Marsh was unbeaten on 87 and Hussey was on 76 when bad light stopped play shortly after tea, and although both men were within sight of triple figures, the most important figure was the 90-run lead they had built for their team. With seven wickets in hand and three days still to play, it would take something miraculous for the Sri Lankans to get out of this hole.
At least they know they have what it takes to trouble Australia; three top-order wickets before lunch proved that. But once Hussey and Marsh came together, two calm left-handers at opposite ends of their careers, all the momentum was sucked away from Sri Lanka.
When Australia were 116 for 3 following the loss of Michael Clarke, a first-innings lead was still up for grabs. At the close of play, Australia were 264 for 3, and the only question was how many Sri Lanka would have to make to force the visitors to bat a second time.
As the partnership grew, things became so desperate for Tillakaratne Dilshan that he even turned to Kumar Sangakkara, desperately hoping his arm would prove as golden as Hussey’s had for Australia on the first day. But Sangakkara’s sub-100kph seamers made Hussey the bowler look like Brett Lee, and the Australians had no problem seeing him off.
Sangakkara even took the new ball during his second over, an extraordinary move for a man whose only first-class victim was Elton Chigumbura in a match against Zimbabwe A seven years ago. It was a sign of how helpless Marsh and Hussey had made the Sri Lankans feel.
That’s to be expected of Hussey, but the composure shown by Marsh was remarkable. If he reaches his hundred, he’ll be the first Australian to score a century on debut since another patient Western Australian left-hander, Marcus North, who achieved the feat in South Africa in 2009.
But North was shielded down at No.6; Marsh was sent in at No.3, and saw wickets tumble around him early in his innings. Initially, he found his runs largely through singles, taking no risks, and even when the boundaries began to flow they were usually dispatched safely along the ground.
He brought up his half-century with a classy off-drive for four off the legspin of Seekkuge Prasanna, using his feet to reach the pitch of the ball and directing it wide of mid-off. He put away three boundaries in that over, but all were safe strokes.
Meanwhile, Hussey was punching through gaps, cutting late and finding runs with his usual ease. His only lean patch came when he spent 39 balls working his way through the 40s, before his half-century came up with a vicious pull for four off Suraj Randiv.
Hussey had survived a tight run-out chance on 39 when he dived full-stretch to make his ground after sprinting through for a quick single to mid-off. It was another incredible display of athleticism for a 36-year-old, but was hardly surprising after his flying catch at gully on the first day.
The direct hit from Lakmal would have found most batsmen around the world short of their ground, and it just added to the frustration for Sri Lanka after their first session had gone so well. The day started with a wicket before Australia had scored a run, as Shane Watson shouldered arms to Lakmal and lost his off stump.
It was a terribly poor piece of judgment: the ball was too full and too straight, and Watson should have learnt from the previous delivery, which had narrowly missed off stump when he also chose to leave it alone. By contrast, Clarke probably should have stayed away from the ball that got him for 13; he followed the angle from the left-armer Chanaka Welegedara and loosely edged to slip.
The other wicket to fall in that brief period of Sri Lankan dominance was Phillip Hughes, who worked hard for his 36 before he was caught at short-leg, having inside-edged onto his pad against the offspin of Randiv. It wasn’t a failure of an innings for Hughes, but nor was it a triumph like Marsh’s effort.
At stumps, Usman Khawaja was padded up ready to come in next, which created an interesting subplot for Australian fans: when Ricky Ponting returns for the third Test, Marsh, Hughes and Khawaja will be battling for two spots.
By then, the series could be decided. And Marsh might have been the man to decide it.