MELBOURNE // The Australia captain Ricky Ponting hit a century, but his team remain in a battle to square the series against South Africa after the opening day of the second Test. Ponting smashed an entertaining 101 off only 126 balls before being dismissed with the last ball of the second session, but regular wickets at the other end left the hosts on 280-6 at stumps. The vice-captain Michael Clarke will be entrusted with the task of trying to steer Australia to a total in the vicinity of 400 when they resume on the second morning. Guilty of rash dismissals in the opening Test in Perth, Clarke batted with more caution this time taking more than three-and-a-half hours to reach an unbeaten 36 at the close, with Brett Lee yet to score.
Still reeling from their six-wicket loss in the opening Test, Australia did not start well and lost the struggling opener Matthew Hayden cheaply again. The 37-year-old had nobody to blame but himself when he attempted to drive Makhaya Ntini but succeeded only in picking out JP Duminy at point. Hayden has now made 290 runs at 22.3 since his last hundred in January. His fellow opener Simon Katich appeared in outstanding form and was largely untroubled by the Proteas attack. But on 54, he played on to an innocuous delivery from Dale Steyn. Michael Hussey, who had no trouble playing the disappointing Morne Morkel, succumbed to his first delivery from Steyn.
Unable to withdraw his bat in time, Hussey feathered one behind to the wicketkeeper Mark Boucher for his third duck from his past five innings. But Ponting's heroics at the other end of the crease staved off a collapse. While not the best of his career, Ponting's 37th Test century and fourth at the MCG was particularly sweet following a week of intense criticism in the wake of his side's first Test defeat. He was scratchy early on in the face of an excellent but unrewarded spell of outswing bowling from Jacques Kallis, who made the Australia captain play and miss several times.
In the afternoon session, Ponting improved and plundered Ntini for three consecutive boundaries the first taking him past 50. He raced through the 90s, taking just five balls to go from 87 to three figures but his innings came to an end when he was caught at short leg by Hashim Amla off the spinner Paul Harris. Andrew Symonds and Brad Haddin both made bright starts but could not curb their natural aggression and were both victims of outstanding slip catching. Symonds edged Morkel to Kallis at second slip for 27, and Haddin's dismissal for 40 in the penultimate over of the day was particularly bitter for the Australians who had batted with tremendous application against the second new ball. Ntini supplied the delivery which Haddin steered into the hands of Proteas captain Graeme Smith. *PA Sport