Ponting, Hayden destroy Pakistan attack
Saqlain Mushtaq picked up two wickets in the last session, but led by a second magnificent hundred in the series by Ricky Ponting, Australia had posted an imposing 298 for three at stumps on day one, and, looking for a clean sweep of the series, pretty much called the shots.
When the play was called off 4.3 overs early, Ponting (142, off 248 balls, 13 fours, 3 sixes) and Steve Waugh (33, 65 balls, 4 fours) were unconquered after having added 65 runs for the fourth wicket.
Of the embattled Waugh brothers, Mark got out after making a quickfire 23 with five fours, but after an extremely nervy start, Steve seemed to have batted himself back to some semblance of form.
Two down in the series, with the living daylights knocked out of them in the previous outing, Pakistan is only aiming to salvage their badly bruised pride. But it seemed quite improbable, as the Aussies, as unrelenting as ever, were most likely to build this already sizable total to an imposing one and then make it extremely difficult for the most inexperienced batting line-up that Pakistan has ever fielded since their debut in Test cricket (Pakistan's average age 24 to Australia's close to 32).
With Shoaib Akhtar opting out, and Shahid Afridi quite surprisingly not picked up despite getting especially flown in to replace Abdul Razzaq, Pakistan's bowling options were limited to a quartet. Evenly split in pace and spin, but deprived of the most fearsome member of their attack in Akhtar, the spinners Saqlain and Danish Kaneria shared bulk of the bowling. The foursome between them bowled well but only in patches. The rest as usual was short, wide and juicy fare, and on a slow but good batting wicket, Ponting and Matthew Hayden, and to a lesser extent Steve and Mark Waugh, showed the discipline and determination to take full toll of this kind of stuff, in between working the ball for singles and twos.
Right from the morning, when Steve Waugh won the toss and elected to bat, little went Pakistan's way. Waqar Younis bowled Justin Langer out with a beauty that seamed in. But that early success, in the very first over, was neutralised by Ponting and Hayden between them adding 184 runs off 327 balls for the second wicket to take Australia to a position of great strength.
Hayden (89, 165 deliveries, 247 minutes, 11 fours, 2 sixes) had a second hundred in as many innings within his sights when he tried to turn Saqlain and Faisal Iqbal took a sharp catch on second attempt.
Mark Waugh came and started playing as if he was in mid-summer form, with absolutely no care about his career. Before he gave Rashid Latif his 100th Test catch (in addition to 10 stumpings in his 34th match), of an inside edge off Saqlain, he had scored five boundaries in all, one apiece in the covers of Saqlain and Kaneria bearing his trademark elegance.
Groping for form, and with his captaincy and place in the team on the line, Steve Waugh replaced him, and after an edgy start, he struck two fours in one Saqlain over to get going. By the close, he had worked to his best innings of the series.
On a day of endless toil, Saqlain was the most successful bowler with two for 125 in 33 overs, while the wrist spinner Kaneria went for 82 without any purchase in 23.
Felled with a blow on the left cheek while ducking into a short one by Mohammad Sami - who mostly bowled with fire and venom, especially in his opening spell but without anything to show for it in the wickets column - Ponting had batted well throughout. But he saved his best for the last session, adding 57 to his 85 to roar past his 12th Test hundred by smoting Saqlain for a six.
Ponting had been hard on the entire Pakistan attack, and when the play resumes today he and Steve Waugh would surely want to pile more misery on the hosts.