August 16, 2001

Ponting finds form to England's dismay

Ricky Ponting shrugged off his Ashes blues to make a long overdue and superb century at Headingley to give Australia another sizzling success to celebrate in the Fourth npower Test Match.

It was the fifth Australian century of the Ashes series but for Ponting, who has been through one of the most miserable phases of his career with just 50 runs from five Test innings, it was a spectacular return to form and showed both courage and ruthless spirit in his bid for a century.

It was courageous because he arrived at the crease with Australia in an unusually tentative position at 42 for two after Adam Gilchrist's decision to bat first on a pitch that looked to favour the bowlers, was in danger of backfiring.

With so few runs in his tank this summer, it was a pressurised situation for Ponting but his destiny became almost preordained when the third delivery of his innings from Andy Caddick flew off his bat and carried to Mark Ramprakash at third slip.

Or did it? The umpires were unsure and referred to their third set of eyes, Neil Mallender who watched the catch over and over again and ruled that the ball had not in fact carried to the fielder.

It was an impossibly close call but from that point, Ponting, who was yet to get off the mark, was ruthless in his pursuit of runs, grabbing the opportunity as the Australians do in lucky breaks, with unrestrained zeal. By tea nine overs later, he had already notched up 32 runs

The hundred was not long in coming. Less than three hours later, having faced 113 deliveries, he flicked Alan Mullally to square leg and ran the single. He had struck three sixes, one off each of England's frontline bowlers, as well as 11 fours, most of them immaculately and deliciously pulled through the leg side.

He shared a magnificent double hundred partnership with Mark Waugh who departed for 72 at the close having continued his rich vein of form that started pretty early into the tour.

Looking at Australia's total at the close, 288 for four, one would never have guessed that 23 overs had been lost from the scheduled day's play. Heavy rain had greeted a large Yorkshire crowd first thing, postponing play until after lunch.

Australia are no longer fighting to retain the Ashes after their triumph at Trent Bridge but are now battling to make it a 5-0 'greenwash'. As a result, they started cautiously until they had a better measure of the pitch, a green top with patchy brown ends, that at the toss had everyone guessing.

England dropped two catches to help Australia's openers on their way. Matthew Hayden was missed by Marcus Trescothick at gully, which marked the end of Trescothick in that position for the day. Mullally then missed Michael Slater for 11 at square leg which would have made the score 23 for two.

Neither miss proved particularly expensive with both openers departing shortly afterwards to Andy Caddick, who proved the most attacking bowler in England's otherwise ragged effort.

But the loss of Hayden leg before brought together Waugh and the mighty Ponting. The entertainment became enthralling, as both were allowed to play their shots and Nasser Hussain struggled to find the best option for bringing the show to a close.

None of his pace bowlers responded with any great commitment to accuracy or planning and so he turned to his bit parters, Mark Butcher and Mark Ramprakash who unwittingly may have set up the opportunity for Alex Tudor ten overs from stumps.

Having made a sparkling 144 from 154 balls, Ponting finally edged Tudor to Alec Stewart and an excellent third-wicket partnership was over, finishing eight runs short of Australia's record at Headingley, set in 1930 by Sir Don Bradman and Alan Kippax.

By this time, the bowlers were looming in the shadows and many of the crowd had dispersed, possibly disheartened by another frustrating England performance but they missed a remarkable last innings setback for the tourists.

With three balls left of the day's play, Caddick surprised Waugh with a ball that lifted and the squirted up and came down in the hands of Ramprakash, to bring an amazing day's play to a close.