Australia v Pakistan, 3rd Test, SCG, 2nd day January 3, 2005

Ponting breaks the barrier



Ricky Ponting produced a sparkling hundred after nine Tests and almost a year as Australia's captain © Getty Images

The SCG is a grand stage for a Test captain's first century. A Noble Stand is connected to a Bradman Stand across from a generous general admission area, and they all finally rose for Ricky Ponting. After ten Tests and almost a year as Australia's leader, even Ponting felt it was about time.

To call Ponting's year a slump is unfair, but while his disrupted introduction had gained trophies and records, it was missing a personal touch. When he received the captaincy his predecessors warned him to look after his batting before the team and his results - 697 runs at 41 - showed he was struggling with the advice.

Ponting defended his play and the extra off-field demands over the past month as a rash of four fifties against Pakistan and New Zealand failed to spread into three figures. He hoped a hundred would arrive at Perth as a 30th birthday present - he was wrapped up for 98 - and then it developed into a Boxing Day wish and a 2005 resolution.

Adam Gilchrist, who stood in for Ponting in India, had beaten him to the milestone at Bangalore and received a text message from Ponting highlighting the fact. As he returned from a broken thumb the pace of his innings varied and the pressure grew. Kim Hughes and Steve Waugh had made even centuries in their second matches in charge while Allan Border added his name to the Lord's honour board after five Tests.

By flicking Shoaib Akhtar's first ball of a new spell through midwicket, Ponting could stop the worrying and join Mark Taylor in experiencing the special moment at the SCG. The last time such a loud cheer was heard at this ground was when Steve Waugh scampered singles in his final Test a year ago.

Ponting offered an elongated celebration that was sombre, and assured like his innings. Balanced and level-headed, his second scoring shot was a beautifully on-driven four off Naved-ul-Hasan. His footwork remained sharp against the fast bowlers and he used added spring and caution to deal with the difficulty of Danish Kaneria and Shahid Afridi. Damien Martyn received a hard shake of the hand as Ponting passed fifty and kept his intense glare on three figures, but a nervy period followed.

In front of the Doug Walters Stand Bays 13 to 21 shared his journey through the nineties under the backdrop of the pavilion and Sydney's city skyline. They chanted for their captain, booed a legbye and tried to ignore building a beer-cup snake that was eventually confiscated by the police. Ponting deserved to be watched, and midwicket was an ideal vantage point as his wrists flicked the ball smoothly and regularly towards the region.

With Damien Martyn and Michael Clarke in partnership, Ponting returned to his pre-captaincy fluency, passing 150 and guiding Australia to a 36-run lead. During December Ponting insisted that a big innings was nearby. The SCG was a suitable place to prove he was right.

Peter English is Australasian editor of Cricinfo