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January 15, 2010
Ricky Ponting never stops surprising. Until this season he had enforced the follow-on twice in 62 Tests as captain; he now hopes to do it for the second time this summer. Until this match he looked, at 35, like a man whose best days were behind him; he countered that perception with his third-highest Test score and the biggest partnership he has ever been involved in at Test level.
It was significant that the 352-run stand came with Michael Clarke, the vice-captain and the man who will take over the leadership whenever Ponting decides to carry his Kookaburra and faded baggy-green off into the sunset. If he keeps playing like he has over the past two days, that could be several years away.
Whenever it arrives, Australia want Clarke to be perfectly prepared and gradual moves into the Twenty20 and one-day captaincy have been part of the process. As the two men dragged the match further and further out of Pakistan's reach, it felt as if Ponting was an old warrior teaching the younger man how to kill off a prey, clinically and without mercy.
For all Clarke's successes as a Test player, turning hundreds into big ones had been a problem. Until today, his highest score remained the 151 he carved on debut in Bangalore and his longest innings was 367 minutes. Here, he lasted 437 minutes for 166.
"We haven't actually shared many big partnerships together in Test cricket, so to get that done, when we were under a bit of pressure early in the innings at 3 for 70 when we came together, was nice," Ponting said. "I knew he made that 150 on debut, so when he was getting close to that today I was urging him along to make sure he went past that total.
"At different times we pushed each other along and at different times told each other to pull the reins back in a little bit as well. That's a big part of it. That was one of the great strengths that Hayden and Langer and myself and Marto and those guys had. Because we knew each other so well and knew our games so well, it was quite easy to coach each other through difficult times. Michael and I have played a lot of cricket together now and know each other's games really well."
Even for Ponting, who has now scored five double-centuries for his country, his 530-minute stay was the second-longest he had ever batted in a Test innings, exactly an hour short of the period needed to make his career-high 257 six years ago. He finished with 209 and only departed because he was looking for quick runs. Staying focused for so many hours was not terribly difficult, he said, especially when he was keen to atone for a disappointing summer.
"You're only concentrating for a couple of seconds at a time but it's having that ability to switch off between balls and look around the crowd, or talk with your partner, or whatever you need to do to keep fresh," he said. "But I've had plenty of batting time stored up, I haven't done a lot lately, so there was plenty of patience and concentration left in me for the summer."
Ponting's wonderful innings was followed by four wickets within 36 overs as Pakistan replied late in the day and it has given Australia an excellent opportunity to make their opponents bat again. Ponting did that to West Indies at the Gabba in November and with showers expected at different stages over the remainder of the Test, he is keen to make it twice in three months if his bowlers keep breaking through.
"A lot of the reason today for us batting around that tea interval and getting around 500 was to hopefully be able to make them follow-on," he said. "It gave us two options in the game - if they batted long, we were hopefully still going to have a reasonable lead but if we happen to bowl them out it obviously gave us a chance to enforce the follow-on with that sort of total. There was a bit of that thinking today, with that weather in mind."
He was praised in Brisbane for keeping West Indies under his control and finishing the Test in three days. He will be congratulated again if he delivers Australia's fifth win of the summer.
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