• Australia v Sri Lanka, 3rd Test, Sydney, 4th day

Retiring Hussey leads Australia to one last victory

The Report by Brydon Coverdale
January 6, 2013 « Dodson chasing pigs & squirrels to prepare for Johnson | Chartbeat test »
Australia 432 for 9 dec and 141 for 5 (Cowan 36, Herath 3-45) beat Sri Lanka 294 and 278 (Karunaratne 85, Chandimal 62*, Jayawardene 60, Johnson 3-34, Bird 3-76) by 5 wickets
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Michael Hussey was warmly welcomed by the Sydney crowd © Getty Images
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Michael Hussey is one of cricket's finest finishers, so it was fitting that he ended his international career by steering Australia to victory and a series clean-sweep over Sri Lanka. Despite the best efforts of his partner Mitchell Johnson to dead-bat the ball with one run needed, Hussey was not able to hit the winning run, instead sprinting through for a single as the ball ran off Johnson's thick edge and away to point off Rangana Herath.

To Hussey, it barely mattered. The win - the 48th of his Test career - was what meant everything. And in a small chase of 141, he had done an important job of guiding Australia through some late jitters to complete a five-wicket victory. He finished unbeaten on 27 and ended his Test career with 6,235 runs at an average of 51.52. He walked off to lead Australia in the team song one last time before he hands the job over to Nathan Lyon.

Of course, the win was not all about Hussey. Ed Cowan, Phillip Hughes and Michael Clarke all played important parts in edging Australia closer to their goal. For the second time since Clarke took over the captaincy Australia completed a clean-sweep of an opponent - the first was last summer against India - and it was a positive end to a summer that began with two draws and a loss to South Africa.

As the target was reduced with every gap pierced by Cowan and Clarke, the crowd at the SCG experienced the unusual feeling of wanting to see an Australian wicket fall. Hussey has been a favourite of the Australian fans over his seven years in the Test team and his absence from the one-day international squad announced earlier in the day meant this was certain to be his final match for Australia.

With 37 runs still required, the moment arrived. Clarke prodded forward to Tillakaratne Dilshan's offspin and lobbed a catch to short leg, and his home crowd cheered. This was no insult to Clarke, but a recognition of everything Hussey has done for Australia since his Test debut at the age of 30, and for one last time his team needed him. He walked to the crease to a standing ovation and settled down to business.

After a nervous leading edge first ball, he was off the mark from his second delivery with a cover-drive for two, and even managed to get a reverse-swept boundary in there as well. The small chase of 141 could have been tricky on a fourth-day SCG pitch, especially when Australia lost David Warner in the second over for a golden duck when he edged to Mahela Jayawardene at slip off the bowling of Suranga Lakmal.

But his opening partner Cowan set himself to guide Australia as close to their goal as possible and although he was in no hurry, he anchored two very important partnerships, a 45-run stand with Hughes and then a 59-run effort with Clarke. Hughes played some impressive strokes in his 34 from 49 balls but was flummoxed by Herath. When Herath trapped Hughes lbw it was a much-deserved wicket, even though the Sri Lankans had called for a review mostly to check on a bat-pad catch.

At 45 for 2, Australia were not yet out of the woods, especially given their decision to play five bowlers in this Test. But Cowan did not lose his cool and gradually eked out the runs, while Clarke was a little more fluent. Their partnership was the one that took Australia from a slight danger zone to a position of comfort and after Clarke fell, Cowan was bitterly disappointed to follow him and miss out on the chance to see the chase home, trapped lbw on 36 by Herath coming around the wicket.

Matthew Wade also lost his wicket when he was bowled attempting a sweep off Herath for 8, but by then Australia needed only another nine runs. The Sri Lankans, who have never won a Test in Australia, were left to wonder what could have been had they just scratched out another 50 runs in their second innings. Truth be told, they had done well to make a game of it after losing a string of wickets on the third afternoon.

Dinesh Chandimal finished unbeaten on 62 and the 41-run stand he put on with Nuwan Pradeep for the final wicket was critical in giving Sri Lanka's bowlers something to defend. Pradeep was dismissed nearly half an hour before lunch for 9, with Sri Lanka's total on 278, and it left Australia's openers a short period to bat before the break which Warner didn't survive.

Every run was important for Sri Lanka as they resumed the morning at 225 for 7. Only ten runs had been added when Herath played on to Jackson Bird while attempting to leave the ball alone, and when Lakmal was bowled for a duck trying a hefty swipe off Johnson it appeared that the innings could be over quickly. But Pradeep offered impressive support for Chandimal, who farmed the strike effectively.

Chandimal immediately lifted his tempo and struck three boundaries off a Bird over and soon had his half-century from 75 balls with another boundary whipped through midwicket off Bird. Pradeep got in on the act with four down the ground but next ball was caught behind off Bird as Sri Lanka were dismissed for 274.

It left Australia needing 141, the kind of target that has proven difficult at times in past years. It's also the sort of target that meant Australia needed not only their openers, but their No. 5 as well. And Mr Cricket delivered.

Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here

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