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August 25, 2009
Michael Hussey hopes his career-saving century at The Oval will have a revitalising effect similar to that of Matthew Hayden's corresponding innings four years ago. Like Hayden in 2005, Hussey entered the final match of the Ashes series in the midst of a desperately barren run-scoring drought, but managed a fighting 121 that will almost certainly secure his place in the Australian top-order for their next Test assignments against West Indies and Pakistan.
Hayden's scratchy, attritional century at the Oval in 2005 spared him the selectors' axe and triggered the most prolific two-year period of his international career. In the 21 Tests that followed his innings of 138, Hayden scored 2,015 runs at 55.97 including eight centuries. Hussey, having now broken a century-less streak that had spanned 28 Test innings, is hopeful of a similar knock-on effect.
"He's one of the greats of all time and I don't want to put myself in that sort of mould," Hussey said. "He had a great run - I think he scored six hundreds in a row after that hundred at The Oval. So I certainly hope so, but who knows? This game is amazing. Sometimes you feel like you can do everything right and it just does not seem to go your way. But then, like yesterday, when maybe things aren't quite in your favour it just seems to click in your favour. I certainly hope that can be a springboard forward."
Asked whether he felt he was batting to save his Test career on Sunday, Hussey added: "Maybe a little bit. You obviously like to be contributing to the team as often as possible, and obviously I haven't been contributing as well as I would have liked to. For me, it felt like it was meant to be. I had a fair bit of luck along the way. Whereas throughout the whole series I felt like I've been batting quite well but it just hasn't seemed to go right, but yesterday for some reason - lap of the gods, really - everything fell into place.
"I think you definitely have doubts, for sure. I do know my game and I just wanted to be true to my game and true to my preparations and stick to what I know does work for me. You've just got to have belief in that. I've had a lot of support from people; good, close friends from around the world. The common message all the time was to stick to what you know, keep believing in yourself, you are good enough. That's all you can really do."
As with Hayden's innings in 2005, Hussey's century could not prevent Australia surrendering the Ashes urn. The frailties of a rebuilding team were ruthlessly exposed by Stuart Broad in a spell of supreme quality fast bowling on Saturday, and the tourists, faced with a world record fourth innings run chase, never recovered.
Hussey's innings may well be remembered as much for its role in the run-out of Ricky Ponting as his personal tally ending, as it did, Australia's slim hopes of an historic victory on Sunday. His underestimation of Flintoff's throwing arm accounted for Ponting's wicket, and when Michael Clarke fell to a bizarre run-out six deliveries later, the Ashes had all but changed hands.
"Sometimes I think you just hit it, call and go and you think half way down, 'Oh no, is that a bit too tight?' Obviously it was," he said. "At tea time I wanted to walk down towards the gardeners' shed and not back towards the dressing room. I didn't want to go back to the dressing room and certainly the England players were saying, 'I bet you're not looking forward to going back to the dressing room at tea time.' It's part of the game unfortunately. Michael Clarke's was obviously a pretty unlucky run-out as well.
"I was shattered, absolutely shattered. I was pretty emotional at the end of it all, sitting down there. The boys had gone onto the ground, I was taking my pads off in the dressing room and it was pretty hard to take."
Australia's defeat at The Oval ensured their surrender of the No. 1 Test ranking for the first time since 2003. South Africa, Sri Lanka and India are now rated superior to Ricky Ponting's side in the five-day format, and Hussey admitted the revised assessment was a fair one.
He did, however, predict a rapid rise for Australia. "I think this team has got a lot of improvement to go," he said. "I think in the cold light of day we're probably not the best team in the world and we've got to be honest with that. We're a pretty young team and we've lost a lot of great players. There's so much improvement to come from this team. I think we'll get a lot of strength out of this series. It's been a really tight series, and we'll learn a lot and get better and better. I think we've got the making of another great Australian team.
"You learn that there's critical moments in games and series and you need to be able to seize those moments. The Australian teams in the past have been able to identify those moments and win those critical moments. It's experience. I'm sure guys like Shane Warne, Glenn McGrath, Adam Gilchrist, Justin Langer, Damien Martyn probably made those same errors early in their careers, but they would have learned from those."
Having briefly considered standing down from the limited overs formats, Hussey this week reaffirmed his desire to represent Australia in all three forms of the game. He will be called upon to play a leading role in the forthcoming ODI matches against Scotland and England, with senior players including Ricky Ponting and Brad Haddin homeward bound.
"We've got to bounce back pretty quickly," he said. "We've got the one-day series to concentrate on now. We need to take a deep breath first, because this has been the climax of the summer. We've got to quickly get over it. It's probably a good thing that we can get straight back into the cricket."
Plays of the Day from the second ODI between England and India, in Cardiff
Plays of the day from the third ODI between England and India at Trent Bridge
Plays of the day from the tri-series match between Zimbabwe and South Africa
Would he have fared better than the incumbent middle-order batsmen, Root and Ballance?