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Sriram Veera in Hyderabad
October 4, 2008
"In India things can meander for a while, without anything happening, before suddenly the action starts," Matthew Hayden said on the eve of this game. It happened in reverse today.
Australia lost five wickets in frenetic fashion when day three began before last-man Stuart Clark hung on with Michael Hussey for 40.1 overs to push his side ever so slowly past the follow-on mark. The pitch got slower, the bowlers grew tired and the Australians prospered because the two stars of the day played the waiting game.
Patience, perhaps, comes easily to both. Hussey and Clark had to wait till they were 30 to get their baggy greens. Clark was an estate agent, selling houses for five years before he decided to buy wickets for life. "On this cap there's an emu and a kangaroo and none of them can go backwards, make sure you don't, though we know you won't," Merv Hughes told Clark when he handed the debutant his Test cap.
Clark certainly hasn't backtracked with the ball, as 81 wickets at 21.46 in 18 Tests indicates, and today he didn't take one backward step even with the bat. His was not a classical tailender innings. There were no joyous heaves across the line, no flirts outside off stump, and no nervous giggles at short-pitched deliveries. It was almost a serene innings.
Clark used his height to reach the pitch of the turning ball, presented the full face of the bat and achieved the same effect tailenders aspire to: irritate the opposition. The spinners grew tired, the second new ball lost its shine, and the spinning pair had one more unsuccessful spell before Clark finally gave his wicket away to Yuvraj Singh. But he had done his job of holding one end while Hussey steered the Australians out of troubled waters.
You don't usually remember a stand-out shot from a Hussey innings. What you take away, as a viewer, is the perception of the scientific mind behind those tickles to square, those cuts, the sweeps and marvel at how he never allows his ego to get out of control. And that is Hussey's strength; the total self-awareness he has of his game and its limitations.
Today was no different. He hung in there, grinding his way in singles and twos and slowly getting out of a troubled phase. "The two spinners bowled really well in tandem," he said later. "They bowled with lot of pressure and patience. It made scoring difficult. I just wanted spend a little bit of time at the crease."
Pragyan Ojha, the left-arm spinner, who bowled 81 balls today at Hussey, highlighted that "risk-free" batting ability. "He is just so patient. He doesn't try to do anything extra; just does what that ball requires him to do," Ojha told Cricinfo. "If it's good, he defends, if it's slightly short, he pushes to off, if it's slightly full, he sweeps. He just waits for the bad balls.
But what has been going inside that impassive face during all the numerous vigils at the crease? "To be honest I feel like my batting's been a real battle for two years,'' Hussey said recently. "Even in good conditions where I felt like other guys were able to play their shots quite comfortably and hit down the ground and drive and pull well, I still felt like I was struggling for timing a fair bit." Hussey averaged 62.42 in that period. Did he say struggle?
So it's not idle self-criticism but the supreme desire to keep improving that drove him to meet the Western Australia coach Tom Moody and his assistant Trevor Penny. "Moody helped me to tighten my technique," Hussey said. "Just to get the access to the ball a little bit better and help me drive the ball down the ground more."
However, he has not turned his quest into a negative obsession. When reminded that he scored 95 of his 126 runs square of the pitch today he laughed, "There you go. I need more practice".
Mr Cricket and the estate agent are all set to stamp their presence in the Test series in their typically unfussy manner.
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