Ricky Ponting is still here to stay
Waiting two innings to follow one hundred with another used to be a common feeling for Ricky Ponting. Thirty-four knocks between Test centuries between 2010 and 2012 ensured that the sense of familiarity ebbed away, and so there was understandable jubilation when Ponting crested three figures on a sweltering day at the Adelaide Oval.
A handful of whispers and a mountain of newspaper copy had spectators, commentators and perhaps even one or two players wondering about the significance of that jubilation, and the first question to Ponting surrounded whether or not there had been any notion of farewell about the gestures.
But the upper cut with bat in hand has been a common signature of Ponting's exultation down the years, and it had perhaps been absent in Sydney because he had first to spit out dirt and turf from his mouth after diving for the crease to reach the mark. Ponting smiled ruefully when fielding that first question, before assuring all that he was not going anywhere yet. Not off into retirement, and not off Adelaide Oval until he and the captain Michael Clarke have turned their stand of 251 into something truly gargantuan.
"It was a celebration. I'd just made a Test match hundred so pretty excited about that, I haven't scored a lot of those in the last few years, which I've read a lot about lately as well," Ponting said with a grin. "It is always nice to make a hundred, especially today when we didn't get off to the ideal start, Pup (Clarke) and I had to play a certain way and get us back into the game, so it was a good celebration, but I generally do a similar one most times.
"I felt I played better today than I did in Sydney as well, probably a better wicket to bat on than Sydney was, there wasn't much in it for the Indian bowlers, no sideways movement for the quicks, not a lot of spin, a little bit of reverse swing during the middle of the day, but we've had a pretty good day. We have to win the first hour tomorrow and make sure this first innings is a big one."
This was the most fluent Ponting seen for some time, arguably since he passed 70 three times in four innings against India on the subcontinent in late 2010. Gaps were pierced regularly, few false strokes were played, and the march to the century felt rather more inevitable than the nervy dash for the line at the SCG. For all that there was evidence of Ponting's evolution, the greater care with which he starts an innings, the selection of shots to play more judicious than dismissive, the enjoyment of milestones as events no longer inevitable. Pondering whether he is still the same batsman of his pomp, Ponting reasoned that it had been impossible to stay the same.
"Am I still the player I was? I'm not sure," Ponting said. "You guys can answer that, you've seen me over a long period of time, but at the end of the day I think if I can keep making Test match hundreds or having an impact on winning games for Australia then that's what I'm all about at the moment. It is interesting to ask the same question about Sachin (Tendulkar) or the same question about (Rahul) Dravid or (Jacques) Kallis, the guys the same sort of age as me that are still out there playing Test cricket.
"We've probably all realised that we can't play the same way forever, right through our careers and I don't think there's been anybody that has been able to do that through 160 Test matches. But I'm giving it my best shot to be the best player I can be, and to win games for Australia, and if I can keep playing like I did today then hopefully there's more runs around the corner."
More runs will likely arrive in the company of Clarke, who was fluent on a ground where he has never failed to score runs, not even in last summer's Ashes fiasco when he managed 80 in the second innings. Ponting reflected on how well the duo had worked together since the captaincy handover, a change that has styled Clarke as the on-field general and Ponting the spiritual leader.
"I just think we're both grown-ups, and I know my place in the team, Michael's the leader now and I've stepped back from all that responsibility I once had," Ponting said. "I said when I first did it that I'm used to sitting back in the corner and being told what to do anyway, and it's been no different over the last few months.
"I know there was some negativity around from people on the outside but I don't think anyone in Australian cricket or the team had any doubts about the way we'd work together at all. I'm around to try to help the younger guys at the moment and any advice if Michael needs it, but I don't ever go and impress myself upon him, he's the leader and I'm the No. 4 batsman and second slip fielder and I'm quite enjoying that role."
No. 4 is a position that both Clarke and Michael Hussey before him struggled to make their own, but Ponting is finding its modicum of extra distance from the top of the order valuable. He even countenanced the possibility that it will extend his career, to the West Indies and beyond.
"It probably can, the last couple of years being the captain and batting at three was getting more and more difficult for me," Ponting said. "I was spending a lot more time in the field than I probably had done before and I guess not winning as many games and not having things go exactly to plan like I did for the majority or my captaincy career before that. Not being the captain now and having that little bit of extra time between change of innings to sit back and relax and take it all in has probably been good for me."
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here