Jaques and Murali turn it up

Phil Jaques made a memorable maiden Test century at the Gabba today as Australia finished the first day of the match in front of Sri Lanka.

All heads turned to Brisbane for the opening to the 2007/08 Australian summer, but one could be forgiven for thinking it was winter with sporadic rain and overcast conditions threatening play.

Sri Lanka’s Mahela Jayawardene won the all-important toss and elected to field first, however, not before revealing the first bombshell of the tour, spearhead Lasith Malinga would not take part in the match, much to the relief of the Australian batsmen.

Jaques started awkwardly but was relieved early when after just one over, the rain came and forced players off the field.

When play finally resumed, Sri Lanka bowled well and used conditions to their advantage to restrict the scoring and limit the batsmen. But they could not make early inroads as the openers adjusted, allowing themselves time to get in.

When Jaques finally got off the mark, with the 34th delivery he had faced, a cheerful roar went up from the patient crowd and from then on the New South Welshman began to grow in confidence and stature.

But with the score on 0-69, Matthew Hayden decided to go over mid-off in a move that would lead to downfall. With Hayden starting to hit his straps, Muralitharan took an excellent running catch in the outfield to give Chaminda Vaas and Sri Lanka their first wicket of the match.

Sri Lanka were then made to pay for deciding to send Australia in and leave Malinga out. Besides the master spinner, none of the bowlers showed any sort of potency and as the conditions evened out, the Australian batsmen began to look more and more comfortable, going to Tea at 1-161, a score they would have been rather pleased with in the dressing room, none more than Jaques who was sitting on his highest Test score of 68*, with Ponting looking splendid as always, closing in on yet another 50.

After Tea, the hundred partnership between Jaques and his skipper was bought up, much to the dismay of the Sri Lankan bowlers who, at this stage, were very much devoid of answers.

It was up to Muralitharan who had been a class above all day to make the breakthrough and at 1-183 with Australia cruising he had Ponting stumped on 55, against the run of play. The result of a quality piece of wicket-keeping from Jayawardene saw the world’s premier batsmen on his way, but departing with the knowledge that Australia were still firmly in front on the first day.

The nervous nineties saw Jaques all over the place facing Muralitharan and was given a life on 90 when dropped at second slip but it was just the kick-start he needed to bring up his maiden test century in emphatic fashion, with a classy four through covers.

It was a controlled innings with little of the flair and aggression that Jaques had become well known for on the domestic circuit. It was an innings that rose to the challenge and gathered momentum throughout the day in a superb display of concentration and mental strength.

Again, it was up to Muralitharan to keep Sri Lanka in the game and in one of the plays of the day, he outwitted Jaques, still on 100, who charged down the track only to be fooled by a slower ball that slid past his off-side culminating in a stumping, another excellent partnership between the bowler and the keeper to remove the threatening batsmen for Sri Lanka.

With the light fading, Muralitharan continued to be Sri Lanka’s rock, bowling brilliantly and though he didn’t get another wicket for the rest of day, he firmly stamped his authority on the game, effectively ending Australia’s hold on it and throwing the match wide open, giving his side a fighting chance, providing the rest of the tourists can step up to the plate.

Australia 3-242
Jaques 100, Ponting 56
Muralitharan 2-67, Vaas 1-44

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