Determined Ponting left disappointed
Ricky Ponting walked out to loud booing, and walked off to some more. It was a completely different sight from Mohali where a small crowd cheered every good effort by Australia, even diving efforts in the field. A healthy crowd in Bangalore booed every batsman who walked in, but reserved the worst for Ponting. They were not going to make it easy for the man looking to come to terms with the country that's been his nemesis.
During his innings of 77, though, Ponting almost won the crowd over, not with pulls or hooks that set the overcast day alight, but with an innings befitting a captain who has often been let down by his middle order. Like with the rest of his team-mates, though, this effort was nearly there but failed to carry his team into a dominant position.
It has been fascinating to watch Ponting operate of late, because he can no longer swagger as a captain. He has come to terms with leading a lesser team, which wouldn't have come to him naturally. The batting crease, though, is the only place where he can be himself, which could perhaps explain his being adamant on the pull shot that has claimed him often, ever since Kemar Roach attacked him with bouncers last year.
Today, though, with the crowd booing him, with the wickets falling around him, with a series to save, he seemed prepared to operate at a level below he is used to. It is unlikely the booing had much effect on Ponting: he seemed to have entered a space of his own in the second half of his innings. There were times, especially later in the knock, when he was batting with Marcus North, when he just played his shots and disappeared into his zone. He would start tapping the adjacent pitch, do some gardening, then come back and face the next ball. Middle of the bat, of course.
At times North tried talking to him, but Ponting didn't seem to be paying attention. He had worked hard to get into that space, he wasn't going to come out. There had been a top-edged pull early, spells of play without much scoring, and the wickets of Shane Watson and Michael Hussey, who had both got starts.
In the earlier half of the innings, Ponting played a couple of fidgety get-out-of-jail shots off Pragyan Ojha. Neither had the Ponting class in it, but both managed to clear the infield. He was in the 30s then, and Australia were losing their way too, with three wickets gone in quick time.
Over the next 20 minutes or so, Ponting went into the defensive mode, and sorted his game out. He then reminded the crowd of his class with two lovely straight drives off the seamers, and a couple of pulls off spinners that bisected fielders in the deep. He didn't seem anxious to get to his second century in India. He seemed to have set his sights on something bigger than that.
Suddenly, though, he lost concentration in a dismissal not too different from Sachin Tendulkar's in the first innings in Mohali. A part-time bowler bowled a gentle offbreak, he saw an easy single into the leg side, played across its line, and paid the ultimate price. It is incredible that an innings played with such care should end under such innocuous circumstances, but such is the game. While the lbw call made by Billy Bowden will be debated, the fact remains that the decision would have stayed even if it was reviewed, for the tracking system predicted the ball would have kissed the outside of the leg stump.
Ponting will be cross that he played across the line. The boos when walking back might have registered, but his personal disappointment at that shot would have been far greater. "No doubt that he was batting beautifully," Shane Watson said later. "He will be pretty frustrated that he has been batting as well as he has been but not been able to get the big scores that everyone knows he is capable of. No doubt he will be very frustrated, but it was a really important innings."
This may or may not be Ponting's last Test in India, but considering the way things have gone there will be another chance in the second innings. He will have to do his best to avoid a repeat of Mohali.
Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at Cricinfo