Fri, Dec 17, 2004 - Page 24 News List

Langer takes pace attack to task

SHOWDOWN TIME Australia and Pakistan bared their cricket teeth at each other yesterday, with Justin Langer's 181 not out saving the day against Akhtar and Sami

AFP , PERTH, AUSTRALIA

Pakistan fast bowler Shoaib Akhtar yesterday rejoices after taking the wicket of Australian batsman Darren Lehmann, bowled for 12 runs on day one of the first Test at the WACA ground in Perth.

PHOTO: AFP

The long-awaited showdown between two of the world's best pace attacks did not disappoint yesterday when first the ball, then the bat dominated proceedings on the opening day of the Test between Pakistan and Australia.

At stumps at the WACA ground, Australia was back in control after opener Justin Langer guided his side to 357 for eight with a gritty and at times commanding 181 not out.

Tailender Michael Kasprowicz was with him at the crease on four not out.

It was a remarkable recovery after Pakistan had grabbed the contest by the scruff of the neck from the very first ball and refused to let go throughout the morning session, skittling four Australian wickets before lunch and a fifth almost immediately after.

Pakistan, firm underdogs before the Test started after losing two of their opening tour matches, had hoisted their colors from the outset, selecting four specialist bowlers and an all-rounder.

The move paid off when captain Inzamam-ul-Haq won the toss and sent the home team in to bat -- giving his lighting quick-pace duo of Shoaib Akhtar and Mohammad Sami the first crack on a green-top wicket renowned for favoring fast bowling.

Akhtar did not disappoint, striking the first blow when he trapped opener Matthew Hayden lbw for four with the score at six. It was a far cry from Hayden's last Test effort at the ground in October last year which saw him smash the then world record of 380 runs against Zimbabwe.

With captain Ricky Ponting coming to the crease, it seemed like the early loss may have proved an aberration, although he never looked entirely comfortable as he and opener Justin Langer carried the score to 56.

But it was then that Sami, who showed he has the pace to match Akhtar and the durability to outlast him by bowling 12 straight overs throughout the morning session, struck the definitive blow, clean bowling Ponting for 25.

Hometown hero Damien Martyn followed almost immediately caught behind by Kamran Akmal off Sami for one and then it was veteran Darren Lehmann's turn to feel the heat.

The 34-year-old shuffled awkwardly across his wicket to be bowled by Akhtar for 12.

His dismissal left Australia in real trouble going into lunch at 72 for four and the situation worsened when newcomer Michael Clarke, the hero of Australia's tour of India, fell straight after lunch, caught by Inzamam in slips off Akhtar for one.

Pakistan, who had appeared despondent earlier in the tour, clearly had their tails up with Australia reeling at 78 for five but it was then the Australians began to steady the ship, taking advantage of the tiring pace attack and the change in tempo offered by all-rounder Abdul Razzaq and spinner Danish Kaneira.

With one-day specialist Adam Gilchrist at the crease with Langer, the pair set about demoralizing the Pakistanis once more -- adding 152 runs from 176 balls.

The pair lifted the Australian total to 100 then piled on 100 runs in 17 overs at almost a run a ball as they went on the attack, while Inzamam tried to slow the onslaught by bringing Akhtar and Sami back into the attack.

But Langer, who has never been dismissed for less than a hundred at Test level after reaching 85, showed he was determined to stand his ground, finally clocking up his 21st Test hundred off 166 balls.

His jubilation was evident as he punched the air and danced down the wicket after nudging Razzaq to mid-wicket for a single to reach his goal just before tea. His innings included 11 fours and two beautifully-timed sixes.

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