Ponting's patience pays off
Calls for Ricky Ponting to alter his game this month have not centered around his batting. The team has been much better behaved under Ponting's watch since Sydney, but in Adelaide the most obvious difference has been the pace of his run-making. The stroke player has briefly become cautious, concentrating on the result of the series and trying to gain confidence against bowlers that have drained him.
India must win to draw the series and with two days to go a stalemate is the most likely result. That was the expectation twice over the past five years, when the chasing team secured unthinkable triumphs, but the speed set by Ponting over the final two sessions was revealing and sensible. It was not a time for the side in overall command to take risks.
Flourishes were usually ignored as Ponting played it safe for the benefit of his men. After Phil Jaques and Matthew Hayden went within 27 runs of each other the captain had to settle the side to avoid the potential problems caused by chasing a first-innings total of 526. At the end he had 79 from 150 balls, with only six fours to show for 248 minutes of toil, and Australia were a healthy 3 for 322. There were a couple of pull shots from Ponting, but mostly it was a determined performance for a man desperate not to let slip the hard-won series advantage.
Harbhajan Singh and Ishant Sharma were quickly called together to attack Ponting when he arrived a couple of overs after lunch. In the first two Tests, Harbhajan had taken care of Ponting three times and in Perth it was Sharma who removed him after a series of brutal deliveries. Ponting played back a lot, but slowly Australia moved forward.
Usually Ponting walks to the wicket and starts firing balls through midwicket and cover. There was not much of that today. He was forced to defend a lot around restrictive fields, particularly on the off side, and was not bothered by the mounting tally of his deliveries compared to runs.
Shortly before tea he used his feet to charge at Harbhajan, a rare event, and flicked a two to midwicket. He followed it by pulling Irfan Pathan for four between the couple of men back for the shot before shelving the expression for more careful compilation. The feet remained firm and the desire was channelled, his half-century coming from 114 balls in almost three-and-a-half hours.
An argument with Harbhajan diverted Ponting's attention when the pair clashed as the bowler chased the ball at the non-striker's end. Asad Rauf intervened quickly as players came in and were soon sent back. The fight stayed with Ponting and a couple of overs later he leaned on to the back foot to drive Harbhajan through cover for the batsman's fourth boundary. In the second last over of the day he sent Sharma's new-ball offerings for fours to midwicket and fine leg.
This was an innings of an earlier era, when attacking shots stood out like lighthouses, and Ponting's aggressive streaks will be remembered easily in the backdrop of defiance. Watching Ponting scale back was fulfilling. He has mastered so many bowlers that it was fascinating seeing him force himself through a lengthy struggle. Australian players can change to suit the national interest and their leader showed how.
Peter English is the Australasia editor of Cricinfo