Australia v England, 1st Test, Brisbane, 3rd day November 27, 2010

Haddin's best

If Brad Haddin had settled with a half-century in this innings his contribution still would have glowed. By stretching it so far he delivered the greatest performance of his life

Brad Haddin was on 77 when Richie Benaud, a man who has watched more Test cricket than anyone, called it "the most valuable innings he has ever played for Australia". Benaud rarely over-states a situation and initially it seemed a premature rating. Nobody knew it at the time, but Haddin was only just halfway done.

He had stepped out to join Michael Hussey at 5 for 143, with Australia well in arrears, and eventually left after 398 minutes with the side in such comfort that it felt like previous one-sided Ashes Tests at the Gabba. Haddin's 136 contributed towards his record-breaking stand of 307 with Hussey, which was 47 more than England managed in their first bat.

This position was not handed to Australia. Often Haddin looks like a man for easy runs, but before his century they were as difficult as any he has earned in a baggy green. He had fought on the second afternoon to be 22 off 71 balls, an unusual tempo for him, and the second morning began in a similar hard-working fashion. Ground was taken slowly until the pitch turned white, the bowlers wilted and the fielders grew sloppy. Then Haddin's attacks became more frequent.

The one stroke Haddin will be remembered for is the six he unveiled to reach his third Test hundred. When he lofts down the ground everyone else on the field is a frozen object in a photograph. Haddin is the only one who seems to move, slowly, his foot striding forward and his bat dropping and then rising with the ball. There is no more graceful sequence in the game.

Graeme Swann was tempting Haddin to launch him straight and the batsmen obliged. Haddin likes risk and regularly finds himself succumbing to an early rush. On 94 there was no danger, despite the fielders peppered inside the boundary.

"Get out of the 90s as quick as I could," he said of his thought process. "They cut my areas off pretty well. I could see what they were doing. I just had a clear head and went for it." The extravagance had been earned.

The stroke was so perfect that the man at long-off was not in play, even though the ball landed on his side of the sightscreen. Haddin arrived at a neat 100 and after a second bear hug of the day with Hussey, he looked towards the dressing room and rehearsed a straight-bat shot.

There were no gaping holes between bat and pad when he had aimed cover or off drives, and the tighter technique was partly responsible for his hundred coming in 222 balls, an age for a Haddin innings. While he was content with his output, Haddin continued to power on until after tea, when he pushed at Swann and was well taken by Paul Collingwood at first slip.

Previously, more down-the-ground artwork was delivered with a straight punch in the air off Swann after he raised three figures. He had already done the same to James Anderson before reaching the milestone. The productive shot created a moment of tension when he pushed too early at Collingwood on 63, but the ball stayed just far enough away from Alastair Cook at deep mid-off. Another boundary sailed towards long-on later in the over.

At 33, Haddin has entered a new stage in his 28-Test career. The winter was spent recovering from tennis elbow, which prevented his left hand from lifting a bat, but no longer bothers him. During Haddin's time away Tim Paine appeared in four Tests and impressed with his glovework and batting temperament. No wicketkeeping understudy has received so much game time in Australia's Test side since the 1980s, leaving Haddin to worry about the strength of his position. Paine now has a broken finger and Haddin has shut down all the challengers.

There was a dropped catch off Peter Siddle on the opening day but nobody could complain about the effectiveness of his batting. It was intelligent and cautious, muscular and beautiful. He has opened both his Ashes series with centuries, but the one he rushed to in Cardiff began with his side at 5 for 474.

If Haddin had settled with a half-century in this innings his contribution still would have glowed. By stretching it so far he delivered the greatest performance of his life. Benaud realised that well before everyone else.

Peter English is the Australasia editor of Cricinfo