Clarke, Hussey Seize the Day

Centuries to Michael Clarke and Mike Hussey, plus two late wickets to Brett Lee have left Australia in control of the first test at the Gabba.

Resuming on 242 for 3, Australia started cautiously, with both batsmen respecting the straighter line of the Sri Lankan bowlers in the first hour and a half. Hussey and Clarke eked out only 44 runs in the first 18 overs, but their patience was rewarded as the morning unfolded. 117 runs were added to lunch without loss, and the same number between lunch and tea, as the hosts today made the Sri Lankans pay for the dropped catches of yesterday.

Hussey and Clarke’s application was matched in the early overs by the determination of the Sri Lankan attack not to give away cheap runs. Eventually, however, the batsmen began to take liberties against a tiring attack, with Clarke even lofting Murali over mid-off for a splendid straight six.

Clarke and Hussey raced each other towards 100, however, just as Clarke appeared to be catching him, Hussey launched into a spirited assault which saw him reach three figures first, from the same number of balls (196) as Phil Jaques the day before. This was an innings from Hussey the scrapper, rather than Hussey the swashbuckler. Short of cricket after a hamstring injury which cut short his preparation, Mr Cricket was nigh on pedestrian at the outset of his innings, taking time to come to terms with the wicket, and in particular the mysteries of Murali. Once set, however, it was the Hussey everyone has come to know. Out came the square drives – always a productive shot in Australia; the cuts and the pulls. By the time he was eventually caught at short cover for 133 by Marvin Atapattu from the bowling of Dilhara Fernando with the score on 461, he was well and truly in full flight.

Despite Hussey’s heroics, it is fair to say that Clarke produced most of the memorable strokes in this enormous partnership. His footwork to the tireless Murali was a sight to behold, both off the front and back feet, whilst several of his pull shots were as audacious as they were effective. Once Hussey departed, Clarke teamed with Andrew Symonds (53 not out) for a further 90 runs before Ricky Ponting declared at 551 for four. Clarke seems to have been around forever, yet he still displayed all the exuberance of youth in kissing his helmet upon reaching his own well crafted ton.

Throughout Australia’s onslaught Sri Lanka continued to work hard. Murali was, as ever, the pick of the bowlers, and in truth he troubled every batsman. Unfortunately, off spinners rarely go through sides in this country and his effectiveness was sadly limited by a rock-hard and consistent batting surface.

The real problems for Sri Lanka were three-fold.

Firstly, Mahela Jayewardene is a man of generous spirit, as demonstrated by his agreeing to bat on in the dark of the World Cup final earlier this year so Australia could bask in the glory of its win on the evening of the final and not have to return next day. Nevertheless, that generosity should never have extended to sending Australia into bat at the Gabba yesterday. One does not like to speak ill of visiting captains, but this mistake continues to be repeated by those visitors unprepared to make first use of the Brisbane wicket. The mistake generally costs them very, very dearly. Ask Nasser Hussein.

Secondly, in omitting Lasith Malinga, Sri Lanka ceded much-needed aggression and positivity to Australia. Maharoof bowled tidily, but test cricket is about taking 20 wickets, not about keeping required run rates down. Malinga is aggressive and he’s a wicket taker. He also swings the ball, which would have been handy in the balmy northern state.

Lastly, Sri Lanka yesterday put down several difficult but takeable catches. This can happen to any team, but to use a cliche, you’ve just got to take them against Australia. Especially at the Gabba, where it seems the home side has not lost a test since the Battle of Agincourt. The catches were put down yesterday, but atonement for the sins was carried out today.

Marvin Atapattu and Sanath Jayasuriya then emerged to face one of those awkward periods which all opening batsmen despise – where the best one can do is 15 or 20 not out, the worst be dismissed for little or no score. Australia’s new ball attack of Brett Lee and Mitchell Johnson would be close to the world’s fastest, with both bowlers regularly in the high 140 kph range and occasionally nudging upwards of 150. Johnson was given a predictably rousing reception by his parochial home crowd and swung the ball around, however, it was Lee who stole the show in picking up both Jayasuriya and Van Dort for 7 and 1 respectively. Both batsmen were caught by Gilchrist attempting to drive. Both, in the writer’s opinion, did not hit the ball. Nevertheless, Ponting will be greatly encouraged by Lee taking wickets with the new ball, something he has not always done as often as his skipper(s) would have liked.

Atapattu and M Jayewardene then saw out the remainder of the day’s play with a minimum of fuss. Both took the opportunity to pick up some late runs against a fairly lacklustre Stuart MacGill, who was rather like a beer glass at a barbecue – either too full or too short.

For their parts, Johnson was lively, Stuart Clark miserly and Stuart MacGill obviously rusty. MacGill deserves his chance, but he will plainly need to show a lot more over the next three days to cement his place ahead of the seemingly ageless Brad Hogg.

Sri Lanka finished the day at 31 for 2 from 16 overs, with Atapattu on 19 and the skipper on five.

With three days to go and another 320 runs to save the follow-on, they are like the young man with the wheel barrow. They have the job in front of them.

Match Summary
Stumps Day 2

Australia 551/4
M Clarke 145*
M Hussey 133
P Jaques 100
M Muralidaran 2/170

Sri Lanka 31/2
Atapattu 19*
Lee 2/4

Sri Lanka trails by 520 runs with eight first innings wickets in hand.

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