Batsmen come to party at last
Beat you … Matthew Wade gets his shot by Dimuth Karunaratne on Saturday. Photo: Getty Images
Australia's most even Test batting performance in almost three years has put them in a dominant position in the series-opening Test against Sri Lanka.
Of Australia's top seven only Ed Cowan (four) and Shane Watson (30) failed to reach 50, a feat further justifying captain Michael Clarke's decision to bat first at Blundstone Arena.
Until Saturday, Australia had not had five batsmen scoring at least a half-century in the same innings since March 2010, away to New Zealand. It was a spread that delighted coach Mickey Arthur.
Australia v Sri Lanka, first Test, day two
Hot form ... Michael Hussey reaches after scoring his century, his 19th in Test cricket. Photo: Getty Images
''You're always going to lose one or two early, as we did with Eddie [Cowan], but the key to that was the guys coming in have managed to stick together and we've been able to build partnerships,'' Arthur told ABC Radio. ''I think we've shown a lot of patience on a wicket that is tougher to bat on than it looks.''
The discipline referred to by Arthur was evident in the fact all but one of the half-centuries - David Warner's was the exception - were achieved with strike rates well below 50. On this latest occasion all five almost ended the innings without a century, only for Mike Hussey to reach that milestone in a fortunate fashion to extend his remarkable record against Sri Lanka.
The third-over departure of Clarke on day two did little to hinder Australia's fortunes as Hussey (115 not out) and wicketkeeper Matthew Wade (68 not out) shared a partnership of 146. The fast pace of their partnership negated the loss of more than two hours to rain and allowed Clarke to make an aggressive declaration at 5-450.
In response Australia's bowlers pulled their weight by removing Sri Lanka's big two, Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara, for only 16 runs between them, courtesy of Watson and Peter Siddle respectively. The last over of the day also brought the departure of veteran Thilan Samaraweera, caught behind by Wade after underestimating the bounce against off-spinner Nathan Lyon when attempting to cut.
The visitors will start day three at 4-87 with a deficit of 363. Tillakaratne Dilshan's aggression has so far paid off - his 50 not out has featured eight boundaries - but he might need to temper that aggression on day three to prolong Sri Lanka's innings.
Hussey was almost denied a century as, on 96, he directed a pull shot into the hands of Angelo Mathews at deep mid-wicket. He was saved because the Sri Lanka vice-captain spilled the catch and allowed the ball to reach the rope, giving the left-hander a century he evidently - based on his pained reaction as the ball travelled straight to Mathews - thought he was going to miss out on.
The innings took the veteran's record against Sri Lanka, midway through his sixth Test against them, to 877 runs at an average of 125.29.
While Hussey was the stand-out batsman, Wade also buttressed his position as Australia's first-choice wicketkeeper with his second half-century in as many Tests.
The start of day two was delayed by 50 minutes due to persistent morning rain. Clarke faced another nine deliveries on day two, edging Sri Lanka's standout seamer, Shaminda Eranga, low to Sangakkara at first slip to depart for 74. It was only the second time in the past 15 months he has reached a half-century and not gone on to a century.
Hussey's initial half-century contained only two boundaries, with the veteran instead content to rotate the strike with nudges between third man and cover.
Australia's subdued scoring rate improved when Sri Lanka introduced their sole day-one wicket-taker, Chanaka Welegedara. The left-armer started with a no-ball and was similarly ill-disciplined at the start of his second over, delivering a juicy short-pitched delivery that Hussey nonchalantly pulled to the mid-wicket boundary.
Welegedara said after day one that if Sri Lanka broke the Clarke-Hussey partnership early on day two they could dismiss Australia for fewer than 400. They managed the former but were not close to the latter as Wade proved an able partner for Hussey and showed he could bat well to steer Australia to a big total, not just when his team was in crisis.
The second session resumed 80 minutes late due to rain. Australia's batsman returned with a conspicuously aggressive mindset. Having scored at only 3.19 runs per over to that stage Australia scored 86 runs in the next 17 overs. The scoring-rate spike, to 5.06 runs per over, made it possible for Clarke to declare before tea.
Twitter - @Jesse-Hogan