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November 25, 2006
England should now be batting for a second time but Ponting is worried about overloading his senior bowlers. Glenn McGrath and Shane Warne are essential to Australia during these five Tests played over six weeks and their workload will be managed with the precision of clean company accounts. Both are aging carefully and avoiding bowling in consecutive innings has been added to their pre-pension plan.
Under Ponting Australia have concluded that wins by huge runs margins are more painful than three-day walkovers. Stretch out the pain, torture and torment. England have been out of the match since lunch on day two but they will probably have to wait until Monday to lose. It will be a difficult experience to forget as they journey to Adelaide, unless they have spent their time in the field plotting resolutions for revenge. There is also a chance they will be bowled into form. It is slim.
Demanding the follow-on is part of this country's aggressive spirit, although Ponting will happily defend his move as an attacking one. Other Australian captains have often kept their opponents interested. Ponting just wants them slowly destroyed. To him games are like antibiotics and should be followed for the full course.
There have been five opportunities to enforce the follow-on in Ponting's 31 games since taking over from Steve Waugh and he has taken the option once. Waugh eliminated nightwatchmen, Ponting has doused easy days off. On the one occasion he followed tradition rain had washed out the first day against New Zealand at Wellington and it hovered for much of the game. The policy was ditched in the push for a result that did not materialise.
Until now his strangest decision came in a steamy Adelaide in 2004-05 against New Zealand when he banked a 324-run first-innings advantage and sent his batsmen in for more. He was cotton-wooling his bowlers and such moves have never prevented the team from winning. The conditions in Brisbane have been warm but pleasant and Australia were not wearied by their 61.1 overs through three sessions.
Ponting has played in a stunning era and is accustomed to being on top, which is why his decisions can appear uncertain when the game is in the balance. He can also be generous, just not when he is captain. A children's charity for cancer sufferers shows his softer side but England will not see it during this series.
As Australia extended their lead to 626 Ponting was at the helm, passing 9000 Test runs and reaching 51 not out. His batting is full of flair and risk while his leadership is workmanlike and predictable. The opening bowlers will be replaced at the drinks break and follow-ons will be avoided like grumpy aunts.
It is not a pretty tactic, but Ponting has made it one of his marks. Australia are playing a drawn-out game and on a pitch that is cracking the result should not be in doubt. England are being drained by the over.
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