Zealand, but despite the flat-line of the England attack, this was the more cherished experience. Australia's Ashes newcomers have settled quickly while the fresh faces in the hosts' line-up remain shaken.
North also raised his second Test hundred, in only his third game, and can now relax in his life as the side's No. 6. Australia had wanted an aggressor in that position, but with Haddin able to move so freely when in form, North's pace doesn't matter. His 125 took 242 deliveries compared to the 151 Haddin used over 121.
There were times when North followed through, including a handful of slog sweeps, but he is at his best when waiting to drive. Calculating and sensible, he shifted towards three figures with three twos in a row from James Anderson, finishing with a push behind point which ended in a spectacular slide towards the crease. It was unnecessary, but added to the moment.
"Leading into that I was so nervous I couldn't breathe," North said. "The emotions had taken over a bit ... Looking back on it now I don't know why I did it, because I wasn't looking at the ball. It was probably more panic and relief at getting over the line and realising I'd brought up a hundred."
North was unbeaten when Haddin found Ravi Bopara at deep midwicket and Ricky Ponting called him in to England's brief delight. Cardiff has been a friendly ground for North, who posted 219 here for Durham in 2004, and while he insisted it was hard work, he said his county experience had ensured there were no surprises.
"It certainly hasn't felt easy, Test cricket is an intensity like no other," he said. "Playing for nine or 10 years before my Test debut certainly helped my game, but I'm still very young at this level."
Peter English is the Australasia editor of Cricinfo