Cricket: Ponting plunders Pakistanis

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The Independent Online
AFTER SCORING precisely no runs in the series so far it was obvious what Ricky Ponting was going to do next - rescue Australia from the brink of disaster with a thrilling innings.

And so he did in the Third Test here, scoring a marvellous, career-best 197 to set his side up for a 3-0 whitewash of Pakistan. Ponting joined up with the home-town hero, Justin Langer, when Australia were on a parlous 54 for 4, and the pair responded with a record- breaking fifth-wicket partnership of 327 in Australia's 451, which gave them a huge first-innings lead of 296. Langer made 144, his second successive century following his remarkable, match-winning effort in Hobart last week.

Relishing the best of the batting conditions on the second day, Langer and Ponting simply crushed Pakistan's bowling attack. And worse was to come for the tourists, who slumped to 40 for 2 at stumps on the second day.

Ponting, who had ducks in his past three innings, attacked brilliantly for 17 minutes over seven hours. "I was really hungry for this game," Ponting said. "We're in a good position in the game so everyone is happy. I couldn't do much about the dismissals in the first two Tests, so I always knew it wasn't far away."

He rated his innings as his best for Australia. "With the added pressure it was, definitely," Ponting said. "But I didn't think too much about things and it happened."

After Glenn McGrath, Damien Fleming and Michael Kasprowicz had taken just 52 overs to rout Pakistan on the first day, Langer and Ponting faced almost 100 between them, but Australia collapsed soon after the mammoth stand ended at 381, losing the last six wickets for 27 runs in 11 overs.

Resuming the day on 171 for 4, Langer and Ponting scored a run-a-minute to take Australia to 291 for 4 at lunch but consolidated afterwards with just 75 runs in 28 overs between lunch and tea. Ponting's chanceless innings came to an end two balls after Langer's fall. The right-hander drove loosely at an Azhar Mahmood outswinger and was caught at point by Ijaz Ahmed. Ponting faced 288 balls for his fifth Test century.

The fast-medium bowler Mohammad Akram, who shot through the Australian top order with three wickets, finished with a career-best 5 for 135 in his seventh Test.

But Mohammad was severely reprimanded by the International Cricket Council's match referee John Reid for breach of the players' code of conduct. He was reported by the umpire Darrell Hair after he elbowed Shane Warne as he crossed for a single.

According to a statement released by Reid, Mohammad apologised and showed a "sense of remorse for his action" at the hearing after the day's play.

The Pakistan captain, Wasim Akram, managed to bowl just 10 overs and was forced to rest a sore left groin. "It was nothing serious, just a precautionary measure," said Dale Naylor, the team physiotherapist.