Unlucky number won't bother Marsh - Hussey
Michael Hussey batted with Shaun Marsh when he made his first-class debut, and again when Marsh clouted a first century for Western Australia. He hopes to be there again to see Marsh mark his Test debut with a century.
Marsh was unbeaten on 87 when he and Hussey, 76 not out, were sent to the dressing room more than an hour before the scheduled close of play on the second day in Pallekele due to bad light. Mahela Jayawardene, the Sri Lanka batsman, made sure to remind the debutant that he was stuck on a score considered unlucky in Australia because it is 13 runs short of a hundred. But Hussey said Marsh had shown the composure of a Test batsman in an innings played in fluctuating conditions and circumstances, allying it to the talent he had first displayed when spanking 119 against New South Wales in 2003.
That day Steve Waugh had attempted to unsettle Marsh in the 90s and, as Hussey recalled, the response was emphatic.
"That was an amazing innings," Hussey said. "I remember that vividly because Steve Waugh was at cover and Mark Waugh was bowling. Shaun got into the 90s and Steve just got into his head a bit saying `don't get nervous now Shaun, you know you've played so well, don't throw away a hundred now', and he hit the next two balls for six to bring up his 100. Obviously there is still a lot of work to go in this match and as long as he keeps sticking to his game he'll be fine.
"It's a bad score to be stuck on and Mahela did give him a little wink as he was walking off and said `Jeez, you wouldn't want to be 87 not out overnight'. But it's not going to bother him I don't think. I said something like `I'd much rather be on 87 than seven overnight'."
In Pallekele, Marsh withstood a sharp early spell from Suranga Lakmal when he first arrived, then matched wits with the spin of Suraj Randiv for most of the day, which saw Australia recover from an iffy 116 for 3 to be powerfully placed at 264 for 3 by the early close. Hussey said Marsh's concentration was the most impressive feature of his innings, which saw him face 211 balls on the second day.
"I thought he showed tremendous concentration because there were periods when scoring was difficult. They bowled really tight for a while and it was tough. Obviously in your first Test match you're going to be pretty nervous but he got his feet moving well. He showed good composure to be able to get through a tough early period and even beyond that.
"They still continually bowled well to him and it was difficult to get any momentum going with his innings. He showed great concentration and then you could just see the confidence grow a little bit as the innings wore on. I think when he got that legspinner [Seekkuge Prasanna] away for a few boundaries in a row you could see him start to believe that he belonged there."
That sense of belonging at the international level has not always been evident, perhaps because Marsh's overall record is somewhat underwhelming. He averages 37.71 in first-class cricket and has made only six hundreds, but can add to that tally on the third day by employing the more measured and consistent approach Hussey has witnessed him develop in Western Australia.
"It's been well documented that early in his career he was a bit inconsistent but I think if you look at the way he's played in the last two or three years in first-class cricket he's been a lot more consistent. With the way he's prepared, the way he's approached his innings and the way he's played out in the middle, he's had a lot more understanding of his game and the conditions and probably his routines. Obviously he wants more hundreds in the column but it's pretty tough to make first-class hundreds let alone Test hundreds."
Hussey admitted to struggling for concentration and touch at times throughout his own innings, but it was another vital contribution on a tour during which he has made many, from the 95 on the first day in Galle to the stunning gully catch and freak wicket with the ball to start the Pallekele Test.
Kumar Sangakkara had been a most unlikely Test victim of Hussey's slow-medium seamers on the first afternoon, and attempted to get his own back by not only bowling but taking the new ball. Hussey admitted considerable relief when the ball was given back to a specialist.
"You don't want it to last for very long. I was pretty happy when he took the new ball; I thought at least it might come on a little more, but he got a little swing as well, so it was a relief when he went off. I didn't want to get out to Kumar and for him to pay me back."
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo