Australia v Pakistan, 2nd Test, Melbourne, 2nd day December 27, 2004

Martyn keeps Australia afloat

Australia 5 for 203 (Martyn 67*, Gilchrist 26*) trail Pakistan 341 (Youhana 111, Younis 87, Butt 70) by 138 runs
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details

Damien Martyn kept the Pakistan attack at bay with a classy 67 not out © Getty Images

For the second day in a row, Pakistan were unrecognisable from the side which capitulated without a trace at Perth. If Yousuf Youhana led the charge on the first day at the MCG, then Shoaib Akhtar was the hero on the second. His three strikes were largely instrumental in having Australia on the run, as they ended the second day on 5 for 203, still 138 behind Pakistan's first-innings total.

On a gloomy day when 16 overs were lost to showers and bad light, Pakistan showed little positive intent with the bat, dawdling for 17 overs to add just 23 to their overnight total before being bowled out. With the ball, though, they were all aggression - Akhtar hustled and hurried every batsman, managing extreme pace and uncomfortable bounce even on an easy-paced pitch, while Mohammad Sami and Danish Kaneria offered him excellent support. Only Damien Martyn, unbeaten with a composed and typically elegant 67, handled him with some comfort.

There was a brief passage of play when Australia looked like taking charge, when Justin Langer (50) and Martyn added 90 for the third wicket, but even then Akhtar remained a threat, hitting Langer a couple of times on the arm and entering into a verbal duel with him which needed the umpires' intervention.

Consistently bowling at nearly 150kph, Akhtar started the Australian slide in his fifth over, nailing Matthew Hayden for the third time in three innings in this series. Five balls after Kamran Akmal dropped a skyer to reprieve Hayden, he slapped a short, wide ball straight to Shoaib Malik at point (1 for 13). Ricky Ponting was greeted with more fiery stuff, and he soon succumbed to the c Shoaib b Akhtar route, pulling one down square leg's throat (2 for 32).

Martyn started off with a streaky four through the slips, but got into his stride soon after with a series of delectable strokes, gliding Sami through gully and then clipping him off his toes with minimum fuss. As the footwork got more assured, so his strokeplay - his favourite one today was the square cut, which he employed repeatedly as Pakistan's bowlers pitched short. He offered one half-chance, when an attempted tap over the slips ballooned and fell just short of Imran Farhat at third slip, but that was a rare blemish in what was otherwise a masterful knock.

With Langer as effective, in not as fluent, as at Perth, Australia motored along till Langer miscued a sweep off Kaneria and holed out. The breakthrough achieved, Yousuf Youhana immediately brought back his primary strike bowler, and it paid off. An out-of-sorts Darren Lehmann flicked at a short one and was brilliantly held, at the second attempt, by Yasir Hameed at short leg (4 for 135).

Clarke delighted briefly, tonking Kaneria for a superb straight six, but he was far less assured against the seamers. Sami should have had him on 10, when Clarke shouldered arms to an indipper which would have taken off stump. Not only did Rudi Koertzen turn down that perfectly legitimate appeal, he went on to warn Sami for running on the pitch a couple of overs later.

Shoaib Akhtar celebrates after nailing Ricky Ponting © Getty Images

Clarke's luck ran out soon after, though, when he miscued one which bounced off the rough, and Akhtar completed an easy catch at long-off. Adam Gilchrist clattered a few fours in a typically energetic 26, and ensured that Australia could still hope to get close to, and even overhaul, Pakistan's total.

If the last two sessions of the day produced enthralling cricket, then the first one was completely soporific, thanks to Pakistan's inexplicable approach with the bat. The chief culprit today was Abdul Razzaq. One of the most devastating hitters in the game when in the mood, today he went into self-denial mode, as if atoning for his senseless hoick off Shane Warne in the first innings at Perth. Blocking half-volley after half-volley, he remained undefeated on 4 off an unbelievable 76 balls. It would have been a commendable effort if Pakistan had been battling save a game; here, with his side in an excellent position to wrest the initiative, it was beyond comprehension.

Australia didn't mind that approach one bit, though. They chipped away at the other end, as four wickets fell for precious little in a shortened morning session. It ensured that Pakistan, instead of scoring close to 400 runs, finished with only 341. By close of play, however, that seemed a good enough total to test the might of the Australians.

S Rajesh is assistant editor of Cricinfo.