Even in his most hangdog moments, Ricky Ponting does not inspire pity. The former Australia captain has been too good a player for that but only the fiercest of English cricket fans could have failed to have felt something for him these past two years. The diminutive Tasmanian's characteristic tenacity and courage were still there, but the dominance at the wicket that had taken him to the top of the Test game seemed a thing of the past.
His finest days are still probably behind him, but yesterday's 134 – his 40th Test ton – at the Sydney Cricket Ground at least offers him the chance to go out on his own terms. Ponting, who last scored a Test century against Pakistan in Hobart in January 2010, arrived at the wicket with Australia in a spot of bother at 8 for 2 and left with the Test match looking secure with the hosts on 325 for 4 (they reached 482 for 4 by the close) in reply to India's feeble 191.
For Ponting it was a moment of joyous release, a riposte to his growing band of critics. "Over the last few weeks there's been enough signs to know and have faith that there was a big score just around the corner," he said.
Australia's selectors may not necessarily be as pleased. Ponting, 37, is most assuredly not the future. As keen as he may be to have another bite at England – and he is – he is not a long-term solution, and as useful as his experience may be to Australia's new batsmen, at some stage he must give way to a younger man.
Still, few outside of India will begrudge him this moment, especially as the way he reached his century exemplified his wholehearted approach to the game. Having spent a nervous lunch on 97, he was forced to dive into the crease as a throw from Zaheer Khan missed the stumps. "Thankfully he missed or it would have a pretty sad end to what could have been a good day," Ponting said. "But I got up and my shirt was pretty much destroyed, my grill was pressed against my face and I was spitting out bits of the wicket so I could try and smile."
Ponting's pleasure, though, may mean long-term pain for the Aussies. India's popgun attack has been dismissed to all parts in front of a jubilant 30,000-strong crowd, but it is not the new men doing the damage. The likes of David Warner, 25, Ed Cowan, 29, and Shaun Marsh, 28, are not young in cricketing terms but they appear to be Australia's future. Cowan's 68 at Melbourne apart, though, they have yet to really come into this series. Instead, the runs have been scored by the old hands: Ponting, Michael Hussey and captain Michael Clarke.
If Ponting's success is somewhat bittersweet, Clarke's triumphant innings – he was 251 not out at the end of the second day, having shared a partnership of 288 with Ponting – is only good news for an Australia XI that, for all the question marks over the batting, is growing in confidence and stature thanks to a gaggle of young fast bowlers. Clarke, who has never been universally popular in his home country, seemed to recognise afterwards that he needed to stamp his authority on this side. "Hopefully [this innings] helps me continue to earn respect," the 30-year-old said.
"That's all I can do. Most importantly it puts this team in a good position to win another Test match. That's our goal, my goal, to help Australia win as many games as I can. It's fantastic to have a score like I do but if you don't win the Test match it means nothing."
The banishment of Clarke's sense of insecurity reflects Ponting's own joy. He admitted that his problems with the bat had started to play on his mind.
"I've had to work exceptionally hard, harder than ever on certain technical aspects of my game," the former captain said. "The thing that's starting to come back is getting that real rhythm about my batting, feeling at ease in the crease. It's amazing when you're going through a lean trot, how many little things creep into your head and get in the way of what you're trying to do. I've had a real clear mind this week, knowing that the things I've been doing are starting to come good for me."
Thoughts, inevitably, will turn to the Ashes in 2013 if Ponting's revival can help Australia to overcome an Indian side who have been every bit as disappointing as they were in England last summer. Not that Ponting is getting carried away. "I don't look too far forward, I don't think you can afford to in this game," he said. "You've just got to worry about the next ball."
Tribute to commentator: There's not only one Richie Benaud
Fans aiming to convince the cricket authorities Down Under to make the second day of all Tests 'Richie Benaud Day' dressed as the legendary commentator at the SCG on Tuesday. 'He's the international man of cricket,' explained organiser Michael Hennessy.
Kallis double has hosts on top
Jacques Kallis made a career-best double hundred to help leave South Africa in a strong position at the close of day two in the decisive third Test against Sri Lanka in Cape Town yesterday. Kallis, having achieved on Tuesday the feat of scoring centuries against every Test-playing nation, finally fell for 224 while AB de Villiers contributed an unbeaten 160 as South Africa made 580 for 4 declared.
Sri Lanka raced to 149 for 2 in reply by stumps, with captain Tillakaratne Dilshan scoring 78. That still left them 431 adrift, though, and they will hope their unbeaten duo Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene can take a big chunk out of that today.