A week for the old-timers to savour
In this era of unrelenting schedules, weariness with the 50-over format has become commonplace. Four-innings matches, over reductions and even wholesale scrapping have been proposed as potential solutions to alleviate the tedium and restore context to a game that has fallen victim to money-driven boards and their ravenous broadcast partners.
Yet despite the apocalyptic overtones, limited-overs cricket has made a comeback of sorts over the past week. And while it had been suggested in some quarters that the format's survival could hinge on the skills of a new generation weaned on Twenty20 cricket, it is the current batch of veterans breathing new life into the ODI game.
On Saturday, Sanath Jayasuriya smashed a breakneck 98 against India in Colombo. Two days later, Sachin Tendulkar returned the favour with a scintillating 138. Then, on Tuesday, Ricky Ponting notched his first ODI century in more than 18 months, leading Australia to a thrilling victory over England at Trent Bridge with a sterling 126 from 109 deliveries. A week to savour.
By week's end, Ponting could well join Tendulkar and Jayasuriya in the top-three all-time ODI run-scorers. His mesmeric innings on Tuesday placed him within 47 runs of the third-placed Inzamam ul-Haq and, given his current form, few would back against him reeling in his former Paksitani counterpart over the final two matches of the series.
Ponting currently occupies third place on the all-time Test run-scorers' list behind Tendulkar and Brian Lara, and thoroughly deserves the "best since Bradman" tag bestowed upon him by many of his countrymen in recent season. But on a night when his personal achievement overshadowed all others in Nottingham, the Australian captain appeared more interested in discussing his side's momentum-gathering build-up to next week's Champions Trophy in South Africa.
"I haven't had much time to think about it," Ponting said. "The innings kept us on track with the run chase. Michael Clarke and myself got us in a position where it would've been disappointing if we hadn't won the game. I felt like I played well. It was a really good run chase and another good team effort. It just goes to show that we're heading in the right direction with our one-day cricket leading into the Champions Trophy."
Ponting's innings, coupled with a half-century to his deputy Michael Clarke, made short work of England's 299. The Australian captain capitalised on an ideal Trent Bridge wicket and a brisk outfield to raise his half-century in near even-time, then raced to his 27th career ODI century with a combination of withering blows - most notably off Adil Rashid - and judicious placement.
As with Tendulkar and Jayasuriya, Ponting's hunger, timing and reflexes have barely diminished in his twilight years, and his presence in the top order continues to serve as an example for those around him to follow. His sixes struck off Ryan Sidebottom and Rashid were no less powerful than those launched a decade ago; his magnetism at the crease still compelling spectators to watch at a time when saturation scheduling is sapping the passion of even the most devoted of cricket devotees.
Perhaps the only sign of Ponting's advancing age was the stock he placed in his post-Ashes break. The rest, he said, had allowed him to revitalise both body and mind ahead of the final four one-day internationals against England and the ensuing Champions Trophy in South Africa.
"I haven't made a lot of runs in the last few one-day series I've played so it's probably been a while since I've gone out there and struck the ball that cleanly from the start," he said. "The break was nice just to get home and freshen up and free my mind of the Ashes cricket that we'd played. I've worked hard on my batting since I've been back to get enough volume work to be able to go out there and play like I did today."
Alex Brown is deputy editor of Cricinfo