Melbourne:Captain Ricky Ponting hit back at his critics with a rebellious century as Australia made 280 for six in the first innings on the opening day of the Boxing Day Test against South Africa here on Friday.
At the close of play, vice-captain Michael Clarke was batting on 54 with Brett Lee, who was yet to open his account after Brad Haddin (40) departed in the penultimate over of the day at the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG).
Trailing 0-1 in the three-match series, Ponting led Australia with a classy 37th Test century as Matthew Hayden's (8) poor form continued in the second Test as well. A century at his happy hunting ground would have stopped those who were doubting whether Hayden would retire at the end of the series, but it was not to be.
The burly Queenslander has accumulated just 290 runs in eight Tests at an average of 22.30 against India, New Zealand and South Africa since recovering from an Achilles heel injury.
Ponting (101) and Simon Katich (54) then gave a stability to the shaky start with their 107-run stand for the second wicket and both joined the 1000-run club for 2008.
Fast bowler Dale Steyn then struck to remove both Katich and Mike Hussey in quick succession as Australia slumped to 143 for three. For Hussey it was another disappointment as he has scored just eight runs in three innings in the South Africa series.
Ponting made the best use of the life he got on 24 after he was dropped at third slip off Steyn's bowling and reached his century off 119 balls with 11 fours and one six. He celebrated with arms aloft and acknowledged the cheers of the 63,000 spectators. Ponting is now second batsman after Sachin Tendulkar (41) in the Test hundreds list.
He was dismissed in the last ball before tea, caught at bat-pad off the bowling of left-arm spinner Paul Harris.
An injured Andrew Symonds (27), who was picked up only for his batting ability, failed to capitalise on the good start and fell to Morne Morkel caught by a diving Jacques Kallis at second slip to leave the hosts at 223 for five.
Clarke than played a patient knock while Haddin, who has been in fine form, did the bulk of scoring at the other. But a lose shot in the end minutes of the game saw the exit of a well set Haddin pushing Australia on the back foot.
Australia haven't lost a Test series at home since 1992-93. A 3-0 whitewash in the series will force Australia to hand over the top ranking to South Africa.