Ponting pulverises Pakistan
Australia 4 for 340 (Ponting 155*, Martyn 67) lead Pakistan 304 (Salman Butt 108, Hameed 58, MacGill 5-87, McGrath 4-50) by 36 runs
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details
Ricky Ponting shook off the rust of an indifferent year with an incandescent unbeaten 155, full of character and blistering strokes, to take his team to a commanding position at the end of day two at Sydney. It was his first Test hundred as captain, ending a 20-innings drought, and it took Australia ahead on a fast-wearing pitch with six wickets still standing. Damien Martyn carried his last year's form with a nifty fifty and Adam Gilchrist sent the Pakistanis off to an uneasy night with two towering hits.
Ponting's hundred was a remarkable effort. The strokes that flowed from his bat did not betray the deliberation that went behind the construction of the innings. After touching a personal high in 2003 with over 1500 runs at more than 100, he had slumped into ordinariness after assuming captaincy in 2004. His last hundred, a stroke-filled 257, had come against India in the Boxing Day Test at the MCG in 2003. It was his second successive double-hundred and his third that year.
But in 2004, he missed Tests in Sri Lanka and India and aggregated 697 runs at 41, hardly disgraceful figures, but not in keeping with Ponting's status as one of world's leading batsmen. He had been off colour in this series till the final innings of the last Test at Melbourne, where, with the Pakistani bowlers lacking in intensity and purpose, he hit an unbeaten fifty in an easy run-chase. That, perhaps, was the turning point. Today he was briskly into his stride after Australia lost Justin Langer in the fourth over.
But even though his innings was dotted with sparkling boundaries and he scored quickly throughout, his effort was reminiscent of a much more cautious, but equally captivating, innings from Sachin Tendulkar at the same ground last year. Like Tendulkar, who shrugged off a wretched year with a monumental 241, Ponting avoided playing on the up on the off side and often worked balls from the off and middle stump deftly and powerfully to the leg side. It was not until he reached his hundred that he hit a boundary square of the wicket on the off side. It was a stunning stroke: he was standing a metre outside his crease to Mohammad Asif, and he hit the ball on the up with a horizontal bat, sending it screaming behind point. By now, he was doing as he pleased.
But if he was denying himself scoring options at the beginning of his innings you could have hardly noticed it because the fours kept coming. Naved-ul-Hasan, who had dismissed Australia's man-in-form, Langer, with a ball that shaped in to him, was little bother for Ponting who countered the swing with quick footwork. He twice drove Naved majestically down the wicket, pulled Asif, and swept and lofted Kaneria, the only bowler who troubled him early in his innings. There was a hint of reverse-swing when Shoaib Akhtar, whom Ponting had baited before the Test with a few caustic words, came on for a short burst after lunch. Ponting dismissed him with an emphatic drive that rocketed past the bowler.
The wicket of Matthew Hayden minutes before lunch gave Pakistan a toehold, but Ponting and Martyn, who came into this Test with back-to-back hundreds, deflated them with a third-wicket partnership of 174 that featured glorious strokeplay. Martyn was serene and composed from the very first ball he faced and he played his strokes all around the wicket with the touch that has come to be associated with him. He was glorious on the off side, repeatedly playing late and rolling his wrists over the ball to counter the slowness of the pitch. The pair added 139 between lunch and tea, and from there on, Pakistan's only hope lay in restricting the damage.
The Pakistanis gave a dispiriting performance in the field. Admittedly, they were without one of their main bowlers and they had a debutant coming first change. But as it turned out Asif, a tall, waspish and loose-limbed bowler with a relaxed action, was their most impressive bowler in the first two sessions. With a bit of luck, he could have been among the wickets. Hayden offered him two difficult chances and he had Martyn playing and missing a couple of times. But Pakistan were let down by Shoaib, who was clueless.
He bowled a listless opening spell during which he allowed himself to be distracted by the delaying tactics from Hayden and Langer. One image said it all: Shoaib sitting on his haunches on the top of his bowling mark wearing a look of utter frustration as Hayden took his time to take guard; the next ball, predictably, was a bouncer, which Hayden dispatched to the square-leg boundary. Shoaib bowled only two overs after lunch and hobbled off the field after pulling a muscle which kept him from bowling until the final hour of the day.
Undoubtedly, Kaneria was Pakistan's best bowler. Pushed into the dual responsibilities of containing and striking, he plugged away enthusiastically, obtaining both turn and bounce. He tantalised two batsmen out of their crease and left them stranded mid-pitch and could have had Ponting early had Kamran Akmal managed to hold on to a sharp chance behind the stumps. But clearly, his performance wasn't enough for Pakistan, who now face their third straight defeat.
Sambit Bal is editor of Cricinfo in India and of Wisden Asia Cricket magazine.