Ponting's toss decision vindicated
All the Australian team talk was right and the doubters were wrong. In the most unbelievable turnaround Ricky Ponting's men up-ended Pakistan on a swinging day to wrap up the series at the SCG and earn smug smiles and wild celebrations.
Under Ponting the Australians have secured a handful of unthinkable wins, but Ponting rated this at the top, given the self-inflicted circumstances and the huge amount they were behind. There were many reasons why they shouldn't have won by 36 runs: Ponting shouldn't have won the toss and batted; Pakistan shouldn't have given up a 206-run first-innings advantage; Kamran Akmal shouldn't have dropped Michael Hussey three times; and Australia shouldn't have been able to escape from eight-down on the final morning with a lead of 80. They don't matter now.
Ponting believes in his team at every position and on days like today everyone can see why. "What we have read over the last couple of days and what we have seen on the news has probably just steeled us all a little bit," Ponting said. "It's just made us want to fight the game out as much as we can and prove that we are never out of the contest."
They did this sort of thing in Adelaide in 2006-07, when the second Ashes Test was drifting to a draw before Shane Warne intervened. A year later it was Michael Clarke's three wickets in the last over that did for India at the SCG, and on the same ground 12 months ago Mitchell Johnson bowled the injured Graeme Smith just before time ran out. In those games Australia were in charge, racing to seal the victory they deserved.
This time they stole it from Pakistan by completing an outrageous comeback on a ground the local players now believe they can do anything on. "I think this is the most satisfying one [of the SCG wins] because I don't think anyone in the world apart from all the blokes inside our dressing room thought we could win," Ponting said.
Australia's current unit is not jammed full of world-beating talent, but it is crammed with desire, and will suffer for their captain. Nathan Hauritz picked up a bleeding finger and a bruised chest from his caught-and-bowled off Mohammad Yousuf's stinging straight drive, the key wicket of the final innings, and walked off with his second five-for in two Tests.
Peter Siddle carries a sore shoulder from his career-best 38, an innings as important to the victory as Michael Hussey's 134, which pulled Australia from depression. Shane Watson's smooth 97 was also invaluable and Mitchell Johnson slid through on his captain's backing with two wickets in his opening over before tea. That reduced Pakistan to 3 for 51 in their previously comfortable chase of 176, but they were quickly being tortured. Ecstasy was soon the only emotion for the locals who were jigging, jumping and dancing on and off the field.
Results like these can change the course of history. In 1992 in Colombo, Australia were faced with a similar situation, surging back from a 291-run first-innings deficit to dismiss Sri Lanka for 164, 17 short of victory. Warne was the hero in the final stages of that game and was soon drenched in match-winning aura as the team shot to the top of the world. In this one Hauritz got in the road of Pakistan to leave with 5 for 53, the best return of his 12 Tests.
Ponting was heavily criticised from the first day for his decision to bat on a juicy surface that set up Australia's fall for 127. By the end his logic was satisfyingly sound. "I backed us at the start of the game to make more runs in the first innings than what I thought Pakistan could make in the last innings," he said. "As it turns out we got 120-odd and bowled them out for 139 in the last innings of the game."
At one stage during his post-mortem a relaxed Ponting teasingly asked all those in the press conference who had doubted his decision to raise their hands. All the Australian journalists' arms went up. "I feel better now," he said. He smiled, knowing that when it comes to Australia's Test team he knows best. "It comes down to results and we've got a great result here," he said. "So I look like a genius where I didn't a couple of days ago."
Peter English is the Australasia editor of Cricinfo