'Pressure made me work harder' - Ponting
Ricky Ponting knew it was coming. Touch and rhythm had returned slowly to his hands and feet, and all he lacked was a score to prove it beyond doubt. Satisfyingly he achieved it in Sydney, with 134 runs that matched the innings of his pomp.
While many had doubted Ponting's capacity to return to such heights, particularly when he fell lbw three times in four Test innings in South Africa in November, the man himself said he had never felt the end was nigh. There had been much frustration, of course.
"I wouldn't be playing if I didn't think I could do it," Ponting said. "I think over the last few weeks even, there's been enough signs there to know and have faith in what I've been working on, to know that a big score was just around the corner. I actually told a few people that after last week in Melbourne I felt a big score was very close.
"It's hard to be frustrated when you're getting out early, it is easier to be frustrated when you're getting decent starts and not capitalising. Low scores are always going to be there in our game. Once you get to 40, 50, 60, that's when the great players go on and make big scores and that's what, for me over the last few weeks, has been the most frustrating thing. I've probably scored a few 50s in between my last hundred, but they're the ones you get most frustrated about."
Ponting said he had needed to break his technique down and rebuild it in response to a slackening run of scores, pushing the boundaries of hardwork that had already been substantially stretched by his proud, fastidious character.
"I've had to work exceptionally hard, harder than ever on certain technical aspects of my game, there's no doubt about that," he said. "I've been doing that for a little while now, I've been doing a couple of different things over the last couple of weeks, which are starting to pay dividends for me. The thing that is starting to come back is that real rhythm about my batting, and the feeling of being at ease at the crease.
"When you're going through a lean trot it is amazing how many little things creep into your head, and those little things can sometimes take over and get in the way of what you're trying to do. So I've had a really clear mind this week, knowing what I've been working on is starting to come good for me, so it's been a good couple of weeks for the team and today's an extra special day for us."
It was extra special at least in part, because of the circumstances in which Ponting and Michael Clarke began their stand of 288. Australia had lost three quick wickets, the ball was swinging, and the SCG crowd murmured nervously about a team that had recently developed a habit of horridly low scores.
"When Michael came to the crease last night it was a huge period in the game for us. We were three down in the game for not many and the momentum was starting to swing back in India's favour after we'd had a very good day with the ball," Ponting said. "The important thing for both of us was to make sure we played our natural games and we showed great intent.
"Michael showed great intent from the moment he came to the crease and we both managed to score reasonably quickly last night, which just gave us a bit of momentum going to stumps, and we started the same way this morning. Our scoring rate in this innings has been very good and we're taking the game forward all the time, which is the way we want to play our cricket. So at the moment we're sitting in a strong position, thanks to some brilliant batting by the captain."
In the depths of a 33-innings drought between centuries, Ponting said he had been fuelled by pride, by not wanting to let his career fade to black without a rousing conclusion. But there had also been the team, which he no longer leads, but which he does not want to leave behind.
"For me over the last few months there's been a lot more pressure on me than I've never had at any stage of my career," Ponting said. "But that's just made me work harder. I'm a pretty proud person, and the last thing I wanted to do was to finish off my career the way it had been going the last few months. That's why I've worked as hard as I had.
"I wanted to give myself the best chance to play well and win games of cricket for Australia, and that's the only reason I continue to play. There's nothing else personally I'm trying to achieve, other than to help the Australian team win games, and get back up from No. 5 or wherever we were a few months ago, back up to the top of the tree where we deserve to be.
"Confidence in our game is an amazing thing and spending time in the middle is what every batsman needs to do when they're going through a lean trot. Over the last couple of weeks I've been able to spend a bit of time in the middle, and after the innings today I can have a bit more confidence about my game than I've had for a long time now."
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo