Ponting refuses to mope
Ricky Ponting insisted he was not let down by Australia's dramatic near miss after watching an impregnable position turn into a gut-wrenching draw. The tourists were speeding towards a 1-0 Ashes lead until England's final pair of James Anderson and Monty Panesar held on for 11.3 overs, sending 11 dispirited fielders to the dressing room.
Ponting was disappointed with the failure to take the final wicket but will not mope in the lead-up to the second Test at Lord's from Thursday. "It depends how you look at it, I'm not looking at this as a let-down," he said. "I'm disappointed that we didn't win, but I'm not let down by the way we played. From the time we started batting there was only one team that could have won the game. From an hour left in the day's play, everyone here thought we would do that."
The result was still in doubt 15 minutes before the scheduled end, with Australia likely to have reached the required 13 runs if only they could have knocked over that last wicket. "We gave ourselves a great opportunity, we got extremely close, but stumbled at the last hurdle," Ponting said. "But I'm very proud of what the guys achieved. We proved a lot to ourselves."
This was the first Ashes Test for seven of Australia's men and they dominated their more experienced rivals on a surface offering slow turn and little for the fast bowlers. Nathan Hauritz led the side with 3 for 63 from 37 overs, proving his credentials as an international spinner, and Ben Hilfenhaus also grabbed three victims, although he was the least-used of the specialists.
Needing 239 to make Australia bat again, England were in desperate trouble at 159 for 7, but the resistance grew in strength when Graeme Swann joined Paul Collingwood. From there none of the wickets came easily and the visitors started to fluster before the match finished with England 252 for 9.
For the final five overs Ponting used a tired Hauritz in combination with the part-time offspinner Marcus North, instead of continuing with Peter Siddle or recalling Hilfenhaus or Mitchell Johnson. The tactic didn't work and Anderson and Panesar were able to defend or stay out of danger. "When they put North on, I thought we've got a good chance," Anderson said. "Monty was playing very well and we were communicating well."
"We were running a bit short of time," Ponting said of the decisions. "Once they forged that last partnership we needed to get as many balls into their batsmen. A few other minutes were being taken up by other things. With two left-handers being in, and two offspinners being on, I thought we could create some chances."
If Andrew Strauss was in charge he would have waved to Johnson. "I could understand what [Ponting] was doing but personally I thought Mitchell Johnson would have been harder for these two to face," he said. "Each captain sees things differently, I suppose."
Australia held on by a wicket at Old Trafford on their last visit to England, but by the next Test at Trent Bridge the hosts had re-grouped and won to take the series lead. Ponting hopes this result will galvanise his team for Lord's.
"We've got to realise how well we played, it will be hard for the guys to realise that over the next hour," he said. "That's what I'll be saying. We just have to have a good attitude around the ground when we start training again on Tuesday."
He felt England would have the greater problems heading into Lord's despite the strength of their late rally. "I'm not sure if they look at it like a win, they're not 1-0 up, and they've been outplayed for four days," Ponting said. "They'll have more soul-searching and selection issues than we will."
Peter English is the Australasia editor of Cricinfo