Australia v Sri Lanka 2007-08 / Features

Australia v Sri Lanka, 1st Test, Brisbane, 3rd day

Ponting attacks through Plan B

A short Test series has stirred Ricky Ponting's attacking captaincy instincts. Since taking over from Steve Waugh, Ponting has enforced the follow-on only once before today and that was in a game where rain stole large chunks

Peter English at the Gabba

November 10, 2007

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Brett Lee's rousing performance gave Ricky Ponting an opportunity to enforce the follow-on, and Lee vindicated that decision by dismissing Sanath Jayasuriya in Sri Lanka's second innings. (File photo) © Getty Images

A short Test series has stirred Ricky Ponting's attacking captaincy instincts. Since taking over from Steve Waugh, Ponting has enforced the follow-on only once before today and that was in a game where rain stole large chunks. Brisbane has been experiencing unpredictable weather, but the desire to crush a struggling opponent quickly and earn a series lead before next week's final match in Hobart was stronger.

Player preservation has been Ponting's main excuse for batting again with substantial leads and he used the tactic to secure massive wins in the previous two season-opening Tests. This time he has challenged his new batch of bowlers to deal with the extra work and floor their opponents for a second time.

It is a significant development for a leader who was unsure in the beginning of his reign and would stick to a plan whether it was working or not. As his comfort in the position grew, he followed hunches successfully and the loss of three stars has increased the power of his position. What Ponting achieves with this group will be how he is remembered as a captain and it will be a high-energy journey.

The first three days of the new era looked eerily similar to the last one. A huge score swept the hope away from the touring team before its batsmen wilted under a sustained assault from a varied attack. All five bowlers contributed as Sri Lanka were dismissed for 211 in 81.5 overs, leaving them needing 341 runs to force a second Australian innings.

Ponting rotated his fast men, overlooking the double changes he has favoured at times, and looked to Stuart MacGill for a long spell between lunch and tea. Apart from Chamara Silva, who seemed to think it was a one-day game; Sri Lanka's batsmen were cautious and required considered extraction. Stuart Clark and Mitchell Johnson were consistently testing and fed early catches to Adam Gilchrist, MacGill threatened and Brett Lee was both a stock and wicket-taking bowler.

The significance of the leadership position is not the only one to have increased over the past year. Lee is now the unrivalled force of the attack and he has embraced the new duties. After taking a couple of wickets late on day two, Lee started today with a frugal spell and returned after tea to remove the obdurate Prasanna Jayawardene. The reverse-swinging full ball was followed by some short ones to the tail-enders and when he gained Fernando's wicket he had 4 for 26 off 17.5 overs. Australia's No. 1 bowler had shown his captain everything he needed to send Sri Lanka back in.

The second innings did not begin as easily for the dominant side, but they rarely do. Sanath Jayasuriya connected early, thrashing Lee for 14 in three balls, and with Marvan Atapattu, the rock of the first innings with 51, sprinted to a half-century stand that ended when Andrew Symonds' delivery brushed past Atapattu's glove. The speed of the partnership created some minor doubts over Ponting's decision, but it was the right one even before Lee caught Jayasuriya's edge in the shadows of stumps.

Australia's batsmen have no need to fear the surface on the fifth day - if the match lasts that long - and the bowlers have more opportunities to dent the morale of the tourists. The second game starts in Tasmania on Friday and there is little time for a turnaround. Rather than extend Sri Lanka's misery by batting again, Ponting set his sights on a swift conclusion that would create more damage.

Peter English is the Australasian editor of Cricinfo

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