Jaques makes trouble for Sri Lanka
Australia 3 for 242 (Jaques 100, Ponting 56, Muralitharan 2-67) v Sri Lanka
Live scorecard and ball-by-ball details
After ten months of speculation over who would fill Australia's three vacant Test positions, Phil Jaques hinted that at least one of those spots is in safe hands. Jaques celebrated his first match as a full-time member of the side with a century as Australia fought off Muttiah Muralitharan's wiles to reach 3 for 242 at stumps.
Michael Hussey was on 28 and Michael Clarke had reached 5 at the close, leaving Sri Lanka to regret their decision to send Australia in on a Gabba pitch tinged with green. At least the predicted showers stayed away for most of the day - 75 minutes were lost in the morning - and allowed Jaques to overcome his nervy start to settle into the opener's role with an even 100.
Although the bigger holes after Australia's Ashes triumph were left by Shane Warne and Glenn McGrath - Mitchell Johnson and Stuart MacGill will have their chance to prove their worth - the loss of Justin Langer could have been debilitating for the top order. But Jaques showed superb mental strength to register his first Test hundred before a slip in that concentration let Muralitharan end his stay.
He never looked comfortable against Muralitharan, staying in his crease and defending, sometimes playing and missing, and edging two slick chances to fumbling slips fieldsmen. When Jaques finally decided to advance Muralitharan made him look foolish, slowing his pace and pulling his length back, spinning it past the lunging Jaques who was easily stumped while sprawled well out of his crease.
Aside from that attempted slog, Jaques played a sensible innings after an overly cautious opening in which he failed to score until his 34th delivery. He gradually settled into his usual rhythm, punishing loose balls - and there were plenty from the fast bowlers - regularly rocking onto his back foot and cutting hard or driving through the off side.
His century came off 196 balls with a confident back-foot drive forward of point for four off Chaminda Vaas. The milestone had only just arrived when Muralitharan enjoyed a well-earned reward with his deception of Jaques, who was not the only batsman troubled by Muralitharan's efforts.
He made his first inroads into the nine wickets he required to overtake Shane Warne's Test record of 708 victims when he also had Ricky Ponting stumped with a sharp piece of work from Prasanna Jayawardene. After a lengthy spell over the wicket, Muralitharan moved around the wicket and it took only four balls for the angle to unnerve Ponting, who pushed at a straighter delivery angled across him and briefly dragged his foot just centimetres out of safe ground.
Ponting fell just short of his Test average, scoring 56, and it was a typical Ponting innings, punctuated by classical cover drives and a couple of lofted fours over mid on from Muralitharan. It took the brilliance of Muralitharan to remove Ponting after he and Jaques had brought the score to 1 for 183.
The pair dictated terms to Sri Lanka, not so much to Muralitharan but to the three-man seam attack of Vaas, Farveez Maharoof and Dilhara Fernando. Sri Lanka missed their fastest weapon, Lasith Malinga, who was overlooked to allow Maharoof into the side as they predicted sharp movement on the first morning.
Mahela Jayawardene played his part by winning the toss and choosing to field but after Jaques played out the first over from Vaas, the rain came and ate away an hour of the time Sri Lanka had hoped to use to earn an advantage. When play resumed Jaques was shaky but Matthew Hayden ensured Australia were not outfoxed.
Hayden's 43 included several typically aggressive strokes preceded by his walk at the bowler, however it was one of those shots that brought his downfall. Hayden advanced to Vaas and tried to drive over the bowler's head, but he skied the ball wide of the mid-off, Muralitharan, who ran 15 paces to his right at full speed to take an excellent catch.
It was the only wicket claimed by pace all day as the fast bowlers failed to help Muralitharan build pressure. Fernando's efforts were particularly frustrating for Sri Lanka, as he achieved the treble of consistently spraying the ball too wide, too short and too full. Maharoof was far less threatening than in the tour match against Queensland, when he claimed three victims in each innings, and Vaas extracted some movement early but had to settle for the sole wicket of Hayden.
The fieldsmen did not help Sri Lanka's cause either; Jayawardene and Chamara Silva both gave Jaques chances in the slips when he was in the 60s and Silva also spilled a tough opportunity off Jaques at cover. Play is set to begin half an hour early on day two - at 9.30am local time - with Sri Lanka desperate for a slicker all-round effort if the weather allows it.
Brydon Coverdale is an editorial assistant at Cricinfo