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Cheers as Hussey defies years

If cricket were an equation, Mike Hussey would be a given. He came to Test cricket 10 years behind his contemporary, Ricky Ponting, at an age when talk of an honourable way of finishing begins to swirl around other players. Immediately he began to make up for lost time with a couple of rasping centuries, the first on this very ground.

He has been there ever since, in every form of the game, a constant in the Australian side, a thorn in every other's. Only in a lull preceding the Ashes series two years ago were questions ever raised about his suitability, and he quickly put them to bed. Now Ponting has ridden off into the sunset, but Hussey gallops on, seemingly undimmed in eye, mind or reflex, nor bodily slowed - the eternal youth, but with no secrets. It is not so much he has had a late career as deferred a full and complete one.

This year, Hussey's 38th, he has made four centuries. You would be forgiven for having only a sketchy recall of the other three, for all were mere hundreds, made in the shadow of gargantuan Michael Clarke scores. That is too trite, of course, for any Test century is an accomplishment, and without Hussey's resolution and savvy, Clarke might have found himself stranded. Time after time, they have set a listing innings upright again.

Saturday was a variation on this theme. Rain, and the threat of more, compelled both teams to have more urgency from the start, meaning something would have to give - and almost immediately Clarke was caught at slip from a seamer by Shaminda Eranga, bowling downwind at last. ''He hasn't made a hundred,'' exclaimed the ABC's Drew Morphett, involuntarily capturing the mood. The ball was still new, and so were Sri Lanka's hopes.

Hussey, enlisting wicketkeeper Matthew Wade to the cause, took charge. While Sri Lanka pressed, he traded in singles - 14 in a row at one stage. The team's oldest player, Hussey is also its best runner between the wickets. He uses running not just to advance the score, but as a tactic, to disrupt the bowler's rhythm and manipulate the field. He rarely misjudges. This nimbleness of foot speaks of an akin quality of mind that makes a mockery of his age. In Wade, he found a willing accomplice - they ran co-operatively, like footballers in a drill.

Hussey's 50 took him 114 balls, par in this game, but thereafter his scoring rate pretty much doubled. Wresting the initiative from Sri Lanka, he laced the covers and both sides of point with drives, and if any bowler dared to drop his length, Hussey would swing him far to leg. These are the shots that any aficionado, if shown without other identifying feature, would recognise instantly as Hussey's, and his alone.

Wade took as a cue from Hussey the certainty that a Test batsman can be bold without being extravagant, and the scoreboard rattled along. But even in a steel-trap mind, the 90s loosen rivets. At 96, Hussey seized on Eranga's half-volley and pulled it high to deepest mid-wicket. Angelo Mathews made ground, took the catch, but was helpless to prevent his momentum from carrying him over the boundary rope. In quick succession, relief, embarrassment and then joy washed over Hussey's face. The pity is that the crowd was again so meagre. Filthy weather mitigated Hobart's apathy, but did not absolve it. Tasmanians now fill out the Test team, but Tasmania stands precariously near to losing its Test place.

Clarke made an astute declaration, appreciating that time already had been lost and more would be, and perhaps that Sri Lanka had fallen flat. Initially, Australia's bowlers could not coax the ball to move from the line of leg stump, but a tea-time clinic on the ground helped, and quickly they took three wickets, including both pillars of Hercules. Only Dilshan defied them, and insolently. Nathan Lyon, with high bounce, put a full stop to the day.

Of course, Hussey took a sharp catch in the gully. If this Test can be thought of as Australia's Christmas party, Hussey is the bloke who can be relied on to be there every year - and to bring an extra slab just in case.