Australia v India, 2nd Test, Sydney, 2nd day January 4, 2012

Ponting stoops to conquer

The story of Ponting's battle and redemption must count among the most compelling and uplifting in cricket. Not merely had it been test of skills, but also of character

When the magic moment came, Ricky Ponting, who hadn't savoured the joy of a hundred for over two years, found himself sprawled on the dirt, having been inches away from heartbreak. As it turned out, the dive - which is not really a Ponting thing - wouldn't have saved him had Zaheer Khan's throw from mid-on found its mark.

Hundreds are a peculiar thing, one of the great idiosyncrasies of cricket that players and fans obsess about. By the time he got to 97, Ponting and Michael Clarke had already driven Australia to the point of near-unassailable ascendancy, which was a remarkable recovery from 3 for 37. This was only the second time in his career he had reeled off three half centuries in successive Tests, and surely he had earned himself the right to choose the course of his immediate future. But still, the failure to bring up the hundred would have counted as a tragedy.

The moment had built itself up nicely. Zaheer Khan had bowled a canny and tight over before lunch - leg-slip in place, midwicket catching, first round-the-wicket, then over - to keep him stuck on 97 with some help from Sachin Tendulkar, who hared to his right from mid-on and dived further to the right to save a boundary. Clarke had waltzed to his hundred with a cover drive, unfurled with casual majesty. When he scampered back for a second to deny Ponting the strike in the last over before lunch, the crowd booed.

Zaheer opened after lunch with the same field and the same line of attack. The first ball was tapped back to the bowler, the second defended to the offside, the next two left alone, the fifth clipped to through mid-wicket - certainly more than one was on, possibly even three, but they got two in the end. The last ball he played softly down to cover and Clarke nearly ran himself out by charging down for the single.

Two more overs passed. Clarke creamed one past backward point for four and worked the fifth ball through to legside for three. Ponting defended the last ball from Ishant Sharma and then Zaheer bowled a maiden to Clarke. By now, the wait for the final three runs was well over an hour, counting the lunch break. If you blocked the scoreboard out of your vision, you would feel India were in control.

And then came the dab to mid-on and the charge down the wicket. Zaheer Khan moves in the field with bovine languor these days, but the ball had gone quickly and straight to him. Ponting lunged forward with his bat, and then he dived. And the ball fizzed past the stumps. Ponting was flat on his stomach with his head buried in the ground when the crowd erupted.

It wasn't a picture of a man in his moment of triumph. He took a few moments to get up on to his haunches, then to his feet. His shirt was dirty. He still had the helmet on. His grille was pressing against his face and he was trying the spit the dirt out his mouth so that he could smile.

But it was an image most appropriate for the moment. It was the picture of a man who had fought and overcome.

The story of Ponting's battle and redemption must count among the most compelling and uplifting in cricket. Not merely had it been a test of skills but also one of character. He hadn't blazed his way back, as cricketers sometimes do in their youth. He had to first accept and then work around the limitations age and slowing reflexes can impose. Most of all, he had shown humility and the willingness to work his way back.

First, there was the willingness to accept that he was no longer the best man to lead Australia and then the grace to submit himself wholeheartedly to the will of his successor. Those who have been in leadership positions will know how tough it is to join the ranks again. It is a credit to both Ponting and Clarke that not only has there been no unease in the team but that Ponting remains an inspirational figure in the dressing-room.

Though he resisted it during the first part of his slump, Ponting hasn't sat on his pride over his batting position. He has even learnt to let a few bouncers alone.

Midway through this series, Ponting is Australia's most consistent batsman. But both in Sydney and Melbourne he let his partner take charge. It was Hussey who got Australia going during that critical last session on the third evening at the MCG after four wickets had fallen for 27. And at the SCG, Clarke took immediate control by reeling off early boundaries after Zaheer Khan had taken the first three out. By acknowledging and submitting to the superiority of his partners, Ponting allowed himself to quietly get into stride.

By late evening yesterday, the feet were striding confidently forward and the bat was creating more familiar arcs. In the 16th over of the innings, he leaned forward to a swinging ball from Umesh Yadav and breezed it through cover. And two balls later, when Yadav banged it short, he swiftly swivelled around to deposit it at the square-leg boundary. And when he stood tall to on-drive Ishant Sharma twice through midwicket this morning, all seemed well with Ricky's world again.

From there, the century was only a matter of time.

Sambit Bal is the editor of ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Andrew on January 5, 2012, 23:30 GMT

    As an Ozzy - during Ponting's golden period during the middle of 2000s, I felt he was on the way to becoming easily the greatest batsmen post Bradman. His form over the last 2 or 3 years has certainly diminished this & so even after this century, I would rate the best batsmen I have seen as being SRT, followed on the same level by Greg Chappell & Lara, followed by Kallis, just ahead of Punter & Dravid & Sir Viv. If Punter recaptures his vintage form - he could leapfrog them all, but as it stands right now SRT is the best (other than the Don). SRT risks suffering the same fate as Punter though if he plays on much longer. Kallis seems to genuinely be getting better with age. Also - maybe, just maybe a certain M Clarke could get mentioned in the same breathe of the above - maybe!

  • Ashok on January 5, 2012, 14:55 GMT

    About your ponting's avg, do you remember the two years where Sachin did nothing but "come and go" in Test cricket. He struggled to score the 2 50s he scored. Everyone was up to his throat to retire (I am sure you were too). and this was when the Indian line had the fab 4. If this had happened to Ponting when he played with a strong batting lineup (Steve Waugh's team) he would have been replaced.

  • Ashok on January 5, 2012, 14:44 GMT

    @ ssenthil - Removing SCG is valid to prove that he is in the same league of Lara and Pointing and not even a mm above that. Point is simple; if you take out a very batting friendly wicket, he too fails like others. About the avg against bowlers calculation, I think you are missing a valid point here - I have added bowlers who have ended their career. You are adding bowlers who are still playing. How the hell do you know that Ponting won't whack Steyn, Broad, and Southee if they play in the future. But I am sure that Sachin's avgs against whom I mentioned will not change. I was not foolish to include anderson who has got Sachin out 7 times in last 6 tests.

  • Dummy4 on January 5, 2012, 6:56 GMT

    I don't want to continue this argument.. Coz, I want to pay respect to Punter esp in this occasion wr he has scored a wonderful century.. So, dms1972 and JG2704 and all other SRT bashers, I am quitting this argument.. I repeat, Ponting is a legend.. And I am proud to say that, I am also one of the million fans who supported him during last one year r so in his lean patch.. And I wish him more and more success.. Ponting, SRT, Dravid r very few left in golden generation of batsman.. I really miss Lara's action now.. So, b4 I miss SRT, Punter and Dravid, I want to enjoy thm to d core..

  • Dummy4 on January 5, 2012, 6:34 GMT

    @dms1972. I wud request u to chk ur "so called stats" again.. In 90s, Ind toured WI only once, whn SRT averaged close to 58.. Accepted that SRT average in 40s against Pak and SA, bt 40+ is pretty gud average compared to Ponting's 26.8 in India.. I repeat again, Punter is nt as gud in spinning tracks as SRT in pace tracks.. Universal rule - one who does better in challenging conditions shud b considered better..

  • Dummy4 on January 5, 2012, 6:18 GMT

    @dms1972.. Again biased and unwilling to accept the truth.. Yep.. I applied restrictions to SRT's also.. Couldnt u see I was just talking abt SRT's performance against pacers.. I didnt even care to say abt his awesome record against world's best spinner Warne.. U say he has poor record in AUS grounds other thn Sydney.. SRT has scored centuries in AO,Melbourne, Perth apart frm Sydney.. And he averages 45 and 51 in Melbourne and Perth (both r not spin frndly and I believe and those averages r very good for a away batsman).. SO, GET UR FACTS RIGHT.. Okay.. Since u hv told dat he didnt against Pak,SA fast bowling.. lets ask Wasim,Walsh,Donald,Pollock to ans this.. They hv heaps and heaps of praise for SRT.. Donald and Wasim hav went on to say that SRT is d best batsman they hav bowled at.. Even Lara accepts SRT is a better batsman on any day.. Hope, we(u&I) r not more knowledgeable thn the mentioned legends..

  • Dummy4 on January 5, 2012, 5:37 GMT

    @JG2704. If u dont understand wt is going on, better skip it.. dms1972 is not just trying to put Ponting up there as a modern gr8.. If he is doing only that, y shud he mention SRT at all in his comment.. Infact, I hv mentioned clearly that, I agree wid "Ponting a modern gr8 and one of all time gr8s" I myself is one of the best fan of Ponting's batting skills.. Bt, dms1972 is trying to put Ponting above SRT by twisted facts.. As I mentioned b4, leaving stats apart., SRT can handle pace a way better thn Ponting against spinners.. Accept r not, its a proven fact.. There is no wonder in Punter dealing wid pacers and SRT wid spinners.. Its the viceversa, which gives more credibility..

  • Damien on January 5, 2012, 4:32 GMT

    @Karthik Raja You say Tendulkar was good in all conditions? Simple fact is that, apart from scoring runs at the SCG, which is the slowest and most spin-friendly wicket in Australia, Tendulkar has a very poor record in Australia on the faster, bouncier wickets. And as I have proven previously with the stats, against bowling attacks that contain quality fast bowlers, like Pakistan and West Indies in the 90's, and South Africa, Tendulkar fails to measure up to the standards that Ponting has set against fast bowlers. My point is that you cannot say Ponting didn't do well in India, he didn't have to face Warne and McGrath, he used a graphite bat, or whatever, and then not apply similar logic to Tendulkar by putting conditions on his batting record. If you want to apply restrictions to Ponting's batting record then it's only fair that you apply restrictions on Tendulkar's record.

  • Dummy4 on January 5, 2012, 0:57 GMT

    @RandyOZ: U have no idea what winning a game means coz entire 90's and half of 2000 decade it was only Tendulkar. If he gets out the game is lost. In fact a couple years back when he scored 175 against Australia, he got out and last 4 batsmen couldn't even score 18 runs. The kind of dependency team had on him, australian team never had that on ponting as there were others to back him up. Ponting never went through that pressure. Ponting played with a team which was incredibly talented and there were likes of gillespie, warne and mcgrath who could win the game even when australian batsman couldn't score. It was never like that with the team Sachin played in. It was only sachin, he scores then india wins, if he doesn't then no one else would back up. Over 70% of his tons have got India success and he is the max MOM award winner. So stop the comparison.

  • Dummy4 on January 5, 2012, 0:13 GMT

    If one or two tests go wrong....sachin,dravid everyone becomes a villain...typical Indian media mind ....grow up guys. If anyone is arguing that ponting is a better batsman than sachin and dravid, the guy who is arguing is a FOOL. LEGENDS cant be compared.

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