Australia's century drought entered its 125th and most eventful day, but the ongoing failure to convert did not cost the hosts the early initiative in the Boxing Day Test. Simon Katich and Shane Watson added to their mounting collection of unusual dismissals in the 90s, although both might have expected earlier return trips to the pavilion had Pakistan held onto their chances in the field.
The highlight of the first day's play was unquestionably the run-out of Watson, which saw both batsmen stranded at the strikers' end while Imran Farhat merrily removed the bails at the other. Katich's tendancy to call while advancing down the wicket coaxed his partner into the run, and Watson's refusal to turn back led to an awkward situation in which the two openers stood their ground for more than a minute awaiting the verdict as to who should leave the field.
The decision narrowly went against Watson (93), and his dejection was plain for all to see. The converted opener has been dismissed three times this summer between scores of 89 and 96; a maiden Test century proving elusive as ever. He will, however, take solace from his imperious driving against Mohammad Aamer early in his innings, which went far to sealing a sixth half-century from 11 innings since assuming the opener's post from Phillip Hughes at Edgbaston. Only once in that time has he registered a total less than 30. Centuries may make for nice window dressing, but consistency remains batting's ultimate goal.
Katich looked set to compensate for his running gaffe - his timing and fluency steadily returned over the afternoon following a scratchy start - only for composure to again elude him in the 90s. Having narrowly avoided disaster at the hands of Saeed Ajmal the previous over, a nervous Katich cut uppishly at a Mohammad Asif (2 for 69) delivery on 98 that flew directly to Salman Butt at point. The dismissal was his third in the 90s this summer, and second in as many matches, following his 99 against Went Indies in Perth.
Ricky Ponting showed few ill effects from the elbow injury that threatened his participation in the match, racing to a half-century from just 55 balls, but his innings also fell short of triple-figures. When he was dismissed attempting to drive Asif and the second new ball, Australia's run of unconverted half-centuries reached 18, dating back to the Ashes finale at The Oval in August.
Michael Hussey (38 not out from 43 balls) batted with an air of aggression and authority not witnessed in many a month and, along with nightwatchman Nathan Hauritz (5 not out) ensured no further Australian casualties before stumps. They will resume on Sunday hoping to capitalise on an MCG wicket well suited to batsmen, albeit one that Ajmal extracted appreciable turn from.
Pakistan had ample opportunity to capitalise on the Australians' shortcomings, but three dropped catches and a missed run-out ensured the day went the way of the hosts. The most costly was the life granted to Watson who, after failing to read an Ajmal doosra, was turfed at first slip by a lunging Misbah-ul-Haq. The other reprieves were bestowed upon Simon Katich - dropped in the gully by Umar Akmal and spared a run-out by Mohammad Yousuf - and Ponting, who was grassed by Kamran Akmal.
Pakistan's ground fielding also left much to be desired, and made life difficult for the tourists' bowlers on a true MCG wicket. Ajmal, called in for the injured Danish Kaneria, and Aamer were the most consistently probing of the Pakistanis, while Asif threatened only late when the old ball began to reverse.
The least menacing member of the Pakistani attack was Abdur Rauf, a surprise selection at the coin toss. The right-armer was called in to replace the more seasoned and versatile Umar Gul on form grounds, however his 15 overs (0 for 61) on Saturday did little to justify the move. The tourists will need more from Rauf on the second day if they hope to restrict Australia to a retrievable first-innings total.