26 Dec 2009

Solid start for hosts in Boxing Day Test

5:11 pm on 26 December 2009

Australia's cricketers are cruising at 177 without loss at tea in the afternoon session of the Boxing Day Test against Pakistan in Melbourne.

Australia captain Ricky Ponting is playing after overcoming a left elbow injury injury, though he's not opening the batting.

Ponting won the toss and chose to bat and his openers have both reached their half centuries.

Shane Watson's on 90 and Simon Katich 77.

Pakistan's familiar fielding woes have continued with Katich dropped at gully and Watson dropped at slip.

Ponting was set to miss the series opener at the MCG but is batting at number three, meaning the New South Wales opener Philip Hughes will have to wait to play his sixth Test.

Hughes was in line for a recall as cover for Ponting, after being dropped mid-year following the Ashes match at Lord's.

Hughes's Blues team-mate Steven Smith has also missed out on playing in what would have been a remarkably rapid Test debut as offspinner Nathan Hauritz has recovered from his groin injury.

Missing for Pakistan are the bowlers Umar Gul and Danesh Kaneria, with spinner Saeed Ajmal and paceman Abdur Rauf their replacements.

Kaneria was forced out with a finger injury while the tourists dropped Gul for Rauf.

Australia need to beat Pakistan comprehensively in the three-Test series if it is to retain its third position in the ICC Test Championship table.

Australia starts the series with a difference of 33 rating points relative to sixth-placed Pakistan and this gap means it is expected to win the series convincingly - so a failure to win comfortably will mean Australia will drop points.