Steve Waugh's Australians welcomed in a new Test season in characteristically indomitable fashion on Thursday, overwhelming an inexperienced and nomadic Pakistan side at P. Saravanamuttu Stadium in Sri Lanka.

Pakistan came into the game in apparent crisis after a series of poor one-day performances - a dip that culminated in the sacking of coach and manager after the ICC Champions Trophy - hopeful that this Test series would help turn their form around.

However, without the services of key senior players, they allowed Australia's batsmen to stamp their authority on the series, plundering 330 runs for the loss of five wickets in just 77.2 overs to leave Waqar Younis's side with their backs to the wall, despite clawing themselves back into the match with three wickets in the evening.

Pakistan were not helped by their selection, deciding as they did to discard promising 21-year-old leg-spinner Danish Kaneria in the morning, preferring to employ four pace bowlers and only one specialist spinner, Saqlain Mushtaq, on a flat sub-continental wicket.

Indeed Saqlain, back in the side after sitting out the one-day tournaments at Nairobi and Colombo for personal reasons, proved to be their best bowler, providing a semblance of control in stark contrast to his wayward colleagues, who wasted an opportunity to attack Australia's top order during the first hour when the pitch still contained some residual moisture after heavy overnight rain in Colombo.

Australia pounced on any opportunity to score, thrashing 21 boundaries in the morning session, a two-hour passage of play that produced 138 runs in only 25 overs and established their dominance on the game. Afterwards the boundaries continued to flow, although at a lesser rate, with 46 fours and one six being plundered in all.

Ricky Ponting, freed of the responsibilities of captaincy as Test skipper Steve Waugh rejoined the side after the ICC Champions Trophy, led the way with his 11th Test century, a chanceless and authoritative innings full of crisp pulls and punchy drives that yielded 141 runs in just 163 balls.

He had come to the crease in the very first over of the day as inform left-hander Matthew Hayden (4), apparently overflowing with confidence, launched into an ambitious pull and was easily caught in the covers.

Justin Langer, another Test specialist who slipped back into the squad this week, who was dropped without scoring in the gully off Waqar Younis's opening delivery, provided Ponting with good support and the pair built a 183-run stand from 237 balls.

Langer, on 55 from 77 deliveries at the lunch, slowed down after the break, needing 47 balls for his next 17 runs as Pakistan's bowlers showed greater discipline. Abdul Razzaq eventually snared him for 72, groping at a wide delivery and offering a low chance to wicket-keeper Rashid Latif, who completed a neat tumbling catch.

Ponting's innings was eventually ended by Waqar Younis, who returned to the fray in the evening after not bowling throughout the afternoon. Ponting edged a full-length delivery into the hands of Younis Khan at second slip. The Tasmanian right-hander had scored 141 from 163 balls, hitting a staggering 23 boundaries, testament to his unfailing ability to punish the bad ball.

Mark Waugh started circumspectly during the afternoon, needing 17 balls to get of the mark. But he became more fluent in the afternoon, passing 50 for the 47th time in his career and reaching 8,000 Test runs, only the third Australian to do so after his brother Steve and Alan Border. However, he was eventually snared by Saqlain Mushtaq for 55, caught and bowled as he tried to drive a well-flighted off-break straight down the ground.

His brother Steve, keen to cement his place in the side for his ninth Ashes campaign later this summer after not scoring a hundred in his last nine Tests, chiselled out a determined 31 before being caught at backward short leg shortly before play was called off for the day due to bad light.

Pakistan will now hope that Australia's last remaining frontline batsmen, Damien Martyn and Adam Gilchrist, both unbeaten at the close, are both dismissed cheaply tomorrow morning.

However, the suspicion remains that with Pakistan's batting looking frail in the absence of Inzamam-ul-Haq, who has undergone surgery on his troublesome heel, Yousuf Youhana, struggling with a shoulder problem, and Saeed Anwar, Australia are already close to a winning score.