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May 14, 2010
Michael Hussey was still taking deep breaths when he sat down shortly after the match to discuss what he had just achieved. It hadn't sunk in. Australia shouldn't have won this game, they really shouldn't have got close.
The fact they were victorious with a ball to spare was down to one man who produced something even he doubted was possible. Words like "freakish", "extraordinary" and "special" were thrown around after his 60 off 24 deliveries, but for once they weren't too far off the mark.
One impact of Twenty20 has been the number of innings that are acclaimed as out of the ordinary in their immediate aftermath. When there are so many boundaries, so many run chases and so much cricket in a condensed period, it can be hard to retain context.
After Yusuf Pathan clubbed 100 off 37 balls early in this year's IPL, Shane Warne called it "the greatest innings he had seen", seemingly forgetting a couple of epics by Brian Lara and Sachin Tendulkar to start with. Twenty20 is still such a young game that the true gauge of performances will be how they are recalled in 10 or 20 years.
Given that Hussey's display came in a world semi-final against a good bowling attack under immense pressure, it may just last the test of time. "I think that's probably the best feeling I have ever had on a cricket field," he said. "Particularly in such a big game when I was having so many doubts, I had a feeling it wasn't going to be our day - when balls kept lobbing over us in field. Before today hitting the winning runs in the Adelaide Test against England was pretty special, but I think this tops it."
Whether Hussey retains that feeling when his career ends remains to be seen, and he may reflect that one of his many Test or ODI epics settles at the top. But it goes to highlight the seriousness with which Australia are now taking Twenty20 when a victory is rated higher than one of the greatest Test successes in history.
When Cameron White was caught at long-off for 43 Australia still needed 53 off 21 balls. Basically almost every delivery had to end up at the boundary and that isn't far off what happened. It was all down to Hussey. Steven Smith only managed 5 and in the 53-run stand that sealed the win Mitchell Johnson's contribution was 5 off three deliveries - although crucially he squeezed a single off the first ball of the last over.
"I can believe it because of the guy sitting beside me," Michael Clarke said after the game. "[Hussey] and White had an amazing day. I honestly felt Pakistan scored 15 runs too many. But you just can't write us off, with the class and experience we have in the team.
"This was just a freakish performance from an unbelievable cricketer. When we lost a few wickets it was always going to be hard to chase that total. Then I just couldn't watch the last over after Mitchell got a single. I was in the dressing room and heard cheers so knew it was a six, then another one and I thought: 'What's going on?'"
Hussey's striking in the final over will be what is recalled, but the way he played the penultimate six balls was a master class in limited-overs batting. The target began as 34 from 12 and Hussey collected all 16 that came from the 19th over with deft placement and hare-like running. No one could have done it better, not even the king of run-chases Michael Bevan, who used to keep his side in seemingly impossible pursuits.
Hussey has grabbed the mantle of Australia's finisher and has done it so effectively in the 50-over game that he still maintains an average over 50 after 140 matches. However, translating that into Twenty20 didn't quite come as easily. Brute force, such an important skill in the dying overs of a 20-over match, wasn't natural to him and even in this innings he used a few balls to get in.
"I'm not the kind of batsman who can go in and clear the ropes from the first ball so to start with I was just trying to give the strike to Cameron [White]," he said. "Then it came to the stage where every ball had to go and you just have to try. Even I wasn't that confident we could do it.
"It was all a bit of a blur and with last ball I just wanted to hit it out of the middle. I'm so happy and it's great to see the elation on the boys' faces."
His average has lifted by nearly 12 runs during this tournament as he has settled into the No. 7 position. He is Australia's safety valve, who has twice come in with his team in trouble against Bangladesh and Sri Lanka to lead a recovery. When he launched Saeed Ajmal for the third six in the last over everything else looked tame by comparison.
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