Second new ball will be key - Hussey
Ladies and gentlemen, your Man of the Series. If match awards in Galle and Pallekele were not enough, Michael Hussey strengthened his grip on the individual garlands still further by constructing an expert 118 to hold Australia's middling first innings together at the Sinhalese Sports Club Ground.
He did it in much the same style with which runs were collected in the first two Tests, demonstrating patience, placement, and hands that were in equal part deft and powerful. Hussey now has four centuries in five Tests against Sri Lanka. However it is his 95 on a spiteful surface in Galle that sticks strongest in his memory.
"I think the first innings in Galle really stands out at the moment," Hussey said. "Because the conditions were so challenging and to get our team into a great position to win that Test, the first Test of a series, gives me a lot of pleasure. Having said that you've got to work hard for every Test match hundred, so I'm elated with all of them."
Well as he has played, Hussey still began this Test with a demotion in the batting order, to accommodate Shaun Marsh at No. 3. The move down to No. 6 seemed scant reward for the form Hussey has demonstrated over the past 12 months, during which he was the only batsman to consistently defy England's rampant Ashes tourists, and in Sri Lanka has held the entire home attack in thrall.
"I'm not fussed at all about being at No. 6," he said. "Opposition teams will look at our batting order and think it is pretty daunting; if we get some guys in and doing well, it is going to be a very powerful batting order."
Hussey also said he did not want to read too much into his recent run of good scores because form can be a fickle thing. "I've always wondered about this good form and bad form thing; there's such a fine line between them. Sometimes you just need that little bit of luck. Getting a good score early in a series does wonders for your confidence. You feel like you can just relax, play your game. But I've never liked to say I'm in good form because it only takes a couple of good balls and you're suddenly in bad form."
Two of Hussey's more significant partnerships in this series have been in the company of Marsh, who has made 141 and 81 in his first two Test innings to provide the other major bulwark of Australia's batting. Marsh's dismissal late on the first day saw the Australian innings take a turn towards mediocrity, and Hussey said, despite his effort, Australia had fallen a bit short of a good total.
"The conditions, as the ball got older, were very good for batting, so it would've been nice if we'd gone over 350. Having said that we did lose the toss and on the first morning there was a little bit of juice in the pitch."
The shortfall has placed Australia in their most tenuous position of the series, more or less at the mercy of Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara on their beloved SSC strip, where they have now scored 1607 runs in partnership with each other. For this reason, Hussey pointed to the third day as the most important one of the series.
"It is a little ominous I must admit. They keep putting the statistics up on the board and you can look it at one of two ways, you can either say 'oh dear' or you can say 'well they're due to fail', so hopefully it is the latter. It's certainly going to be hard to dislodge them with the older ball, but hopefully with the second new ball we can make a few inroads; that's going to be a key part of the game I think.
"It is probably the biggest day of the series coming up tomorrow, if we can bowl well, restrict them and take the wickets, then it is going to put us in a fantastic position to win the Test match, but if we can't get rid of Kumar and Mahela, they're going to give themselves every chance to win the Test as well."
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo