England v Australia, 5th npower Test, The Oval, 4th day

A captain strives, but fails

If there are to be calls for Ponting's head, they should be ignored. He remains the best man to lead the Australian team

Alex Brown at The Oval

August 23, 2009

Comments: 37 | Text size: A | A

Ricky Ponting swivels and pulls, England v Australia, 5th Test, The Oval, 4th day, August 23, 2009
Ricky Ponting battled hard to steer Australia in an impossible task but was cut short by Andrew Flintoff's deadly arm © Getty Images
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This was personal. From the moment Ricky Ponting marked centre on Sunday, all present at The Oval realised this innings - his 50th against England - held a significance beyond all others. Fate and circumstance had conspired to deliver the Australian captain to the centre with his team 459 runs in arrears and facing the ignominy of back-to-back away Ashes defeats. Ponting sought to redress the balance.

As it stood, Ponting's captaincy experience in England was already bookended with blood. Steve Harmison's bouncer at Lord's four years ago left a facial scar that remains to this day, and Matt Prior's forceful drive into Ponting at silly-point on Saturday split open his lip. But more acute than any physical pain was the prospect that Ponting, a proud man with a formidable record, could become the first captain since Billy Murdoch in 1890 to lead Australia to two Ashes defeats in England.

The cards were stacked against him long before he emerged from the Pavilion for the second innings. Having misread the pitch and lost a crucial toss, Australia were forced to battle an England side with a spinner-less attack in conditions they would invariably have the worse of. The tourists compounded those setbacks with an indisciplined first-day bowling performance and a calamitous outing with the bat on Friday. Only a world-record fourth-innings run chase would do, and Ponting took to the centre with determined intent.

The agitated, impatient Ponting of the first innings did not appear; replaced by a steadier, committed batsman more familiar to cricketing audiences around the world. Eyes watchful and defence rigid, Ponting steered Australia's improbable run chase with a steady hand; his swivel-pull always at the ready whenever the bowlers shortened in length.

With his half-century came hope that Australia might just have clawed their way back into the contest. But the notion was fleeting. In a moment of madness, Michael Hussey called Ponting through for a suicide single, only for Andrew Flintoff - in his final act of genius in the white flannels - to gun down the stumps from mid-on with the Australian captain well short of his ground. The Oval crowd's generous ovation will have done little to cushion the blow. Another Ashes defeat was being stapled to Ponting's captaincy resume.

"With me being the leader, the captain, wanting to stand up and perform when we were under the most pressure, I wanted to make a big score," Ponting said after play. "(The run-out) was the turning point in the way the game finished up. We had started to wrestle some momentum back in our favour. We were going along really nicely at that stage .. (and) then two run-outs in two overs and then a stumping soon after and all the momentum had turned back against us.

"I've never doubted myself in anything I've ever done when I've had the baggy green cap on. I always get out there and accept challenges the best that I can. I wanted to make 100 today, to be the last man out. I couldn't do that. As a leader and a captain i wanted to do as well as I possibly could, to hopefully be the captain that won here, but I haven't been able to do that either. I'm disappointed with own performances and other guys are as well."

The blowtorch will inevitably be turned in Ponting's direction after a loss that will see his side plummet to fourth-place in the Test rankings. Much of the heat will be justified - bowling decisions on the final day at Sophia Gardens and the first day at Lord's, for instance - but others will not. The misfiring of Mitchell Johnson was a problem beyond his control, and Australia's rabbit-in-the-headlights batting in the first innings at Lord's, Edgbaston and The Oval was the product of inexperience, rather than leadership.

If there are to be calls for Ponting's head, they should be ignored by Jolimont. He remains, by some measure, the best man to lead the Australian team and his batting, as witnessed on Sunday, is still world class. His main task hereafter will be to ensure the sting of Ashes defeat does not level the confidence of his young side, but rather spurs them to greater things. It is an ominous task, but one he has managed before.

"I'll be answering some questions," he said. "You always do when you lose a game or a series like this, it's part of the job, what leaders are expected to do."

Alex Brown is deputy editor of Cricinfo

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© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Posted by Roger_Allott on (August 26, 2009, 10:18 GMT)

Ponting is a great batsman and exceptional fielder, but a below average captain. He just doesn't seem to understand the game at the strategic level.

Posted by sheebo on (August 25, 2009, 18:48 GMT)

i still think ponting is the best captian rite now at the moment for australia and u will see how they will crush eng in the next ashes.

Posted by Beertjie on (August 25, 2009, 11:43 GMT)

In this case it pains me to say"I told you so" when I wrote on Wednesday that the (anticipated) selection of 4 seamers implied a negative mind-set. Granted that it wasn't just the absence of Hauritz that cost the Aussies the Ashes - the poor batting on Friday afternoon when put under pressure revealed their cautious approach. Aussies play best when attacking, but what went on after the rain-stoppage was reflective more of indecision than of a focussed game-plan. So who's to blame? Surely everyone's seen what a defensive skipper Punter is, so why look further. It's not be a matter of scape-goating; but please just face facts.

Posted by khanquerors on (August 25, 2009, 10:57 GMT)

There is only one option left for Australia n that is to whitewash England in the upcoming ODIs

Posted by PeteB on (August 25, 2009, 10:52 GMT)

Our selectors deserve criticism for the reasons mentioned. But these are the same selectors that plumped for Hilfy, Siddle and Hughes as well. So they're not entirely all bad. What we lacked as in 2005 was tactical smarts. And the captain, coach and selectors all deserve some criticism for that. We need a coach that can compliment Rick in the areas he lacks skills in.

Posted by siddharth199 on (August 25, 2009, 8:12 GMT)

Top 3 Reasons Australia lost the Ashes. 1. Not selecting Brett Lee for the final encounter-the pressure cooker situation. 2.Not selecting Nathan Hauritz. 3.The last but not the least-Ponting's Captaincy.

Not selecting Brett Lee was the biggest surprise for me as he was the only bowler who has the experience of these winner takes all situation.You cannot take experience away from anyone.As they say" Form is temporary, Class is forever".

Not selecting Nathan Hauritz was also a surprise decision as the pitch in the final test was turning from the first day.Marcus North taking 4 wkts in the second inns was a great example of that.

I agree with Aussie Legend Jeff Thompson on Ponting as a Captain.He is the biggest "Loser". He is a great batsman but not a good ambassador of the game.He is the only captain I know who has gathered booooooes from crowds all over the world. He won games because of his teams greatness not because of his Captaincy.

Lastly Kudos to England for their team effort.

Posted by popcorn on (August 25, 2009, 5:56 GMT)

Ricky Ponting may be the only Captain to have lost The Ashes twice in 132 years after Billy Murdoch, but GIVE HIM CREDIT FOR THE FACT THAT HE IS THE ONLY CAPTAIN TO HAVE THRASHED ENGLAND 5 NIL IN 85 YEARS AFTER WARWICK ARMSTRONG .

Posted by popcorn on (August 25, 2009, 4:20 GMT)

To all you fault-finders. Ricky Ponting's timing of the declaration at Cardiff was the single most brilliant master stroke.

Posted by leggetinoz on (August 25, 2009, 3:19 GMT)

Raju_Iyer- i think i speak for many people. I think we are all getting a bit sick of Indians bringing up the Sydney test every bloody comment section. It was two years ago, get over it. We weren't the only poor sports on that tour and if your batsmen could have lasted 8 minutes against a part time spinner than there would be no issue. Back onto the topic however. Well done to England. They managed to take advantage of when they were ahead a lot more than Australia did. I think come the next series we should be in a very good shape. Also agree witht he comment about having Clarke captain the limited overs teams. I actually think he would be a good captain. He is basically being schooled by Warne who should have been an Aussie captain.

Posted by true_cricket_fan on (August 24, 2009, 19:12 GMT)

Well played England, throughout the series (considering 4th test as an aberration!). People say England were lucky in the first test, but they forget to credit Anderson and Panesar for their fight. The fact is, Australia are now like any other test playing nation in the world cricket, and Ponting, like any other captain. They are not extra-ordinary anymore. Blaming umpiring decisions for the Ashes would be like fooling around, as the wrong decisions went both ways. You can't forget that the Aussies got two big decisions in their favor in this Oval test on two big overstepping no-balls! One of them being Strauss in the first innings, who was playing excellent...

Posted by santhoshkudva on (August 24, 2009, 15:33 GMT)

what has David hussey done to not merit a place in the batting lineup? i felt Australia missed a trick by not picking him for the ashes. his experience at county cricket would definitely have come handy. really sorry to say, but phil hughes appears to be scared of fast bowling. alteast that is what his initial movement at the crease suggest. it will be daunting for ponting and co to regain that coveted #1 spot, but it is time they accept the fact that there atleast three teams superior to theirs in the game. they simply don't have the team to replicate the feat of their predecessors, but whatever they achieve from here on shall be more due to their never-say-die spirit than ability and talent.

Posted by satyam.srivastava on (August 24, 2009, 14:21 GMT)

Auatralia made a biggest mistake by not allowing Brett Lee for the final game.He should have been tried instead of Stuart Clarke.Also Hauritz should be played.Anyways Mr Punter the golden period for Australia is now over.Now we'll see Australia fighting and for win like other teams and there is lot of time left to see Australia in the same mammoth style as they were 2 years back.

Posted by manju.kori on (August 24, 2009, 14:02 GMT)

Well said Raju_Iyer, now Ponting should take this as lesson and improve on his media statements on the opposition team (remember his comments on Trott and Bopora), talking on spirit of the game where nothing of that sort happened. Trott showed there isn't any pressure from Aus attack with fluent hundred. He should have learnt this way back when India beat them 2-0.

Posted by sherrry on (August 24, 2009, 10:52 GMT)

Congratulations to England but somehow i feel sorry for Australia. They have been a best team for almost around two decades before southafrica took over! I want to ask only one thing, that is, why australian selectors have dropped ANDREW SYMONDS from the squad? It is not that i dont know what disciplinary issues he had, but the player of his class and skill would have easily turned the tides towards australia's favour. Sometimes you need to tolerate somethings, thinking of bigger and better future.

Posted by Raju_Iyer on (August 24, 2009, 10:21 GMT)

Before shedding "crocodile tears" for Ponting, don't forget his beahviour in the Sydney test against India - he was leading right fromt the front there, wasn't he? Not to mention his boorish behaviour on the podium when he and his team roughly shoved Mr. Sharad Pawar after winning a cup!And then to talk of "spirit of the game" when his bowlers could not bowl out the last two English batsmen in the first test of this series is nothing but hypocrisy! Sorry mate, but there is an old saying that those who live by the sword, die by the sword..

Posted by JGG32 on (August 24, 2009, 10:09 GMT)

Totally agree with ajaygodbole, what lost them the test was not so much the exclusion of Hauritz, but the ineptitude of the Aus batsmen against the moving ball in the first inns (with the exception of North, who wasnt out!). You dont have a hope of competing if you fail to get close to your oppositions first inns score, esp. if you have to bat last on a deteriorating wicket. Having said all that, as an England fan, I am still in shock that we won the series having only really turned up and performed on about 3 days out of the whole series!!! Oh and am not sure that Mr. Brown can call the Aus batting performances at Lords, Headingly and Oval 'product[s] of inexperience', considering that 4 of the top 6 are vets of at least 1 Ashes campaign, while North is very experienced, esp in English conditions given his county record!

Posted by PrinzPaulEugen on (August 24, 2009, 9:58 GMT)

I back Punter to remain as test captain. He has a series here against the Windies and then the ever mercurial Pakistan this Australian summer. Australia should prevail against both teams . However, Clarke should take over as captain in the one-dayers.

Ponting is pushing 35, and the fact is he probably has two or three seasons left in him. Clarke is the heir apparent, so lets blood him now in the limited overs format, just as Steve Waugh and Ponting himself were.

I see Ponting's captaincy swansong being the next Ashes series, 10/11, during which he becomes the world's highest runscorer ever, and we regain the Ashes. Clarke to take over as test captain after that.

Posted by DesPlatt on (August 24, 2009, 9:55 GMT)

Excellent comment Marquis 6

Good series but I really feel, even as an Englishman , that the Aussies have been unlucky overall. Much the worst of the decisions, would have won Cardiff but for rain, actually finished Edgbaston ahead.

If it been a tennis match it would have been with Auuies score first 6-0 12-14 6-4 6-0 2-6. However, you have to be much better than the home team to win ; not marginally and so I think Australia will win it back next time.

After all the years I/we have suffered, I thought I'd be gloating but I feel sorry for Ponting who has come far from thes somewhat petulant man of the last series here where he was out captained by Vaughan. He was splendid in all the post match interviews although I think he could have spared Mike Hussey a bit of anguish by not mentioning how surprised he was to be called for the single.

As well as Ponting winning more friends in the more discerning supporters Matthew Hayden has been a winner as a commentator.

Posted by Marquis6 on (August 24, 2009, 7:52 GMT)

Firstly, I should say that as an England supporter I'm elated that England have won a hard fought series. It's inevitable that Ponting will face some difficult questions when he gets back to Australia, but in many ways he has been a revelation in this series. Given a poorly balanced squad by his selectors and let down by some of his senior players (Johnson), he has come across as a far more mature leader than the one we saw in 2005. He has put up with some unsporting behaviour from the english crowds with good grace and has come across as honest and likeable in interviews. He may not be a great tactician on the field, but I get the feeling that he's a great leader behind the scenes. His solid presence is far more likely to take this young australian team forward than the rather flashy, Clark. Most importantly of all, Ponting is gracious in both victory and defeat and for that reason more than any other he is a fine ambassador for Australian cricket.

Posted by ajaygodbole on (August 24, 2009, 7:51 GMT)

As Austalia has lost everybody will criticise not including Hauritz. I think the turning point was 1st innings low score by the Aussies and Ricky getting run out, had Ricky and Hussy continued further, Australia could have easily chase the mammoth total. Ricky has build up the team with youngsters very well. its unbelievable guys like North, Siddle and Hilfenhaus coming and doing great. I feel bad for Aussies, I wanted them to win. I hope they would crush England in the One Day Series

Posted by Woody111 on (August 24, 2009, 7:35 GMT)

Aus still had 11 players who could have done the job. Hauritz would have done nothing to prevent us being bowled out for bugger all at the Oval. Let's get real here. Watson WAS the cover batsman, yes Hussey should have got dropped but he never should have been there in the first place. Johnson is obviously the golden boy but he came back the way he needed to. Unless you take 20 blokes on tour what can you do? Funny how McDonald was never spoken about after the 2nd test. Compare Aus' selection issues to England's. They lost KP, Flintoff had one leg, Bopara can not bat at 3, Bell is Aus' bunny, Broad bowled terribly for 4 tests, the batting order was re-shuffled, Collingwood played one good knock for the whole series. Who do you think had it worse? Bell responded, Bopara was dropped, Trott did excellently on debut, Broad bowled incredibly at the Oval. What a fight-back! Aus could do well to learn from England - as much as it pains me to say.

Posted by crazytaurean on (August 24, 2009, 7:24 GMT)

I still feel Ponting needs somebody to tell him that you cannot string a world beating side after the loss of Warnie, McGrath, Hayden, Langer, Gillie all within a space of a few seasons. Australia today rely heavily on Clarke and Haddin for their batting even in their One dayers. Both have been in the best of their forms. But traditionally Australia or for that matter any good side dominates tests or one dayers because of solid openers. And Australia have been let down by their openers of late in both forms. They have an incosistent policy of rotation. Would have loved to see the likes of Chris Rogers and Phil Jaques the worthy successors to Hayden and Langer but that was not to be. I guess they would have made a difference. Wrong selection or plain bad luck for the Aussies. Australia have never faced such a situation in recent times,and some soul searching needs to be done. England were the better side even sans Mr Kevin Pietersen !!

Posted by Another_brick_in_the_wall on (August 24, 2009, 7:10 GMT)

Ricky Ponting may not be a good captain, probably he never was a good captain, God alone knows how he got the top job. But that aside, there just isn't anybody else who can be a Captain at the moment in Australia. Pup ?? He just isn't up to it. I don't think he enjoys popular support with in the Australian team themselves. I'd let it be and leave the most arrogant captain in world cricket to lick his wounds for the moment. If at all they want to change their captain this is not the right time to do so. They are better off grooming some one for the job and change the guard couple of years from now rather than just pushing that poor chap into the deep abyss of art of captaincy right away.

Posted by The_Wog on (August 24, 2009, 7:06 GMT)

Watson might be good enough when batting AND bowling, but can he do both in a form longer than 20/20? Isn't he the guy that got stress fractures boarding the Darwin flight for the BAN series? At least North can bat well enough for selection, when not being sawn off by Rauf, and took wickets.

Hughes is either good enough or not - strange time to decide he's not when they HAVEN'T PICKED A RESERVE BATSMAN for a 5-Test series, and with Hussey hopelessly out of form!

Clark to be dropped after ONE match on a dustbowl?? (He took wickets in T4 on a greentop.) Let alone Johnson (remember the 8-for??) - let's not repeat the mistakes of previous revolving door selections.

Hauritz is a luxury - but yes, pick him on tracks like this.

My suggestion: Keep Ponting, drop the Kookaburra ball. Play 1st class cricket with the Duke / Reader (whichever swings), synthetic, the Swing-O plastic balls, or a half-taped tennis ball. Maybe then we'll learn to do it, and face it.

Posted by bamby on (August 24, 2009, 6:54 GMT)

The approach in entire series was much English than Australian, playing with out specialist opener, playing without spinner. Selecting team before examining pitch. Many such things were never seen in Australian teams which were more associated with other teams. Too me rather than rolling Pontings head evaluation of support staff is the need of hour. How good Tim Nelson is a as national team coach, he looks out of place in international cricket. Need some one like Steve Waugh or Shane Warne or Mark Taylor to coach this team. Lastly some members of this team do not deserve baggy green and selectors need to get some young players from the shield to replace them.

Posted by TMS8137 on (August 24, 2009, 6:54 GMT)

Australia lost this series as they lost out on the key moments in the test and due to some selectorial blunders. Stuart Clark should have played more tests and nathan hauritz the last one but you have to take the good with the bad and their replacing hughes with watson was a masterstroke only because watson gave his blood and guts on the pitch. What would all of us have said if watson aggregated 55 runs in the series, But still this series proves that the selectors retaining faith in johnson through the series could do him some good later as he along with siddle and hilfenhaus is the future of the bowling attack. The selectors unfortunately have some hard decisions to make in the future but i only hope that their inefficiencies will not be papered over by what will surely be an easy victory against the windies down under.

Posted by Thommo23 on (August 24, 2009, 6:34 GMT)

Come on Aussies , come on . So we got beat by a better , luckier side , on this occasion . Give them their dues , they would give us theirs , as they have in the past. Our turn will come , so we have to accept the bad along with the good . Sure it hurts , be we do live to fight another day , and it is a darn lot better than sending our boys to war . They will be back , and the taste of defeat will be remembered until it is remedied . That time will come , and in the meantime we will support our team's effort as they compete against other Countries who think we may be a carcuss to pick over . Thanks to Ricky and his team mates for their efforts and endeavours . I think you are all fantastic Sportsmen and will barrack for you on EVERY occasion . I love Australia , I love Cricket , and I can't wait until the next time.

Posted by brownie79 on (August 24, 2009, 5:11 GMT)

I think people are missing the point here, the captain is only one batsman. To be bowled out for less than 300 3 times out of 8 innings, and only twice being in front after the first innings shows a lack of composure and application from the batting lineup. Despite Hussey's 100 he should be dropped back to shield cricket to find some form, and we should pick the best 6 batsmen, not 5 and an allrounder who isn't good enough to hold his place with bat or ball alone. As for the bowling, we were unable to maintain pressure for any real length of time and leaked runs far too quickly. Stuart Clarke should never play again and Johnson should be dropped back to shield cricket to find some consistency. Nathan Hauritz showed this series that he can do the job for Australia and the selectors need to show more faith and select him, I mean if your not going to play a spinner on a track that looked that dry, when will you?

Posted by dsig3 on (August 24, 2009, 4:06 GMT)

PDAWSON3 Mark Taylor and Steve Waugh were NOT the best players in their teams. Ponting is still our best option at the moment. He has made mistakes but no more than most. People rubbish him because they dont like him personally. Ever since this team was formed in Australia against SA last summer they have been mighty inconsistant. This is something I and most Aussies are not used to. I still believe we have a very good squad with alot of room for development. Nowhere near the last era but pretty good by international standards. Higher ceiling than England IMO.

Posted by Adolfhitler89 on (August 24, 2009, 4:00 GMT)

Australia made the same mistake like Pakistan did, they never gave youngsters a chance and when the big guns retired the Australian tem started to struggle.

Posted by fairdinkum on (August 24, 2009, 3:14 GMT)

With hindsight, Hauritz would have been a better selection than Stuart Clark but Watson's selection over Hughes proved correct. Bowling rotations have been good so no real criticism there. It's just that Australia lost the big moments, probably 3 sessions out of 14 where they just performed badly. Unexpectedly, it was the batting that let us down on those occasions. Having said that, losing the toss 4 out of 5 was really significant. I am not sure if we got the worst of the umpiring decisions; it seemed like it.

Posted by RaghuramanR on (August 24, 2009, 2:19 GMT)

I think it is tough for 'outsider's to comment or ask for Ponting's exit from captaincy. Some Australian commentators feel that he is the best man, but Jeff Thomson, for instance, said even before the series that Ponting is crap as a captain. Ian Chappell may have other reasons to rate Ponting above Steve Waugh as a captain despite the fact that Steve Waugh has more test wins under his belt. Ponting may not have 'stopped' another contender/favorite from becoming captain as Steve Waugh apparently did in not 'letting' Warne become the captain, but still Ponting's composure as captain stood in total contrast to Strauss as captain or even Mark Taylor or Steve Waugh.

Posted by IPLisdull on (August 24, 2009, 2:16 GMT)

For all of those who doubt Ponting,s captaincy i would ask who you think and comment on who should have the role in the current Aussie line up. And although some of the bowling rotations may have been uninspired (think cardiff day 5 session 2) surely Ricky's biggest crime as a captain is his inability to win a toss of the coin (4 out of 5 here, and 3 out of 4 in india). Place criticism where it belongs, with the sometimes poor selection of the side (and squad) and give credit to England for being better in big moments this series

Posted by Graduated_Cheetah on (August 23, 2009, 23:52 GMT)

2 Ashes in England w/o McGrath and both times England come out on Top ... I some how agree with the above comment that Ponting makes vital mistakes in bowling rotations and he does not have a bowling squad that can do the job for him at his will ...

Perhaps the flaws in his judgment have lead to this defeat ... But honestly it hurts to see Aussies scoring more runs and centuries but still ending up as the losing side :(

Posted by leggetinoz on (August 23, 2009, 22:16 GMT)

I think there will be a few heads roll bu Ponting will/should not be one. Brett Lee is finished, potentially Stuart Clark as well. Out of the batsmen, Hussey is in trouble. Also i would hope at least one selector goes as some of the decisions made about the squad and team were pretty ordinary. This is a bad loss, the pivotal moment happened on the 5th day of the first test. If we picked up that last wicket we would have smashed them. Instead we will slip to 4th which might not be a bad thing. Instead of trying to stay number one we can truly rebuild and get a team that will become number one once again. For starters reinstating Phil Hughes, drop watson down and show more faith in Hauritz and start blooding up Jason Krezja.

Posted by Chris_Howard on (August 23, 2009, 22:14 GMT)

Australia have played fairly well throughout, but failed most of all, not on the field, but off it.

It was selections before and during the series that cost Australia most.

Keeping Hussey, no genuine batsman backup, playing Clark too late, inability to change a winning team after Leeds, dropping Hughes after only two Tests (which couldn't have been good for anyone's morale - poor guy, Johnson and Hussey get however long they like, but Hughes is gone after two failures) and so on.

Hopefully much good will come of this series. Hopefully Australia will lose its ridiculous obsession with all-rounders. And its misguided notion of retaining winning teams. And, most of all, hopefully it will get the balls to drop out of form experienced players.

Posted by PDAWSON3 on (August 23, 2009, 20:44 GMT)

This Australian idea that the best player is the best captain is flawed. It doesn't get exposed when you have Warne, McGrath, Langer, Gilchrist, Hayden etc in your team, but it has been exposed in this series. Ponting is a great batsman (still), but a seriously deficient leader. He has made mistakes in team selection, decisions after winning the toss, bowler rotation as well as his spectacularly uncharismatic grumpiness (the Gary Pratt incident being just one). Free him up to do what he does brilliantly (i.e.bat) unencumbered by the strains of captaincy. No shame in this and The Ashes could well be back down under in 18 months or so.

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