Ponting rules the day
Close Australia 245 for 3 (Ponting 137*) trail Zimbabwe 308 by 146 runs
Ricky Ponting: wresting back the initiative in style © Getty Images
The fading light at Sydney towards the end of the second day's play did what Zimbabwe's bowlers couldn't - put an end, for the time being, to Ricky Ponting's outstanding innings. When Ponting and Steve Waugh accepted the offer of bad light, Australia were 245 for 3, 63 runs behind Zimbabwe's first-innings total of 308.
Ponting, unbeaten on 137, dominated the last two sessions with an innings full of quality strokeplay. His precision and timing proved unstoppable, and any of his 19 fours or two sixes could have been the shot of the day. His strokes off the legs were punishing, while he used his feet well against Ray Price and Gavin Ewing, with spectacular results. One of his sixes was nailed absolutely straight and sailed high in the stands behind the bowler.
His 50 came off 51 balls, and he brought up his century off the first ball he faced after tea when he cut Ewing to the boundary. It was his 18th Test century, and when he smashed a six off Price with his next scoring shot, it brought up his 5000th run in Tests.
Double strike: Andy Blignaut celebrates the big wicket of Matthew Hayden after he removed Justin Langer © Getty Images
Australia's run-rate was better than a run a minute for most of the day, although Zimbabwe attempted to slow it down by their shabby over-rate. Had they not gone off for bad light, there was every chance that play would have extended well beyond the normal finish time.
Zimbabwe's day started well, though, as they reached 308, courtesy of some spunky batting by Andy Blignaut. Dropped by Damien Martyn at third slip off Brad Williams, he made Australia pay with some bruising blows. And Australia's misery was compounded by another injury worry with Brett Lee leaving the field with an abdominal muscle strain. It was later revealed that the injury will keep him out of cricket for a month, preventing him from touring India.
The rousing stand between Blignaut and Price put together 53 before Andy Bichel provided the breakthrough when Price was caught by Williams at mid-off for 20. Blessing Mahwire was then dubiously given out caught behind by Adam Gilchrist off Bichel, giving him his fourth wicket and bringing Zimbabwe's innings to an end.
Blignaut, who finished with an unbeaten 38, then had an immediate effect with the ball. Justin Langer lobbed a drive off the splice of his bat to Heath Streak at mid-off (7 for 1), and Matthew Hayden came back down to earth when snapped up by Stuart Carlisle close to the wicket (51 for 2). But Ponting came out and showed his intent from the start, driving on the up through the off-side, and flicking off the legs when the bowlers strayed in line.
Blignaut's inconsistency of line and length was his downfall. While quite capable of bowling a wicket-taking delivery, he was also guilty of bowling too many loose balls. Heath Streak was still struggling for his rhythm and he rarely troubled the batsmen, conceding 58 runs from his 11 overs. Twice, though, mix-ups between wicketkeeper Tatenda Taibu and first slip resulted in edges passing between them with neither attempting the catch.
Price did manage to slow the free-for-all, and his dismissal of Damien Martyn - trapped lbw for 32 - was worthy reward for an accurate spell. He ended the day with respectable figures of 1 for 58 from 20 overs. But with Ponting on the attack, and Waugh efficiently accumulating runs, Zimbabwe have a tough day ahead of them tomorrow.