Australia ended the first day of the Boxing Day Test at the Melbourne Cricket Ground on 305 for three from 90 overs — a position of strength made possible by fine batting and poor Pakistan fielding.

Shane Watson (93), Simon Katich (98), and Ricky Ponting (57) received ‘lives’, and although they couldn’t end Australia’s century drought this season they did enough to seize the initiative on an important first day of what many experts predict will be a closely fought series.

Pacers begin well

Pakistan’s bowlers began well after losing the toss, both Asif and Mohammad Aamer hitting excellent lengths with the new ball. The 17-year-old Aamer worked up good pace — he was clocked in the early to mid 140s (kmph), and should have had Katich in the eighth over but Umar Akmal dropped the chance at gully.

Watson drove both Asif and Aamer handsomely down the ground to break the shackles. But he too was reprieved in the first session. Off-spinner Saeed Ajmal, who bowled a more than a third of Pakistan’s overs on Saturday, deceived Watson with a doosra. The edged ball, after deflecting off Kamran Akmal’s gloves, travelled to Misbah-ul-Haq at slip where it was put down.

Century-stand

Had Pakistan taken these chances Australia would have been reduced to 12 for one and 67 for two respectively. Instead Watson and Katich raised an opening stand of 182, which ended, ironically, because of Pakistan’s fielding. Salman Butt’s smart movement to the ball caused a mix-up, which saw both batsmen stranded at the striker’s end. Imran Farhat removed the bails at the bowler’s end after collecting Butt’s throw.

The two openers stood their ground awaiting a verdict from the third umpire as to who should leave the field. Replays showed that Katich had regained his ground, and Watson walked off petulantly.

Ponting batted fluently, seemingly untroubled by the elbow injury he suffered in the third Test against West Indies. Dropped by wicketkeeper Akmal off Asif, he punished a tiring Ajmal to race to his half-century. Although Asif had Katich caught at backward-point and Ponting caught in the slips, Australia took the day’s honours.

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