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December 28, 2003
Ricky Ponting: doesn't care too much about breaking records
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Ricky Ponting stormed to the top of the 2003 batting charts, in the process becoming only the fifth player to score back-to-back double hundreds in Test matches. Wally Hammond was the first to do it, at this very ground, way back in 1928-29, and Sir Donald Bradman achieved the feat no less than thrice. By sheer coincidence, the last of that awesome threesome came at Melbourne (270) and Adelaide (212) as Australia came from 2-0 down to win the Ashes 3-2 in 1936-37.
Ponting though wasn't even aware of that, saying, "Tell me about the records, I haven't got a clue ... It's nice to have your name mentioned alongside these past legends, but for me, all that matters is being part of a side that has a chance to win this Test match."
He said that his controlled 257- an effort defined as much by patience as by superb strokeplay - was a response to the situation that his team found itself in after India had dominated the opening day. "It was important that we get as big a lead as possible," he said. "The bounce will be more variable as the game goes on, and the wicket's slower too. If our bowlers can keep banging the ball into the wicket tomorrow, they should get a few bowled or leg before."
Ponting admitted that he had enjoyed a wonderful year, and attributed much of his success to the increased responsibility that came with batting at number three. "That was the biggest change in my game," he said. "As a junior, I had opened the batting and batted at three, and I also used to bat at number four for my state [Tasmania]. When I came into the Test side, and batted at six, it took some getting used to."
There was also time for a veiled jibe at the Indians, who let Sachin Tendulkar stay in the dressing room at the fall of the second wicket this evening. "I was very surprised that Tendulkar didn't come out," he said. "He is under a lot of pressure and I suppose the team has certain thoughts regarding that ... you probably wouldn't see it happen in our side, but it's not for me to say whether it's the right or wrong decision. If he comes out and makes a lot of runs tomorrow, it'll look like the right choice."
Ponting also paid tribute to Steve Waugh, who came out in the afternoon, and scratched out a gritty 19 despite having been struck a blow on the elbow by Ajit Agarkar. "He was struggling a lot," said Ponting. "It was a big effort just to come out. It was a vital stage of the game, our lead wasn't much. It was a great effort, but then you wouldn't expect anything else from him."
Trefor James, the Australian team doctor, added that Waugh had been hit on the outside of the elbow, resulting in a large haematoma. But investigations had revealed no fracture, and the medical team would review his progress over the next few days. "Our expectation is that he will be able to continue here and also play in Sydney," he said.
Anil Kumble, who bowled with tremendous heart and discipline for his six wickets, said that it was a tough time for India. "It was important for us to get an early wicket today. We got Martyn, but it was hard work after that. Ponting batted really well."
Of Ponting's knock, he said, "He took a calculated risk early on [a miscue off Kumble fell short of Tendulkar] but didn't take many chances after that. For my part, I just had to keep plugging away, bowling the same line and waiting for the mistake from the batsmen."
Kumble insisted that the mood in the dressing room was still upbeat. "It would have been nice to keep all ten wickets in hand. But you have to remember that three of the batsmen [Rahul Dravid, Sourav Ganguly and VVS Laxman] have made hundreds already, and the fourth [Tendulkar] is yet to fire."
There'll need to be a lot of fire, and much luck, if India are to leave the MCG with that precious lead still intact. On a pitch where the ball will misbehave more and more, it would help their cause if umpires David Shepherd and Billy Bowden were to be as conservative with decisions as they were today, when India certainly copped the wrong end of the stick. Credit though to Ponting, whose magic carpet ride has left India with a sinking feeling.
Dileep Premachandran is assistant editor of Wisden Cricinfo. He will be following the team throughout the course of this series.
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