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May 30, 2008
Simon Katich and Ricky Ponting both celebrated big moments in their careers as Australia took control in Antigua, and although Ponting's milestone had an extra couple of zeroes, Katich's effort helped his team more. By the close of the first day, Australia had made good use of a pitch that gave little assistance to West Indies' fast men and were 259 for 3, with Katich on 113 and Michael Clarke on 38.
Ponting should forever remember the instant when he played a simple cover-drive for two off the part-time legspin of Ramnaresh Sarwan to register his 10,000th Test run, in the process becoming the seventh man and the third Australian to pass the mark. But his enjoyment of the event was short-lived as he was out in the next over, handing the spotlight to his team-mate.
Katich's career has taken a different path to that of Ponting's, although they are similar ages and were both mentioned as potential Australia captains when they came on to the international scene. Two and a half years out of the Test team left Katich wondering if he would ever wear the baggy green again, making it an extra special moment when he brought up a century in his second game back.
Adding to the relief, he was under pressure after failing in the first Test when promoted to the unfamiliar opening role when Matthew Hayden was unavailable with an achilles tendon injury. But in Antigua Katich set out to play a different role than he did at Sabina Park, where he was too aggressive too early and struggled to control his tempo. At the Sir Vivian Richards Stadium he was far more watchful, pushing ones and twos and waiting for opportunities to dispatch bad balls.
A cracking cover-driven four off Fidel Edwards showed his class, and a pair of sweetly timed straight-driven boundaries proved he was concentrating on playing sensible strokes. His third Test hundred came up with one of his best shots of the day - and one of only eight fours he had by that stage - when he flicked an on-drive wide of mid-on against Dwayne Bravo. The beaming smile from Katich after he got there showed how much it meant, and he enjoyed an embrace with his partner and New South Wales team-mate Clarke.
The support for Katich was important; Ponting and Clarke in particular took much of the pressure off him with confident contributions of their own. Clarke's form was particularly impressive given that he has not played any serious cricket since March. Rather than being rusty after arriving in the Caribbean last week following his time away for personal reasons, he launched some cracking cover-drives and off-drives when he got half-volleys late in the day.
The team's new vice-captain appeared to be in as fine touch as Ponting, who picked up where he left off after his first-Test 158. Ponting was particularly strong driving off the back foot but also showed impressive patience, waiting for West Indies to stray on to his legs so he could clip through the on side. He looked set for another hundred when he pushed at a Jerome Taylor slower ball wide of off stump and got a thick edge to second slip for 65, ending an excellent 136-run stand with Katich.
It was a rare moment of joy for West Indies on a day when they were forced to toil hard after losing the toss. They did not help their own cause by neglecting to choose a specialist spinner on a slow pitch and even their best part-time slow bowler, Chris Gayle, was unavailable as he failed to fully recover from his groin injury. Instead, their group of five fast and medium-pace bowlers allowed Australia to settle into a rhythm.
Their fielding was also disappointing, particularly after their impressive effort in Jamaica, and too many runs were conceded by sloppy mistakes. Katich was dropped on 90 when he cut Edwards to point and Runako Morton put down one he should have taken, and Michael Hussey also had a life when he top-edged an ugly half-duck half-hook that bounced out of Denesh Ramdin's right hand.
Fortunately for West Indies, Hussey was scratchy and gave them another opportunity when he was on 10. Darren Sammy dragged down a poor short delivery and Hussey, sensing a chance for easy runs, pulled hard in the air but straight to midwicket where Shivnarine Chanderpaul clung on to the ball.
It was a lucky break for Sammy. The man who deserved his breakthrough the most was Bravo, who removed Phil Jaques for 17 early in the day. A perfect Bravo inswinger pitched in line and straightened, striking Jaques on the back pad dead in front, and continuing a worrying trend for Jaques. He has struggled to find runs without Matthew Hayden as his opening colleague - in five Test innings without Hayden, Jaques has scored 54 at 10.80 - and Australia expected more from the man who was nominally the senior partner ahead of Katich.
But there was nothing junior about Katich on this occasion. His excellent technique and controlled tempo overshadowed his more established team-mates and ensured Australia would enter the second morning well on top as they aim to secure the Frank Worrell Trophy within the next four days.