Brett Lee kept out Stephen Harmison's final delivery to silence every English voice in the 23,000 crowd, and on seeing the ball roll safely to the fine-leg boundary he leapt into the arms of Glenn McGrath, Australia's No 11. The pair had kept England's tired attack out for 24 balls following the loss of Ponting, who was caught down the leg-side off Harmison for 156.
Michael Vaughan's vibrant young side stretched every sinew and tried every trick as they attempted take 10 Australian wickets on the final day of the third Test but Ponting, the captain, stood tall and heroically resisted everything England threw at him.
Vaughan's players looked absolutely shattered as they walked off and the elation of last Sunday's unbelievable victory at Edgbaston would have seemed like a distant memory. Australia's defiant rearguard action left England with little to show for their efforts, but they have plenty to be proud of.
They will rue the two missed chances by Geraint Jones and the 76 overs lost to rain on Saturday but in two Test matches, they have outplayed the best team in the world. And should they play cricket to these standards again in Nottingham in 10 days' time, they could yet regain the Ashes.
Vaughan's side is full of heroes but it was the performance of Andrew Flintoff that once again stood out. Flintoff was a colossus, claiming crucial wickets at pivotal times and inspiring his team-mates to great deeds. Simon Jones and Matthew Hoggard gave him wonderful support, as did the much maligned Geraint Jones, who pulled off a brilliant reflex catch to dismiss Shane Warne.
While Australia's players celebrated, Vaughan's shocked side sat in silence and the England captain has a lot of work to do before the fourth Test.
Hoggard had given the England fans fortunate enough to get in the ground the ideal start when he dismissed Justin Langer with the seventh ball of the day. Langer is one of the more obdurate players in an Australian batting line-up that enjoys playing its shots, and this made the breakthrough all the more satisfying.
Hoggard has looked pretty innocuous in the opening three Tests, yet Langer could do little about the perfectly pitched delivery, which clipped the outside edge of his bat and carried to wicketkeeper Jones.
Hoggard bowled three further overs from the Stretford End before he was replaced by Flintoff. And the all-rounder immediately began to cause problems. Matthew Hayden struggled to cope with the pace and bounce Flintoff was extracting from this docile pitch, twice edging him through the slip cordon at catchable height for four. Hayden's luck ran out 30 minutes before lunch, when he was bowled behind his legs by Flintoff, who constantly changed his line of attack. One minute he was angling the ball into Hayden from round the wicket before reverse-swinging it away, the next he was delivering the ball from over the wicket and angling it across him. Flintoff's constant changing could have disoriented Hayden, who left his leg stump slightly exposed, allowing the ball to flick the stump and dislodge the bails.
Simon Jones replaced Flintoff after a magnificent seven-over spell but on this occasion he failed to strike in his opening over. Ponting and Damien Martyn took the Australians to lunch but the food in the England dressing-room would have been far easier to digest than that of their opponents.
The last day of a Test match is always a nerve-wracking affair. The pace of the game and the number of incidents taking place accelerate as the overs go by. Australian supporters would feel that the scorer was missing overs, so slowly do they seem to pass, while England would swear that the hands of the clock were moving far quicker than they should.
The constant appealing of the fielding side places umpires in an unenviable position and Steve Bucknor buckled 20 minutes after the interval when he gave Martyn out lbw.
There are many who believe cricket should use technology to ensure that the majority of decisions are correct and Martyn would advocate this after he edged a Harmison delivery on to his pad.
Bucknor's error infuriated Ponting, who exchanged words with him at the non-striker's end. Bucknor then withdrew a note-book from his shirt pocket and wrote something down, as if to suggest that the match referee may want to see the Australian captain.
The departure of Martyn brought the crowd back to life. Glamorgan's Simon Jones walked back to his mark with a rendition of "Men of Harlech" ringing in his ears and the introduction of "Freddie" Flintoff led to a chorus of "The Flintstones". And Freddie sent them into rapture when he claimed the wickets of Simon Katich and Adam Gilchrist in another inspired spell of bowling. Neither left-hander has been able to cope with Flintoff's hostility and both drove wildly at fullish balls which were caught in the fourth slip/gully region.
This brought Michael Clarke to the crease. Clarke has spent most of this match in the Australian team hotel after injuring his back on the first morning but he looked in little discomfort during his hour and a quarter stay. He struck seven boundaries before padding up to a Simon Jones inswinger that knocked his off-stump out of the ground.
The departure of Clarke reduced Australia to 263 for 6 and, with 32 overs of the match remaining, England would have believed that victory was imminent. This belief grew when Jason Gillespie was trapped in front by Hoggard but the tail-end heroics defied them.
Old Trafford scoreboard
Fifth day; England won toss
ENGLAND - First Innings 444 (M P Vaughan 166, M E Trescothick 63, I R Bell 59; S K Warne 4-99, B Lee 4-100).
AUSTRALIA - First Innings 302 (S K Warne 90; S P Jones 6-53).
ENGLAND - Second Innings 280 for 6 dec (A J Strauss 106, I R Bell 65).
AUSTRALIA - Second Innings
(Overnight: 24 for 0)
J L Langer c G Jones b Hoggard 14
43 mins, 41 balls, 3 fours
M L Hayden b Flintoff 36
125 min, 91 balls, 5 fours, 1 six
*R T Ponting c G Jones b Harmison 156
413 min, 275 balls, 16 fours , 1 six
D R Martyn lbw b Harmison 19
134 min, 36 balls, 3 fours
S M Katich c Giles b Flintoff 12
30 min, 23 balls, 2 fours
ÝA C Gilchrist c Bell b Flintoff 4
36 min, 30 balls
M J Clarke b S Jones 39
73 min, 63 balls, 7 fours
J N Gillespie lbw b Hoggard 0
8 min, 5 balls
S K Warne c G Jones b Flintoff 34
99 min, 69 balls, 5 fours
B Lee not out 18
46 min, 25 balls, 4 fours
G D McGrath not out 5
18 min, 9 balls, 1 four
Extras (b5 lb8 w2 nb19) 34
Total (for 9, 476 min, 108 overs) 371
Fall: 1-25 (Langer), 2-96 (Hayden), 3-129 (Martyn), 4-165 (Katich), 5-182 (Gilchrist), 6-263 (Clarke), 7-264 (Gillespie), 8-340 (Warne), 9-354 (Ponting) .
Bowling: Harmison 22-4-67-2 (nb4 w1) (2-1-1-0, 3-0-9-0, 5-2-12-1, 5-0-17-0, 3-1-8-0, 4-0-20-1); Hoggard 13-0-49-2 (nb6) (1-0-6-0, 4-0-15-1, 1-0-5-0, 5-0-15-1, 2-0-8-0); Giles 26-4-93-0 (4-1-7-0, 10-1-34-0, 6-0-27-0, 4-1-18-0, 2-1-7-0); Vaughan 5-0-21-0 (3-0-6-0, 2-0-15-0); Flintoff 25-6-71-4 (nb9,w1) (7-1-30-1, 8-2-20-2, 4-0-12-0, 6-3-9-1); S Jones 17-3-57-1 (7-2-20-0, 5-1-15-1, 5-0-22-0).
Progress: Fourth day close: 24-0 (Langer 14, Hayden 5) 10 overs. Fifth day (min 98 overs): 50: 76 min, 18 overs. 100: 133 min, 31.1 overs. Lunch: 121-2 (Ponting 41, Martyn 17) 38 overs. 150: 197 min, 46.4 overs. 200: 261 min, 61 overs. Tea: 216-5 (Ponting 91, Clarke 20) 66 overs. 250: 303 min, 71.3 overs. New ball taken after 80.2 overs at 271-7. 300: 389 min, 89.3 overs. Score when the final hourbegan (min 15 overs): 314-7. 350: 454 min, 103.2 overs. Match finished at 6.47pm.
Ponting's 50: 143 min, 103 balls, 4 fours, 1 six. 100: 252 min, 169 balls, 10 fours, 1 six. 150: 381 min, 246 balls, 15 fours, 1 six.
Series level 1-1.
Man of the match: R T Ponting.
Umpires: B F Bowden (NZ) and S A Bucknor (WI).
TV replay umpire: N J Llong (Eng).
Match referee: R S Madugalle (S Lanka).