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

An overdue partnership

Ricky Ponting and Michael Clarke had never produced a key partnership in a crunch match before their stand of 288 against India in Sydney
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It would have been presumptuous to expect too much when Michael Clarke and Ricky Ponting resumed their partnership on the second morning at the SCG. Though they have individually been Australia's most commanding and attractive batsmen over the past decade, seldom have they collaborated in a major partnership. Only once, in fact, could it be said that a Clarke-Ponting union was decisive in the outcome of a Test.

That was the stand of 352 in Hobart against Pakistan, a little less than two years ago. Ponting scored 209 in that game while Clarke's 166 in the match was his highest Test score in Australia before today's double-century. But that partnership came in underwhelming circumstances. Pakistan was a team at war with itself, the Test was a dead rubber, and Ponting was dropped at fine leg before he had scored. Apart from being the jumping off point for Ponting's 33 innings without a hundred, the stand's place in history will be little more than a number.

Not so the alliance that Clarke and Ponting forged on the second day at the Sydney Cricket Ground. Against a faltering but loftily ranked India, in a match critical to the outcome of the series, and on the occasion of the ground's 100th Test match, this was a grand canvas requiring masterful strokes. Memorably and admirably, Clarke and Ponting set about providing them, compiling 288 runs before they were separated. The fall of three quick wickets on the first evening added plenty of urgency to the scenario, as did the fact that in recent times Australia's batting has been about as reliable as English sunshine.

As in most partnerships of great heft, the most vexing work was done early. When they joined each other Clarke and Ponting still had to negotiate a swinging ball, which in the skilful hands of Zaheer Khan had accounted for David Warner, Shaun Marsh and Ed Cowan. Clarke's response to the movement and the situation was to play his shots. There were a few swishes outside off stump that, as India's coach Duncan Fletcher noted dourly, might easily have resulted in an edge and a fourth wicket. But the moment passed, and runs were collected with enough assurance in lengthening first-evening shadows to cause MS Dhoni to spread his field before stumps on the first day.

If the greatest technical obstacles were overcome on the first evening, those confronting Ponting and Clarke on the second were decidedly mental. The pitch had become better for batting, the weather was hot and the ball was losing its shine. Mere occupation would bring runs. But rarely had the pair combined when needed, and so often matches had been lost as a result. Last summer's Ashes series is a glaring example. Against an England side of rare organisation and skill, it was down to Ponting and Clarke to make runs to prevent an otherwise flimsily assembled team from falling to pieces. In arguably the most wretched series of either of their careers, not once did they construct a substantial partnership together, and the urn was lost by a crushing margin.

It was their failure to impose themselves on the Ashes, as much as anything else, that led to an upheaval in Australian cricket. Captain, coach, chairman of selectors and his panel, all were swept away after the Argus review, with the leadership of the team passing from Ponting to Clarke. Amid the greatest wave of introspection to wash over the game in Australia for at least 25 years, Ponting pondered why he and Clarke had not formed the kind of fruitful batting duo their standing, skill and technical contrasts suggested was natural.

"Through our careers, even in the dominant teams, we haven't actually spent a lot of time together out in the middle," Ponting said at the outset of the Tests in Sri Lanka last year. "We had a great partnership in Hobart, and we know how important we are to the team. To tell you the truth we both probably overemphasised that a bit too much last year, and put a little too much pressure on ourselves to be the men that were going to hold the hopes of the team up.

"If you look at the way we play fast bowling and spin bowling it's probably vastly different. Michael tends to use his feet against the spinners a bit more than I do, and we both probably play fast bowling a little bit differently as well. So if you sat back and looked at it that way you'd think we'd be a very successful partnership together, but so far it hasn't been as productive as we would've liked. Hopefully that changes in the next couple of years."

For a time, change appeared unlikely. Ponting loitered closer and closer to the precipice with indifferent days in Sri Lanka and worse ones in South Africa. A vital second-innings half-century in Johannesburg began his rehabilitation, and he was in good touch by the time Clarke joined him at the SCG. On the second day, their partnership assumed the proportions they had longed for last summer, and went an awful long way towards burying India in this series. Ponting's century, achieved with a hurried single and a dusty dive for the crease, drew the warmest ovation, but the applause for Clarke's maiden double-hundred was not far behind.

When Ponting departed for 134 he looked annoyed at squandering the chance to build even further, something Clarke would go on to do with considerable panache, and relish. But both had tilted the match and the series towards Australia, something they have done so rarely together in the past. As unions go, this was well overdue, and as with Ponting's century, a great deal of the spectators' enjoyment could be derived from the wait that preceded it.

Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Meety on January 6, 2012, 7:23 GMT

    @hhillbumper "..12-14 county attacks which would have given Aus more issues.." chockful of imports hey! Anyways you look at it - Oz performance v India (thus far) is superior to England's 4 zip. India has NO INJURIES & better preparation this tour. We will be talking after Oz reclaim the Ashes in 2013!

  • Meety on January 5, 2012, 23:16 GMT

    The best about this piece is that it articulated what was the most frustrating thing about this team since (& during) the Ashes. These two have the ability & class to conquer any attack anywhere, but failed for so long. I have always felt that once Pup took over the captaincy - his cricket would go to another level. I expect more double tons will follow over the next couple of years! Interesting that Punter states, "...so far it hasn't been as productive as we would've liked. Hopefully that changes in the next couple of years." Emphasis on he last 4 words!

  • BlackShipWreck on January 4, 2012, 23:25 GMT

    Really hoping for Aus to go 2-0 up but the pitch seriously looks flat and lifeless. I suspect Aus may declare sometime between lunch and tea and India will bat out the rest of the test. I'd say there's more than a 50% chance of this being a draw but hope I'm wrong.

  • dummy4fb on January 4, 2012, 22:42 GMT

    @ Adnan143 hahaha truth is bitter uh?! I can only laugh at your "optimism" - what was that Zaheer would score fifty? Yeah, right, he can only leak centuries with his bowling, hahaha, another 4-0 thrashing waits your team :)

  • steelo_esq on January 4, 2012, 21:13 GMT

    @Adnan143 Not too much of a one eyed statement at all. lol if the australian bowling attack is so substandard and over rated how is it they've managed to destroy india with ease 3 times now?

  • Adnan143 on January 4, 2012, 20:17 GMT

    australia be ready for an equal response from our batsmen and dont dare to declre tomorow , if you do we wil make fool out of your bowling heroics of first inng and will make you chase leather for rest of te match, on this eased out pitch even zaheer will score fifty plus against your over rated substandard bowling

  • priceless1 on January 4, 2012, 20:07 GMT

    Ponting, Clarke,and Demain Martin are my favourite Aussie batsmens , they all classy stroke makers

  • hhillbumper on January 4, 2012, 19:00 GMT

    Randy Oz.Beating up on India is hardly the mark of all time quality.Much as scoring cheap runs in the Ashes slightly devalues what England have achieved.When you beat us then we can talk.Good work by Clarke and Ponting but lets not go overboard.This is hardly a test level bowling attack and there are 12-14 county attacks which would have given Aus more issues.

  • cricfan04315875 on January 4, 2012, 18:54 GMT

    Great batting display by Aussy, What a batting disgrace fron the haunted Indian Batting lin up, I guess only names ar left lol!

  • Cpt.Meanster on January 4, 2012, 18:38 GMT

    Captain COOL Dhoni's brain is FROZEN !! now I agree to that tag his fans have given him.. most appropriate for a man who lacks common sense and basic cricketing logic. He may be a good one day captain BUT in test cricket the skill set needed is different. Very well made partnership between Punter and Pup... I guess Clarke should change his nickname now to bloodthirsty HOUND !! Ponting deserved this ton. His smile was so nice to see... and he's already such a handsome gentleman. I can never forget that smile because I met him personally once. Well.. Mr. Tendulkar hope you got a batting lesson from our Punter.. let's seem if you can follow in his footsteps and make your 100th 100.

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