Ponting rides on luck towards recovery
Ricky Ponting had not yet scored when he survived an lbw shout. He had not yet scored when he should have been run out. He was 20 when an edge onto the pads popped up to where short leg might have been. He was 34 when a hasty call for a single ran out Usman Khawaja. He was 63 when another tight lbw appeal was survived, this time after consultation with the DRS. And he was 67 when he walked off the Gabba in the company of his captain Michael Clarke, unbeaten at the end of day two.
Luck, providence, good fortune. Whatever it may be called, Ponting found it in Brisbane against New Zealand, and travelled on its coat-tails to the outskirts of a first Test century for 23 months and 28 innings. Much like the important 62 he had made against South Africa to give Australia's fourth innings chase a start in Johannesburg, this was not vintage Ponting. But it was a less star-crossed Ponting than the one who has cussed all manner of odd or questionable dismissals as he has fought to keep his fading career from being snuffed out completely.
The first notion that Ponting might be a batsman susceptible to swings of outrageous misfortune took place in 2005 at Trent Bridge, when he was run out by the England substitute fielder Gary Pratt as Australia tried desperately to stave off the loss of the Ashes. Ponting took issue with Pratt's presence in place of a resting fast bowler, and pondered what might have been. Other run-outs took place, notably at The Oval in 2009 and at Mohali in 2010, each time Ponting the non-striker and each time the victim of a direct hit. There have been freakish catches: think Paul Collingwood at the WACA ground in December 2010 .There have also been debatable verdicts, like the Jimmy Anderson lbw or slips catch - some are still unsure what - at Lord's in 2009.
Of course, such dismissals have been in the minority, next to the firm front-foot press and edge into the slips, the falling-across-the-crease lbw (a recent favourite), the hook shot to oblivion, and the brain fade against the opposing spin bowler. Yet it is difficult to escape the notion that Ponting has considered himself to not be playing badly, simply getting out. Trenchant responses to questions about his place in the team, upon returning from South Africa, are testament to that.
A neat measure of Ponting's helping of luck at the Gabba arrived via the fates of the batsmen at the other end. David Warner, on debut, swayed away from a short ball but not far enough to prevent Tim Southee from touching his gloves on the way through to Reece Young. There was little misfortune about the fact that Phillip Hughes was caught in the slip cordon - it has happened far too often to be deemed an ill-event - but more about the rasping low catch held by Martin Guptill. And Khawaja, referred to more than once as the man to occupy Ponting's place in the Australian batting orders of the future, was far more sinned against than sinning when Ponting called him through for a run that was barely there at first, and not there at all once Kane Williamson had under-armed the stumps down.
The wastefulness of that dismissal, and its age-old negative implications for the batsman who survived it, was not lost on Ponting. He had, after all, been there quite a few times himself in recent years. Four balls later, he leaned into an extra cover drive from the bowling of Chris Martin that was as delectable, if not violent, as any stroke he has played since his first Test in 1995. Others would soon follow. The pull shot was played with a roll of the wrists to keep it down, a back foot punch skidded between cover and mid off to raise 50, and a pair of cuts off pace and spin took advantage as the visitors' bowling grew unaccountably generous.
Generous too was the marginal no-ball that allowed Clarke to keep batting with Ponting, having dragged Doug Bracewell onto the stumps. Quite apart from their postures as captain and predecessor, Clarke and Ponting desire more frequent partnerships. Their last of any great note in Tests took place the last time Ponting made a Test century, a double against Pakistan in Hobart in 2010. "If you look at the way we play fast bowling and spin bowling, it's probably vastly different," Ponting said in August. "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 probably hasn't been as productive as we would have liked. Hopefully that changes in the next couple of years."
At the close, brought ludicrously early by the kind of bad light adjudication that would preclude almost all Test cricket at Headingley and quite a lot in New Zealand, Ponting was 33 runs from a century, though considerably further short of the type of score he will be envisaging for himself and the team he once captained. He was happy to be batting with Clarke, and together the lucky duo have the chance to bury New Zealand at the same time Ponting's batting is revived.
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo