Peter Roebuck: Australia find ideal leader in contest ruled by captains

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The Independent Online

Two proud captains dominated an entertaining opening day. Both carried a considerable weight and wore it lightly. Both wanted to impose themselves on the series. Andrew Flintoff tried to rouse his struggling side with fierce spells. Ricky Ponting went in search of the hundred needed to set the tone of the campaign. Neither spared himself. Every ounce of energy, every shred of strength was committed to the cause. To the victor went the spoils.

Having lost the urn in 2005, Ricky Ponting wanted it back. From the first ball he faced to the 136th, a delivery tucked off his pads that brought the three runs needed to take him to three figures, he was in command of himself and his opponents. He hardly missed a ball, edged a stroke or misjudged a run. It was a master class, an expression of skill and willpower.

Ponting's footwork was as sharp as a military haircut. Anyone seeking an insight into the state of his mind had only to watch the quickness of his pedals as they danced forward or back. As soon as the ball landed short, he moved into position whereupon he searched for any hidden dangers before choosing his shot. Any delivery demanding respect was given its due. Everything else was dispatched with aplomb. Repeatedly he pulled forward of square, sending the ball speeding away over the heads of fieldsmen or between them. Not once did he appear hurried.

Sometimes the home captain had so much time on his hands that he pulled off the front foot. Jimmy Anderson's short deliveries were treated with particular disdain. Ponting looked at them, poured himself a mug of tea and then belted them over midwicket. His best shot, though, was a back foot force-hit on the top of the bounce that sent the ball to the extra-cover boundary. The captain can be vulnerable to swing early in his innings, but Anderson and Matthew Hoggard could not move the ball and posed little threat.

Ponting's work off the front foot was also impressive. Several superbly timed straight drives were produced. Once settled, he drilled the ball through midwicket, sending the leather towards distant boundaries. He will remember this hundred as happily as any of its predecessors.

Flintoff did everything in his power to stem the tide. He charged into bowl, hurled the ball down and followed through until the batsmen could see his flaring nostrils. As soon as he rested, the attack lost its sting. He deserved his wickets and must have hoped for better support. In the end, he could not carry his side. Ponting was not to be stopped.

How They Rated On Day One

Stephen Harmison 2

When his first ball careered to second slip his career slipped away.

Matthew Hoggard 4

There ain't no zing if it ain't got that swing.

James Anderson 5

Occasional speedy pearls interweaved with short-pitched swine.

Andrew Flintoff 8

Captain led by example which unfortunately was largely ignored.

Ashley Giles 6

Much maligned, the victim of the Panesar spin, made a few points but also encouraged Warne

Paul Collingwood 7

Two slip catches by the Durham lad, off seam and spin, ensured England dropped nowt.

Geraint Jones 6

Not an energetic glove out of place. But his keeping is not what he's in the side for.

Justin Langer 7

Feisty west coast opener fighting for his place and securing it.

Matthew Hayden 4

Seemed determined to book in for b and b on his home turf but went to sleep and let Ponting in.

Ricky Ponting 9

Got his first bat sponsorship at 13. Whatever they paid it was probably too little. Utterly assured.

Mike Hussey 8

Pristine innings of handsomely crafted shots. Reinforced that 30 is not too old to start batting in Tests.

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