Hussey keeps England at bay
England produced a stirring fightback on day two of the first Ashes Test at the Gabba, but a stellar innings from Mike Hussey ensured Australia retained a slender advantage.
The hosts had slumped to 143 for five on a gripping afternoon in Brisbane, having been 78 without loss shortly before lunch.
James Anderson accounted for Shane Watson and Ricky Ponting, the latter falling to the second delivery of the afternoon session, while Steven Finn dismissed Simon Katich for 50 to claim his first Ashes wicket.
Finn and Graeme Swann then struck in successive overs to remove Michael Clarke and Marcus North for nine and one respectively and a first-innings lead appeared well within England’s reach - a somewhat surprising turn of events after they were dismissed for a modest 260 yesterday.
Hussey, however, remained a thorn in the their side as he combined solid defence with an array of dazzling strokes, most notably several pulls through midwicket.
At the midway point of the evening session, the left-hander, who almost departed first ball as an edge fell agonisingly short of second slip, had progressed to 81, having dominated a valuable unbroken partnership of 77 with wicketkeeper-batsman Brad Haddin.
The alliance lifted Australia to 220 for five before bad light and then rain ended play 17 overs early, with the new ball available to England.
The tourists encountered similar resistance this morning as Watson and Katich added 53 to their overnight stand.
Both men benefited from moments of fortune, with Katich successfully reviewing a leg before decision that had initially gone in favour of Anderson and Watson escaping after the same bowler failed with an lbw review of his own.
Stuart Broad was unfortunate not to claim at least one wicket as he bowled with pace and accuracy throughout the morning and troubled the otherwise impressive Watson on several occasions.
But it was Anderson who made the breakthrough for England as a length delivery took the shoulder of Watson’s bat and flew to skipper Andrew Strauss at first slip.
That brought Ponting to the crease and, after getting off the mark with an unconvincing edge to the third man fence, he battled through to the interval alongside the obstinate Katich.
Happily for England, Ponting’s innings proved to be a brief one as Anderson struck immediately after lunch, when Ponting was caught behind down the leg side.
Katich brought up his half-century soon after with a clip through fine-leg for four, but Clarke was left all at sea as Anderson and Finn hit their straps.
England grabbed a third wicket as a diving Finn held on to a superb low catch off his own bowling to remove Katich, and Hussey almost departed first ball to the same bowler as an edge failed to carry to Swann at second slip.
Finn thought he had Clarke caught behind soon after via inside edge, but a review proved unsuccessful after Aleem Dar rejected a vociferous appeal.
Clarke eventually got off the mark from his 16th delivery, but suffered further discomfort as Broad struck him on the helmet with an accurate bouncer.
Hussey went on to make serene progress following his early let-off, with Swann coming in for particular punishment as the left-hander collected a series of boundaries.
England refused to lie down, however, and regained valuable momentum with a double burst shortly before tea.
Finn put Clarke out of his misery as the batsman got a faint top edge to short-armed pull, Prior taking a simple catch to record his 100th Test scalp for England.
Swann, who was nursing figures of 0-34 after four overs, then dismissed North with a flighted delivery that brushed the outside edge and found Paul Collingwood at slip.
Hussey remained resolute for the hosts and ended the afternoon session in the company of wicketkeeper Haddin.
The duo continued to keep England at bay after tea, Hussey bringing up his own half-century off 85 balls before pulling Swann through midwicket to herald the fifty partnership.
The returning Anderson twice forced Haddin to play and miss outside the off stump, but Hussey kept the pressure on England with yet another wonderful pull off Swann.
Finn was also dispatched to the midwicket fence by Hussey as Australia reduced their arrears to less than 50, but the match remains tantalisingly poised.