Australia v India, 3rd Test, Melbourne, 2nd day December 27, 2003

Hayden - 'It's a rewarding place to play'

Matthew Hayden worked hard at the beginning ... but had fun later on

Matthew Hayden and Ricky Ponting continued their remarkable run of form in 2003, as Australia returned to something like their best form on the second day of the Melbourne Test. Neither man though was taking anything for granted, not after the manner in which India had stormed back at Adelaide after being under the cosh for most of the first two days.

"It was a very satisfying day all round," said Ponting, whose unbeaten 125 took him to 1340 runs for the year. "We had identified the first session as one of the biggest in the series for us. We didn't have much luck yesterday and we put a couple [of catches] down, which never helps. Sehwag played beautifully as well. We hung in there, but we know that we need three more good days to win this match."

Hayden, who now has three successive hundreds at the MCG, said it was an awesome place to play cricket, with bumper crowds cheering all the way. He admitted though that it was no stroll in the park. "We had to work hard early, but once you get in, the game tends to open up. It's a rewarding place to play cricket."

Hayden said the Adelaide debacle, when Australia batted in shockingly cavalier fashion on the fourth afternoon, had receded into the background after today's display. "We've put that behind us now. We needed a big partnership to get back in the hunt after a tremendous bowling performance in the morning. Punter [Ponting] and I bat really well together. On this wicket, it's easy to get ahead of yourself ... it's hard to play square-of-the-wicket shots. Ricky tends to play straight and he also pulls, which is very similar to the way I play."

Ponting also spoke of Adelaide, saying, "It hurt us. The environment in the dressing room afterwards was very different. There were two sessions of play on the fourth day where the Test was lost, and we knew we'd let ourselves down." But he added that his brilliant 242 at the Adelaide Oval hadn't influenced the way he played this innings. "I don't look back too much at all. I didn't think of Adelaide at all."

Ricky Ponting's assault was a calculated one
© Getty Images

Neither man was too interested in the run aggregates for the year, though Ponting raised a laugh or two when he said, "Stephen [Waugh] told me I was level with Mark [on 20 Test hundreds] when I walked back in. It's been a good year so far, and hopefully it will get better."

For India, the talking point was Zaheer Khan's fitness, or lack of it. Rahul Dravid said he was fit enough to play when the team was announced, but that he had felt a twinge in his hamstring the fourth or fifth over he bowled in the morning. "He showed character to stay on and keep bowling," he said. "It is a slight worry though, but he knew he had to keep going today."

Dravid accepted that India had had a "tough day". "We didn't bat well," he said. "We had a great platform but we couldn't build on it. It was a combination of poor shots and them putting the ball in the right areas. From 278 for 1, we should have done much better."

Of Ponting and Hayden, he said, "They showed why they're two of the best in the world at the moment. It was a tough day for them yesterday and a tough one for us today. You shouldn't forget that we're playing a very good side."

Dravid brushed off suggestions of a momentum shift, saying, "We didn't have momentum the first two days at Adelaide either. I'm not a big believer in that. We showed some spirit today, and we just have to come back and try our best tomorrow."

Ponting said that Zaheer's injury was a big blow for India. "He was bowling well within himself. It's a good sign for us. They capitalised on the mistakes we made yesterday and now it's up to us to take advantage of some good fortune."

Tomorrow, all that will most likely be relegated to a snippet, as the headline writers gear up for the next instalment of Australia's favourite ongoing soap opera, the Steve Waugh retirement show. There'll be enough and more red rags on show...thank heavens we're not in Pamplona for the running of the bulls.

Dileep Premachandran is assistant editor of Wisden Cricinfo. He will be following the team throughout the course of this Test series.