Ponting answers his critics and leaves England full of doubt

Captain hails one of the all-time great Ashes spells after Johnson 'transforms' mental battle in series
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The Independent Online

There was never a chance that Ricky Ponting would say: "I told you so." It is not his way, never was and never will be. Instead, in the aftermath of an overwhelming victory, he stared his critics in the eye, men who had sought to end careers, heaping opprobrium on the Australia captain and his team, as easily as pouring milk over cornflakes.

"The criticism has been warranted, yes," he said. "It has been pretty harsh, but you expect that when you're not performing the way people want you to perform and that is the way the team has taken it. We've not been that worried about it, we've just tried to be better to give you guys something good to say about us and we've done that this week."

Ponting was as clear-eyed and sharp-minded as ever, but his left little finger was not in such good health. He broke it in trying to take a catch on the penultimate evening, did not field yesterday and may be doubtful for the Test at Melbourne starting on Boxing Day. All the smart money suggests that nothing as pesky as a broken finger will keep him away.

He was in no doubt that the man sitting next to him had been the cornerstone of Australia's win by 267 runs in the Third Test yesterday which levels the series at 1-1. It was Mitchell Johnson, man of the match, who had bowled an influential spell on the second morning of the match. Another Test, and probably the Ashes with it, was going the way of the tourists when Johnson, via a fortnight of intensive net practice, produced a monumental piece of fast bowling which accounted for four England batsmen in 27 balls.

"The spell has transformed him and transformed the way they think and talk about him as a bowler, whether here or in the English dressing room," said Ponting. "Some of the deliveries he bowled will have them thinking about how they play him. I heard rumours coming into the game that they had Mitch's bowling worked out, I am not sure they think that now.

"You don't end up with the record he has by fluke. You have to have a lot of skill and commitment to continue doing the things he has done for a long time. Look at the way he bowled in Brisbane and then look at this week. There is a lot of hard work gone into fixing that, most importantly from him but also the guys who look after our bowlers and physical preparation. It's had a great result on a Test match and I think the series for us."

What Ponting was predicting and what England must now fear is that Johnson's searing burst of rapid inswing last Friday morning has changed things for ever. England were 78 for 0 and cruising towards Australia's total of 268 when Johnson intervened. Nobody was capable of a response. Ponting described it as one of the great all-time Ashes spells and nobody was arguing. England's most profound worry is that there is more where it came from.

Johnson virtually echoed his captain's words. "I saw a bit of doubt in their minds throughout the second innings and when that ball is swinging around it puts a lot of doubt in people's minds," he said.

But if the win was predicated on what happened in those few minutes – and it had a startling effect on the other Australians – they gained sudden strength. Their enigma was transformed and so were they.

"I think England will now be starting to have a bit of a look at their team make-up and the sort of cricket they have to play to beat us," added Ponting.

"I think the way we played unsettled England more than anything in this game. I don't think what we had to say had much of an impact. I think it has been hard, tough Test cricket for the first three Tests. Both teams have had their moments when they have been able to assert themselves, we had that opportunity this week but not with what we said but the way we played our cricket."

Ponting was denying that sledging played a part. But there was no question that observers sensed (and indeed heard) a more voluble Australia in this match. They let England know of their presence like professional stalkers and dished out the dirt like shock jocks.

"There was a lot of emotion in this win, we hadn't had much to celebrate up to now this series," Ponting said. "We have now set a new set of standards this week. We have had a better team performance here than we have for a long time and it is important we don't take this for granted but make sure this win is significant."

From where everybody stood it looked as significant as it can get.