August 10, 2009

Ponting's was the innings that mattered

Sambit Bal
Ricky Ponting was hit on the wrist by James Anderson, England v Australia, 2nd Test, Lord's, 4th day, July 19, 2009
Ponting's Headingley fifty had all the makings of a classic  © Getty Images
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Marcus North was Man of the Match for his second hundred of the series, Michael Clarke scored more runs than him, and even Stuart Broad and Graeme Swann nearly scored as many but, for me, Ricky Ponting's was the innings of the match - and, arguably, even the innings of the series.

Rightly, batsmen are judged not merely by the number of runs they produce but the quality of those runs. It was clear from the merry romp of England's ninth-wicket pair that batsmen can do plenty of things once the pressure has lifted. With nothing to lose, and nothing to fear, Broad and Swann were able to flay the same bowlers who terrorised their top-order colleagues for two successive days. Ponting, though, switched on his act when the match was still open.

When a Test side gets bowled out for about a hundred runs on the first day, it is natural to assume that the conditions are tilted heavily towards the bowlers. Australia entered the match with a history of weakness against swing bowling. It cost them the series in 2005 and the Test at Lord's this summer, and when the ball swung for one session at Edgbaston they lost seven wickets for 77. In most cases, bowling your opponents out for 102 in the first innings is good enough win a Test, but only if your own batsmen don't perform as badly.

Ponting had gone missing after a big hundred in his first appearance in the series, and the pitch at Cardiff was so benign that only six Australian wickets fell in 180 overs. In the previous innings, when Australia were in danger of losing the Test, he was bowled through the gate by an offspinner, the species that has troubled him throughout his career. And he came to the crease here after Steve Harmison, a man returning to the Ashes battle, had claimed an early wicket with a nasty, steepling ball that Simon Katich was forced to fend off in front his face. The first ball he faced from Harmison zipped through Ponting's bat and his body, not far from the inside edge.

From here, Ponting produced 78 off 101 balls. At one point, he was 32 off 20 balls, with five fours and a six. It was thrilling, counter-attacking batting on a pitch that still had plenty for the bowlers. It can be argued that England bowled poorly to him but often a great batsman in supreme touch can have that effect on bowlers. By the time he was out Australia were ahead by 38 runs and would have had to bat like zombies to lose the Test from there.

As the years roll by, the scorecard will reveal Ponting's contribution as one of the half-centuries in a match Australia utterly dominated. The truth is that it was the defining innings of the match. It had every ingredient that makes a great innings: counter-attack, supreme skills, the purest of strokes, and most of all, coming when it truly mattered.

Sambit Bal is the editor of ESPNcricinfo

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Posted by rama on (September 5, 2009, 9:05 GMT)

My foot. His Captaincy is very good that is why he lost two Ashes. He had great bats. & bowls. with him. Anyone so endowed cannot but win. All said and done his Captaincy is worse than pedestrian.

Posted by satyam on (August 30, 2009, 18:44 GMT)

not for the first tym ponting has produced such an innings.his career has been punctuated wid such knocks.his counter offence has been simply admirable.he showed that he remains indispensible for his team.to prolong the pontin V tendulkar debate ,well tendulkar may b more soothin to eyes i mean is a visual treat but pontin is clrealy more effective.tendulkar is simply tendulkar but ponting can do both a tendulkar n a sehwag.

Posted by Sanjay on (August 12, 2009, 3:00 GMT)

Awesome piece. Spot on. Liked your other article you wrote recently on Michael Clarke.

Posted by Nipun on (August 12, 2009, 2:58 GMT)

I don't know why there is so much fuss about the Ponting vs Tendulkar debate.Tendulkar is better as a batsman than Ponting on a whole,even if only slightly,but Ponting is miles ahead as a captain.Sachin,for all his undoubted genius & shrewd tactical mind,& with a mind which understands the game far more than almost any other player in the world,somehow has never managed to be a great captain,although he had the Dravids,Gangulys,Kumbles,Srinaths during his tenures.Ponting is much criticised for his captaincy;I don't know what the shit is wrong with his captaincy.He utilised his full strength team to the max when they won(again)16 wins on the trot;in fact,the later wins in the streak were without Warne,McGrath,Langer & Martyn!Now that the team is almost completely new & going through a tough rebuilding phase,he has yet delivered results with such a new team with the burden of extreme high expectations.

Posted by Samjay on (August 11, 2009, 21:34 GMT)

@Criclover, Forget about Indians; go to Cricinfo's player description. Even they believe that Ponting has weaknesses against quality fast bowling (Ishant Sharma/Zaheer Khan, in recent memory) and let's not even talk about what a Joke he is against spin. The bloke did not play against some of the great fast bowlers, against whom Tendulkar and Lara made their names. Heck, I don't even count him in the same class as the Waughs. Most of his so-called gigantic scores were built on platforms provided by Hayden and Langer.

Posted by Akash on (August 11, 2009, 19:19 GMT)

This certainly was a top class counter-attacking knock. While the English could have bowled better, Ponting's aggression (just what was needed to maintain Australian dominance) and quality of strokeplay were excellent. And what a fabulous response to the army of booing spectators! (though I think many did it for a lark, especially after Mr. Giles' commandment :)

Posted by warren on (August 11, 2009, 15:42 GMT)

Im a Ponting fan (in terms of his batting not his leadership) and an Australia fan, but i think the article is a little off. Pontings innings was good, but like he does in most innings nowadays, showed a vulnerability ealier on. The Harmison delivery couldve taken the edge and Enlgand wouldve been on fire. Fate was at hand then. Ponting is a great though and im not rying to take that away from him. one other thing - instead of trying ot dtermine who the best is between Ponting, Lara and Tendulkar - why not just imagine a middle oreder of those 3. Ponting, Lara and Tendulkar. I dont think you can separate them. They are all special in their own right.

Posted by UmeshD on (August 11, 2009, 14:44 GMT)

Just Great article Mr Bal. I watched and loved this innings despite of not being a Ponting fan as such.

Just one last comment. Can we restrict readers comments to ones related to the original post please ?

Posted by AV on (August 11, 2009, 13:36 GMT)

@criclover : what a joke "only indians put Tendulkar ahead of Ponting" - the whole world does, btw do you think "Don Bradman" was indian????? Indeed Ponting is a great batsman but his leadership qualities havent been tested before as he was blessed with legends(Hydos, Mcgrath, Warne....) in his team, so coming 1-2 years will show his credentials. As far as batting is concerned Tendulkar is far ahead.

Posted by Anshu on (August 11, 2009, 13:21 GMT)

@Rob: maybe you were not a follower of indian cricket in the '90s when on virtually every overseas tour, Tendulkar was in at somthing like 20/2. We had one decent opener in Siddhu, and till around 1999 Dravid wasn't a factor either (In fact, if you remember, in the 3-test series in Australia in 1999, both the openers as well as Dravid kept on failing, Tendulkar got 2 bad decisions - Adelaide and Sydney - and still got a hundred and a couple of fifties, with both Warne and Mcgrath in the opposition.)

Not to discredit Punter (an all-time great for sure), but he did play with good openers like Slater & Taylor and then Langer & Hayden (not to mention the follow-up of the Waughs, Gilchrist, Martin).

@Criclover: You are ignorant if nothing else. DON BRADMAN, Viv Richards, McGrath, Warne, Donald, Wasim, Waqar, Hadlee, Fleming, Boycott, Willis, Hussain, Murli, Vaas are just some of the luminaries who have descibed Lara and Tendulkar as the 2 greatest modern batsmen. R they Indians??

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Sambit Bal
Editor-in-chief Sambit Bal took to journalism at the age of 19 after realising that he wasn't fit for anything else, and to cricket journalism 14 years later when it dawned on him that it provided the perfect excuse to watch cricket in the office. Among other things he has bowled legspin, occasionally landing the ball in front of the batsman; laid out the comics page of a newspaper; covered crime, urban development and politics; and edited Gentleman, a monthly features magazine. He joined Wisden in 2001 and edited Wisden Asia Cricket and Cricinfo Magazine. He still spends his spare time watching cricket.

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