Michael Hussey led Australia to the famous ‘Amazing Adelaide’ Ashes Test win, conjured a big hundred in Bangladesh during THAT partnership with Jason Gillespie and produced one of the great T20 match-winning knocks ever seen against Pakistan in a World Cup semi-final.
But of all the stunning knocks the legendary left-hander played, his first and only Boxing Day Test hundred – primarily scored during the most unlikely 10th-wicket partnership – 17 years ago to the day remains “one of the most rewarding and greatest days of my career”.
Albeit he “felt a bit weird” at times during his innings against South Africa.
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After a long wait, Hussey was brought into the Australian Test team for the 2005/06 summer and had an immediate impact, scoring two tons in his first three matches against the West Indies.
The 2005 Boxing Day Test between the Aussies and Proteas was just his fifth Test. And it remains one he reflects “very fondly” on.
Ricky Ponting won the toss and elected to bat first against Graeme Smith’s South Africa. But at stumps on day one, the Aussies were in deep trouble at 8-239, with Hussey not out on 23 and running out of partners.
Hussey the next day had only added four runs to his tally when Stuart MacGill was bowled by Makhaya Ntini to leave Australia on the ropes at 9-248.
Enter legendary paceman Glenn McGrath, who strode into the middle of the MCG with the humble batting average of 7.36. Expectations of a big Hussey score, therefore, were low.
Despite the odds, the pair combined for one of the most memorable – and entertaining – partnerships in Australian Test history. In fact Hussey and McGrath’s stand of 107 remains the fifth-highest 10th-wicket stand by any Australian duo.
“It was probably one of the most rewarding and greatest days of my career,” Hussey told foxsports.com.au.
“I often look back on that match and think how lucky I was, just to be playing in a Boxing Day Test and to be able to play in such a great game like that and to be involved with a partnership like that.”
Hussey and McGrath’s strategy was simple. The star batter would take the lion’s share of an over and try to find the boundary rope – despite the South Africans setting the field deep – before giving the strike to McGrath to block out the last ball or two.
“You need a lot to go right and need a bit of luck along the way. But I think first of all you need to show a bit of faith in a tailender, so give him belief that this is an important partnership and ‘I‘m backing you in’,” Hussey said.
“It’s just a bit of a feel thing about how you try to maximise getting runs while also trying to keep the strike. So it was more of a case of when could I find a boundary if they brought the field in and then how do I get back on strike in the next over? Sometimes it worked out and sometimes it didn‘t work, but hopefully you’ve given him a bit of that belief and a bit of a plan on how you want to go about it.”
McGrath kept his wicket as he defended like his life depended on it. He contributed just 11 runs in the famous partnership with Hussey, but more importantly survived 56 balls across the enthralling two-hour period.
“Yes he was a fast bowler, but ‘Pigeon’ deserves a lot of credit for the amount of courage and grit that he showed to hang in there for as long as he did,” Hussey said.
“He was pretty keen on batting for as long as he could because it meant less time bowling. I think he enjoyed that we were annoying the South Africans by keeping them out there in the field for that long.
“He did pride himself on his batting. I know he had a lot of jokes poked at him about how he went about it and his average. But he got really angry when he got out. He would chastise himself for ages after he got out and we were like ‘Pidge, don’t worry about it mate, you’re a No. 11, we weren’t expecting much anyway.’ But he took a lot of pride in it.”
Although Hussey admits it was a “bit weird” as a batter five Tests into his career telling a 118-Test great off in such a pressure situation.
“Sometimes I had to yell at him for playing his shots, but I had to pinch myself thinking: ‘What am I doing yelling at a Test legend and telling him what to do?’ It didn’t feel quite right,” he said with a laugh.
“It was a crucial partnership, really, in the context of the game. We were in a little bit of trouble, but to get our total up to something that I think was a lot more respectable, it turned out to give us a really good chance in the game.”
The Aussies would finish with 355 in their first innings, which would set up in the end a comprehensive 184-run win.
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