Langer leads the Australian charge
Australia 8 for 357 (Langer 181*, Gilchrist 69, Shoaib 4-89) v Pakistan
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details
Justin Langer's coruscating unbeaten 181 shone through on an enthralling day of Test cricket when Australia demonstrated, once again, why they are by far the best side in the world. Staring at an abysmally low first-innings total when they had slumped to 5 for 78, Australia, led by Langer and Adam Gilchrist, responded with a blistering counterattack which was more proof of their incredible self-confidence. They ended the day well in control, on 8 for 357.
The one characteristic which has differentiated Australia from the rest of the teams for the last few years has been their ability to attack even when in a crisis, and that feature stood out in the afternoon session. The loss of five top-order wickets in a couple of hours would have been enough to force most teams into a defensive shell. Not this Australian side, though. Langer and Gilchrist, who made a magnificent 69 from 78 balls, came out all guns blazing, thrashing the bowling to all parts in an astonishing onslaught which fetched 142 runs in a mere 25.2 overs. Pakistan's early advantage vanished in a couple of hours, and normal service was restored. Even when Gilchrist left, Jason Gillespie rubbed it further in with a stubborn 24, adding 80 more for the eighth wicket.
Langer's 21st Test century - his second on his home ground - was among his most fluent knocks in Test cricket. Many of his big knocks in Tests have been scratchy, but this one was assured from the outset. He took his time to settle in, scoring only 22 in the morning session, but at no stage was he unduly troubled by the bounce at the WACA. He got into his stride during his stand with Gilchrist, playing some scorching drives and pulls, and then went into overdrive when batting with the tail: the shot of the day was probably his on-driven six off Mohammad Sami, who was charging in with the second new ball. Pakistan did have one chance to remove him early in the piece, but Kamran Akmal failed to move down the leg side quickly enough when Langer gloved one off Sami. Langer was on 13 then, and made the most of the reprieve. When on 41, he went past Brian Lara's tally of 1178 to become the year's highest run-scorer in Tests.
If Langer's was a well-paced innings, then Gilchrist's was a typically belligerent one. Five years ago, at Hobart, the same pair had revived a seemingly lost cause against the same opponents and taken Australia to an improbable win; here, Gilchrist failed to reach his hundred, but did enough to turn a dire situation into a dominant one in a couple of hours. As always, he pounced upon even marginal errors in length - anything fractionally short was cut or pulled away, while deliveries even slightly fuller than good length were driven with precise timing and placement.
The Pakistan attack, so impressive in the first session, slowly came unstuck. Shoaib Akhtar and Sami had shared the five wickets to fall, but they were given a much-deserved rest in the afternoon, and both batsmen cashed in. Abdul Razzaq was creamed through the off side, while Danish Kaneria was twice lofted over long-on for sixes by Langer. The momentum shifted drastically, and even Shoaib and Sami couldn't do much to restore the balance when they came back into the attack.
However, Pakistan had everything going their way in the morning. Inzamam-ul-Haq won the toss, and then Shoaib and Sami ripped through the Australian top order. Shoaib had publicly baited Matthew Hayden before the game, calling Langer the better of the two openers, and he backed up that statement in only his second over. Hayden had thumped him for four earlier in the over, but had no answer to a full-length delivery which swung back in and trapped him plumb in front (1 for 6).
Ricky Ponting and Langer steadied the innings, but at no stage of the partnership did either batsman dominate. Ponting played a couple of crunching drives on the off side, but for the most part Pakistan kept the pressure on. Shoaib, Sami and Mohammad Khalil, the left-arm seamer making his Test debut, bowled with control and made run-scoring an onerous task. Only six fours came in the first session, and the discipline yielded results, as three wickets fell in the last six overs before lunch.
Ponting played all across a straight delivery from Sami which crashed into his stumps (2 for 56), Damien Martyn nicked a perfect away-going delivery, while Darren Lehmann shuffled far too much and had his stumps knocked back by Shoaib (4 for 71). When Michael Clarke edged Shoaib to slip immediately after lunch, Australia had slumped to 5 for 78, and were in danger of being bundled out for 150 or less. Then Gilchrist joined Langer, and the Australian party began.
S Rajesh is assistant editor of Cricinfo.