BRISBANE (Reuters) - A bellicose Mike Hussey belted 81 not out on Friday to drag Australia within 40 runs of England’s first innings tally before play was called off early on day two of the first Ashes test with the match finely poised.
Hussey, aided by a solid 22 not out from Brad Haddin, arrested a post-lunch slide and had helped the hosts to 220 for five when bad light and rain stopped play at the Gabba an hour before the scheduled finish.
“It was a good, hard battle of test cricket today,” Hussey told reporters. “The game’s very interestingly poised, it’s probably 50-50 at the moment. “We’ve got some really hard work tomorrow morning... it’s going to be a really challenging time and whoever can wrestle the initiative is going to be in a good position in the game.”
After Australia had put on 143 runs for the loss of Shane Watson’s wicket in the morning, England’s bowlers dominated the second session with four wickets at the cost of just 72 runs. James Anderson, who had accounted for Watson, came out firing after the break and got immediate reward with the key wicket of Australia captain Ricky Ponting in the first over.
Ponting, who made 196 in his corresponding innings on the last England tour of Australia, was caught by wicketkeeper Matt Prior after attempting to glance the ball down the leg side.
Anderson’s fellow quick Steve Finn kept up the pressure with his first Ashes wicket, dismissing Simon Katich caught and bowled after the opener had survived a couple of scares to reach 50 for his 25th test half ton.
Hussey, under pressure for his place in the side after a thin run of form, nearly offered a catching chance on his first delivery from Finn but it fell short of Graeme Swann at second slip.
“It just goes to show you how much the game is a fine line,” Hussey said. “Nicking that first one, I was hoping and praying it was going to fall short and thankfully it did -- a foot more I would have been gone for a first-ball duck.”
Having survived, Hussey wasted no time in taking the game to the English bowlers, hitting 18 runs off two overs from spinner Swann, including the first six of the contest over long-on.
England’s bowlers snatched the initiative back, however, with another two wickets in quick succession.
Michael Clarke, a pre-match injury doubt, had endured a torrid examination, including a TV review of a suspected inside edge and a bang on the helmet from a Stuart Broad bouncer, when Finn snared him caught behind for nine.
Swann, tipped to be a big influence on the series, had by now found his range and he got his reward when Marcus North was dismissed for one, courtesy of a good low catch by Paul Collingwood at slip. “We’re happy with our day’s work as a unit, I thought the other bowlers bowled fantastically well,” said 21-year-old Finn.
“That’s been the nature of the game so far, it’s ebbed and flowed and I’m sure it will tomorrow.
“It’s going to be nice to have the new ball at 9:30 tomorrow morning, we’re looking forward to it.”
The third day of the test will start half an hour early at 2330 GMT to make up some of the time lost on Friday.
Australia have not lost a test match at the Gabba since 1988 but even if they extend that record, the series now looks like being as close as many had predicted.