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'Bowlers kept us in it' - Ponting

Ricky Ponting said his pace attack had adapted well to their altered roles and the result was not their fault

Ricky Ponting: "There was some pretty poor batting today, 159 on that wicket was just never enough." © Getty Images
Two days after praising the variety in his bowling arsenal Ricky Ponting again applauded his attack, which this time featured four frontline fast men and no specialist spinner in a five-wicket loss to India. James Hopes was a late withdrawal with hamstring tightness and it left Australia in a tricky situation, deciding whether to replace the allrounder with a bowler or a batsman.
They chose to bring in Stuart Clark for his first game of the series and also replaced Brad Hogg with Brad Haddin in an effort to restore some balance and add depth to the batting. That part of the gamble didn't work - Haddin made 5 in Australia's 159 - but Ponting said his pace attack had adapted well to their altered roles and the result was not their fault.
"There was some pretty poor batting today, 159 on that wicket was just never enough," Ponting said. "But the way we stuck at our task with the ball and particularly in the field I thought we gave ourselves half a chance of winning the game."
When Yuvraj Singh departed at 5 for 102, mistiming a Clark slower ball, Ponting felt Australia needed to pounce and he went for broke by reintroducing his strike bowlers Brett Lee and Mitchell Johnson. "We just had to get a breakthrough then," he said. "I don't know how many times we went past the outside edge and there were a couple of nicks that went in the gap or fell just short."
Lee was fast and furious and his 1 for 42 did not reflect the threat he posed on a bouncy pitch, while Johnson's ten overs brought 2 for 24 and Clark collected 1 for 26 from ten. However, Ponting was left without a top-class slow option and waited until the 34th over to use Michael Clarke.
"As it turned out today the part-timers didn't matter because the game wasn't going to go that far," he said. "But having an allrounder out of your side does change the balance."
Clark is third on the ICC's Test bowling rankings but finds himself constantly on the fringe of the world-champion ODI side. Ponting praised the pressure that Clark applied, although he still referred to him as "a back-up bowler". He might be used again if Australia rest their top fast men later in the series but Ponting said they were handling the workload well at the moment.
"Mitchell and Brett are both ultra-fit guys," he said. "Brett bowled probably one of his quickest spells of the summer tonight. He's holding up really well.
"We'll have a look at an opportunity somewhere to give both those guys a game off where we can. But at the moment they're going well. We're going to Perth now, we're going to need our best bowling attack over there."
The Melbourne result leaves India and Australia each with a win, while Sri Lanka will search for their first victory in Canberra against India on Tuesday. Ponting said Australia would need to stay on top of their game to ensure they reach the finals of what will be the last tri-series in Australia in its current format.
"The last few years in Australia there's been a bit of concern of the series not being very close," he said. "But right now we've got a really tight tussle on our hands. All three teams have obviously a very good chance of playing off in the finals."

Brydon Coverdale is a staff writer at Cricinfo