As England strengthened their impregnable position in the fourth Test today, Ricky Ponting apologised to the nation. The match and the Ashes continued to slip inexorably away from Australia but Ponting atoned for his misdemeanours of the second day in a typically straightforward and dignified manner.
The tourists were eventually bowled out for 513, a first-innings lead of 415, just before lunch. They had lost their last five wickets for 54 but Jonathan Trott was unbeaten on 168 from 345 balls. Peter Siddle took 6 for 75 for Australia.
The talk was still of Ponting. After being fined 40 per cent of his match fee for arguing with the umpires the day before, Ponting told radio listeners that he realised it did not look good. Australia's captain berated both umpires, Aleem Dar and Tony Hill, when the England batsman was given not out following a review of a catch behind.
"It was a reaction to something I saw on the screen," said Ponting. "I try and stand up for what I believe is right when I see something that is wrong. That is the bottom line. Whenever I have found myself in hot water for anything I have said or done it is because I felt something happened that is wrong in the game.
"That is what happened yesterday. I understand the judgements being made about me out there and a lot of those are because I have not scored the runs I needed to score. I understand that and whatever criticism goes my way is warranted."
But still not quite enough went right for Australia as they tried desperately to make more inroads into England's first innings. They managed to dismiss Matt Prior for 85 when he tamely chipped Siddle to mid on and shortly after the bowler netted a deserved five wicket haul when he Tim Bresnan pushing at one which held its own and was edged behind.
But Graeme Swann then joined Jonathan Trott in a jaunty stand of 43 for the eighth wicket which took England's total past 500. Their lead, more than 400, was the second highest they had ever established in Test matches against Australia.
Swann was out caught, top edging an attempted hook and Chris Tremlett lasted only seven balls before Siddle finished off the innings by bowling Jimmy Anderson.
Every Ponting move was being scrutinised but it was to his enormous credit that he swiftly recognised it for what it was.
"We know there is a series on the line here. We know we have been a bit deficient in the way we have played in this match so far so we have to stand up as a group. I have to stand up as a player and have to lead well but those are all the things I pride myself on.
"I try to lead from the front and set an example for everybody else whether that is the way I bat or lead the side which is why I was disappointed with yesterday and felt that not only did I let myself down but also my team-mates and all those younger people who look up to what we do as players. I let them down as well yesterday." He continued to insist, however, that he was right about the incident which caused all the fuss. He said that "in his heart and mind" he was still sure that Kevin Pietersen had inside-edged a catch behind although he had been given not out both by the umpire and when the decision was reviewed. On that he was probably in a category of one.