Towering Hussey shows how it's done
Michael Hussey's pulling power has dragged Australia to the verge of a series-levelling win and reacquainted him with the mountainous numbers he achieved in his Test youth. Without Hussey's 116, his fourth Ashes hundred, Australia would have faced a couple of days of nerves, but the hosts need only five more wickets to head to Boxing Day on level terms.
The WACA pitch has felt like another planet for most of the batsmen on show in this game, but this stretch of soil is Hussey's home. He is safe here. Those running into him have been the ones in discomfort, feeling the cracks and slaps of his driving and cross-bat shots. Hooks and pulls often disappear from view in tense times due to the extreme risk of dismissal.
Playing like this in Perth creates more physical danger because of the speed and bounce of the wicket. Hussey doesn't care.
He is among the most calculated batsmen in the game so it would seem a contradiction that he relies so heavily on a method with such little room for error. Except it's not a risk for him, because he's been hooking and pulling in Western Australia for three decades. He calls the shots instinctive, but they are ingrained, like chewing nails during tense chases, or roaring when an edge flies behind.
Hussey couldn't stop if he spent weeks in hypnosis. Should an opening batsman who has waited a decade for a debut hook when his only Test earning is a single? Should he let his mind convince him to pull when he's meant to saving the second Ashes Test on an unpredictable Adelaide wicket? To most batsmen the answers are no.
Hussey said yes to those times and thousands more because he knows the shot will pay off more often that it sends him bust. It has boosted his account considerably in this series, which started with him playing for his place. Since then he has hooked and pulled his way to heights not reached since the opening three years of his career, when his numbers were as close to Bradman as any mortal can reach.
The cross-bat smacks have been pivotal and productive, creating doubts for the bowlers over their length, and showing he will not be a target for overs of short balls. Seven of his 13 boundaries and plenty of singles and twos came from the shots in a masterful home-ground display. In the middle session England tried an at-the-body approach through Chris Tremlett but quickly gave up.
"Mike Hussey is probably not a player you want to bowl too short to," Peter Siddle said. "He showed that again today, same as he did in Brisbane when they attacked him with it."
Hussey is a traditional player and spent most of the first hour of the day adjusting to the conditions. Once he had, not even a long disruption for a jammed sightscreen could distract him. He also wasn't put off by three men in the deep at times, an attempted pull that caused an under-edge and a bruised hip, or the frightening short-ball treatment directed at his team-mates.
His first punched pull came off Tremlett when he moved to 40, the opening blast of a string of aggressive swipes. The most precise cross-bat effort came when he split fine leg and deep backward square with another cracking strike off Tremlett that landed him on 96. It was appropriate that a pull brought up his hundred, from only 136 balls, and as he ran to the stumps at the bowler's end he leaped and punched the air.
A similar celebration occurred four years ago when his 103 on a sweaty day also put his side in sight of a hugely satisfying victory. Back then he was near his peak; this display provided him with more statistical stardom. He is the leading run-scorer in this series with 517 at 103.40, and he has increased his Ashes record to six consecutive innings of scores of 50 or more. A man who spluttered for much of the past two years has achieved unrivalled consistency again.
Equally importantly, his innings built on Mitchell Johnson's day-two demolition and ensured Australia set England a now unreachable target of 391. Hussey was last out and his innings finished with a pull to Graeme Swann at deep forward square leg, but that didn't worry him. He knows the risks, and the rewards.
Peter English is the Australasia editor of Cricinfo