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November 26, 2010
If you listen to Gary Pratt, the event that thrust him into the cricketing limelight was also the one that quickened his dramatic fall from grace. Twelve months after he propelled England towards an Ashes triumph by running out Ricky Ponting in the fourth Test, Pratt found himself cast aside after being released by Durham.
He feels that the scintillating piece of work that felled Ponting marked him out as a fielding specialist, and caused prospective suitors to ignore his skill with the bat. "I was just known for fielding afterwards, and I didn't really want that," he told ESPN. "It probably hampered my career at Durham, really. I didn't seem to push on, people just saw me as a fielder - but I had a good record as a batter, especially in one-day cricket. You kind of get that label and it's hard to shrug it off."
Pratt's assessment makes for a compelling narrative, but it should be noted that he had not played a first-class game for Durham in 2005 before he took to the field at Trent Bridge. Nonetheless, he found himself catapulted into the England fold due to his athleticism and lethal throwing arm. "I wasn't playing at Durham at the time," he said. "I did 12th man duties a few times before. If they like what you do across the dressing room then they're quite happy to have you back and do it again."
England might have been happy, but Ponting was positively raging after being run out by a man not named in the hosts' starting XI. Throughout the series, the Australian skipper had made no secret of his disdain for England's use of substitute fielders, feeling that they were employed as a method to rest the weary legs of the pace attack. "I think he did have a point [regarding England's use of sub fielders]," Pratt admits. "Ironically I came on because Simon Jones was in hospital - he had to have an injection in his ankle. His ankle was absolutely goosed, he didn't play after that."
And so the scene was set for Pratt to instigate what he admits was a "quite massive" tipping point in the series, which was tied at 1-1 ahead of the fourth Test. After Australia crumbled to 218 in reply to England's 477 at Trent Bridge, Michael Vaughan ordered the wounded tourists to bat again.
With all his trademark obstinacy, Ponting - dismissed for 1 first time around - was quietly putting together an innings that threatened to scupper England's hopes of victory. The celebrated batsman had moved to 48, with Australia 155 for 2, when he tapped the ball into the covers in the hope of stealing a rapid single - but he hadn't banked on Pratt's ability to seize his one shot to write his name into cricketing folklore. The substitute snatched the ball from the floor before unleashing a deadly throw that brought the bails crashing to the turf before Ponting had grounded his bat.
"Obviously it turned out to be quite massive to what happened, but he could have been out the next ball for all anyone knows," Pratt said. "In the context of the game it was a pretty big moment - he was well set and obviously England needed to win that game, and to do that we had to get Ponting out pretty sharpish.
"I was kept well away [after the match], I wasn't allowed to do the press or anything like that. The only time I've spoken to [Ponting] a little bit was at the Riverside. He didn't mention anything at all - he was a good fella, a really nice pro, just a good guy."
England would go on to triumph in the match - although they spluttered over the finish line when the end eventually came, winning by three wickets - and then the series, drawing the final Test at The Oval. In a move destined to goad Ponting, Pratt was invited on the open-top bus ride organised to celebrate the English victory.
The trip clearly carries fond memories: "When we came back from Lord's on the bus, Steve Harmison got the marker pen when Freddie fell asleep and drew all over his face. When we got off at the hotel, we couldn't get parked outside the doors so we had to walk in. All the media were outside and Freddie didn't have a clue what was going on. He got to the glass doors on the hotel lift and he noticed. He went 'Harmy, you t**t!'
"It was massive, wasn't it? All the lads were expecting one man and his dog to be there. We went round the corner and it was just seas of people, it was just amazing to do it."
Despite those jubilant scenes, Pratt - now working on a shop specialising in cricketing equipment - reveals that there is a part of him that wishes the run out never happened. "Yeah, I do regret it in a way," he said, his voice assuming the sombre tone of a man rueing what might have been, before adding: "I still think I should be playing now."
But, despite a couple of abortive attempts to work his way back into the sporting arena - including a spell in non-league football - he will play no part in this year's Ashes battle. "I think we'll do well - but although they're struggling, when the Ashes come along it's a different kettle of fish," Pratt says, underselling the impact of the series that offers him such conflicting emotions.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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