Hussey the lone star for struggling Australia

There is a recipe for success against Australia's batsmen. As England have discovered, it involves a generous portion of quality spin bowling and a dollop of reverse swing, while a pinch of variable bounce doesn't hurt.

Updated: August 31, 2011 19:25 IST
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Galle, Sri Lanka: There is a recipe for success against Australia's batsmen. As England have discovered, it involves a generous portion of quality spin bowling and a dollop of reverse swing, while a pinch of variable bounce doesn't hurt. On the first day of the series Rangana Herath and Suranga Lakmal followed the proven formula to put Sri Lanka on top, but by stumps the visitors had found a stabilising ingredient, Michael Hussey, whose 95 kept them in the game.


Australia could have finished the day with a very nasty taste in their mouth were it not for Hussey, who missed out on his 14th Test century when he was lbw to Tillakaratne Dilshan as the sun set on Galle. The Sri Lanka openers walked out to face one over but the umpires decided the light was insufficient, and the hosts headed back inside to prepare for the second day, knowing that batting wouldn't be easy on a pitch offering plenty of turn.

Hussey handled the conditions better than any of his team-mates, sweeping with the spin, watching the ball closely out of the bowler's hand, and getting to the pitch whenever possible. He had come to the crease at 91 for 3, with rebuilding required, and he did just that in a watchful start; at one point Australia faced 83 balls between boundaries.

Gradually he allowed himself some more expansive shots, and brought up his half-century from his 115th delivery with an off-drive for four off Suraj Randiv. He struck three sixes off Randiv, two convincing and one off which he was fortunate to survive. Chanaka Welegedara at long-off stepped back to take the catch, but just touched the boundary with his foot after he completed the take, which would otherwise have ended Hussey's innings on 76.

By pushing Australia up to 273 after they had been 157 for 5, Hussey gave them hope. The good news for Australia is that the batting conditions won't get any easier and Sri Lanka, unless they post a monstrous first-innings score, will have to bat last. The bad news is that Australia will be relying on an attack featuring two debutants, one of whom, their only frontline spinner Nathan Lyon, has just five first-class matches to his name.

Lyon can learn a lot from the way Herath bowled on this surface. Sri Lanka left out their mystery spinner Ajantha Mendis - a mystery in itself, given how he bamboozled Australia at times in the limited-overs games - but Herath proved a difficult enough opponent in favourable conditions. That much was obvious from the moment he was introduced, in the seventh over of the match.

Shane Watson had come out hard against the seamers, but he was flummoxed by Herath's first delivery. From around the wicket, the left-armer got the ball to drift in, grip and turn sharply on a pitch devoid of grass, and Watson's outside edge was wonderfully taken by one of the best pure gloveman in world cricket at the moment, Prasanna Jayawardene.

From that point on, Australia knew they had a tough day ahead of them. Herath didn't run through the batting order - he finished with 3 for 54 - but nor did he let the batsmen settle. Clarke had used his feet well against the slow men, but on 23 he was done in by a Herath delivery that skidded on, straightening just a fraction, and Clarke was lbw after Sri Lanka reviewed the not-out decision.

And while the big turner got Watson and the straight ball baffled Clarke, Ricky Ponting went to a delivery that fell somewhere in between. Freed from the burden of captaincy, Ponting had played a couple of cracking shots, including a square drive for four off Welegedara and a fleet-footed loft back over the head of Herath.

Soon after that shot, Ponting, on 44, tried the same again but Herath imparted just enough extra spin to deceive Ponting, whose lofted shot ended up going straight to the man at long-off. It was a disappointing end for Ponting, who seemed bent on rebuilding Australia's innings and had put on a 55-run stand with Clarke.

They had come together after Phillip Hughes was surprised by extra bounce from Suranga Lakmal, who caught the shoulder of the bat and had his man caught at slip. It wasn't the only time the Australia batsmen were caught out by fine pace bowling; on the stroke of tea, Usman Khawaja failed to pick the late swing from Welegedara and he was bowled for 21.

Brad Haddin struck a couple of fierce blows in his 24 before he was well taken at leg slip by Angelo Mathews off Randiv, and Lakmal helped finish off the tail. Australia contributed to their own demise, Ryan Harris declining to ask for a review of his lbw, although replays showed Lakmal's delivery would clearly have missed off stump.

Trent Copeland made 12 on debut, but his main task will come on the second day. Wet weather delayed the start by an hour on the opening morning, and more rain is forecast for the next few days. Whether Australia can find a winning recipe remains to be seen. At least the groundstaff have served up a result pitch.

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