Australia captain Ricky Ponting strode majestically to his 35th Test hundred to help his side recover from a shaky start in the opening Test against the West Indies on Thursday.
Ponting used a West Indies attack hamstrung by the withdrawal of key strike bowler Jerome Taylor to serenely progress to 158, which was the rock upon which Australia reached 301-4 in their first innings when stumps were drawn on the opening day of the Test at Sabina Park.
Ponting reached his milestone when he moved down the pitch and whipped a flighted delivery from debutant off-spin bowler Amit Jaggernauth through mid-wicket for two.
This was his fourth hundred in a row in the Caribbean, and his seventh against West Indies, which carried him past former India captain Sunil Gavaskar’s 34 on the list of batsmen with the most hundreds in Tests.
Another Indian batting superstar, Sachin Tendulkar, holds the record of 39. Ponting passed 150 when he drove a full-length delivery from Daren Powell through extra-cover for two.
Ponting shared in two partnerships that put Australia back on track after they had slipped to 37-2 in the first hour.
He added 137 with Mike Hussey and then put on 119 for the fourth wicket with Brad Hodge, who played through to the close.
Hussey batted painstakingly for most of innings for 56, and Hodge played within his limitations and was unbeaten on 53.
Ponting arrived at the crease in the first half-hour, when Simon Katich, playing his first Test in more than two years, was caught at gully off Fidel Edwards for 12.
The left-handed Katich was asked to open the batting in light of an Achilles injury that sidelined Matthew Hayden, and was just emerging from a nervous start, when he guided a delivery outside the off-stump to Darren Sammy.
Ponting soon saw Phil Jaques, one of the Australians making their first trip to the Caribbean, adjudged lbw for nine in Edwards’s next over when he played back and across to a well-pitched delivery.
But Hussey joined Ponting at the wicket, and they navigated Australia through the remainder of the morning period to stem the fall of wickets, carrying the total to 87-2 at lunch.
After the interval, Ponting played more fluently than he did before lunch, and moved along to his hundred.
Hussey, batting doggedly, reached his 50 when he leg-glanced Bravo to deep fine leg for his fifth boundary.
But the left-handed Australia vice-captain was undone when he was caught at slip for 56, playing back and sparring at a sharply turning ball from Jaggernauth for Bravo to hold a low, right-handed catch.
Ponting was within reach of his landmark when Australia reached 189-3 at tea, and duly completed the milestone after the break.
He found Hodge a steady ally and they continued to build a formidable position for Australia until 10 minutes before the close, when Ponting was caught at mid-wicket, playing one of his trademark pulls.
Soon after his dismissal, Hodge reached his 50 when he pulled a short delivery from Jaggernauth over mid-wicket for six.
Edwards was the West Indies’ most successful bowler with two wickets for 56 runs from 14 overs.
Both teams included one Test newcomer apiece. Off-spinner Jaggernauth became the 270th player to wear the Maroon Cap for the West Indies, and wicketkeeper/batsman Brad Haddin is the 400th player to wear the Baggy Green.
Australia have won 12 of the last 13 Tests they have contested against West Indies and they have not lost a Test series in the Caribbean since 1991.
The second Test between the two sides starts on May 30 at the Vivian Richards Cricket Ground in Antigua, and the third Test starts on June 12 at Kensington Oval in Barbados.
The Aussies also contest a Twenty20 International and five one-day internationals. — AFP