Ponting sets the tone for day of utter dominance
Saturday 11 July 2009
When Ricky Ponting was finally obliged to return to the pavilion he of course hated it. Two hundred and twenty-four balls faced, 316 minutes at the crease, 14 fours and one six scored in an innings of 150, and the Poms, though not in great shape, still able to stand up without physical help. Well, there was still much work to be done.
He hated it a lot yesterday but nothing like as much as he did at The Gabba in 2006 when he fell lbw to Matthew Hoggard four short of a double hundred. Even though Australia were 467 for 5 at the time – as opposed to a mere 331 for 4 yesterday – his rage was undoubtedly greater back in Brisbane. He pummelled the air with his bat. He looked darkly at the big screen and the replays of the shot that had let in the swinging delivery of the Yorkshireman.
Yesterday he was far from pleased after edging Monty Panesar, who has not exactly been dazzling anyone with his spinning skills these last two days, on to his wicket but there was not quite the same degree of fury.
Indeed, just a few hours later he was seen on the pavilion terrace smiling with pleasure for more reasons, we can be pretty sure, than the fact that he happened to be reading The Independent at the time.
By then his vice-captain Michael Clarke and Marcus North, who was not so long ago rejected by five English counties, had shown that his 38th Test century, and eighth against England, was something that had registered not only on the scoreboard. It had also been taken as a precise working example by a team who, over by over, were playing in his image to an almost uncanny degree.
For England the whole Ponting-influenced day was not so much a setback to their hopes of building on the promise of a first-day knock which went horribly wrong, but a terrible reproach.
When Ponting was out soon after the departure of opener Simon Katich, with whom he had shaped a potentially match-turning second-wicket stand of 239, Clarke and North buried any idea that the loss of three wickets in the morning session – Mike Hussey, the Mr Cricket of the 2006 series, was plainly some way from that form of his life and went for a painfully compiled three – signalled that Australia were going to go the way of England's comically reckless shot-making.
North was happy to play a supporting role as the more experienced Clarke picked his shots sometimes quite exquisitely. One piece of Clarke footwork was worthy of the Bolshoi as he danced down the wicket and heaved Panesar almost to the banks of the River Taff for a six which landed like a right cross on English hearts. Clarke's shot, like Ponting's own six in an innings marked by restraint which, when compared to the English version of Test match cricket, was almost other-worldly, was beautiful to see but also something that flowed naturally from the hardest calculation. It was a shot made with perfect control, as had the vast majority of those made by the Australians since they started their innings shortly before lunch on Thursday.
It underlined the fact that only one team was creating for themselves the chance to make a decisive move if a rain-threatened weekend permitted enough time to reach a verdict. England could only hope for a draw as Clarke and North made a stand of 143 for the fifth wicket before rain stopped play 15 minutes after the tea interval.
Here, surely, we had the reason for Ponting's beatific demeanour as he looked down on a field of play beginning to be so dominated by the team he had brought to avenge the defeat of 2005 here. It is a wound that plainly still stings sharply enough just below the surface despite the intervening 5-0 whitewash of England that followed in Australia. Ponting may not be the model captain, he may not be the last word in tactical acumen but as someone close to the Australian dressing room said yesterday, "There is no doubt Ponting has this team with him like no Australian captain since Allan Border in his heyday. We saw it happen again today. Ponting gave the lead and everyone followed. There was no chance anyone was going to give away their wicket. Then they would have had to go back and face Ponting."
In the end Clarke had to do this with the bleakest expression, but then he hadn't begun to match the folly of the lemming stroke that put an end to Kevin Pietersen's innings on the first day. Clarke gloved a sharply rising delivery from Stuart Broad which flew down the leg side, and though it wasn't the batsman's most judicious moment in an innings of 83 he could point that his rhythm, which was reaching a near perfect tempo before the rain came, had been affected by two hours in the pavilion. It was also true that soon after his demise play was stopped for bad light despite the glow of floodlights.
North was unbeaten at 54 and wicketkeeper Brad Haddin joined him with some composure as the Australians finished 44 ahead with five wickets left. With Mitchell Johnson, a Test century maker probably the next man in, Ponting's team confirmed themselves as the one which could still deliver a hammer blow at the start of the series.
England's bowlers had their moments, notably Panesar when he profited from Ponting's rare descent from the highest ground of the game, but overall they were put in chains by batsmen who rarely offered them a breath of hope. Off spinner Graeme Swann, who had talked so jauntily of recovering lost ground on Thursday night, had a particularly futile day, losing much of the swagger that had come with his new ranking as England's most menacing of slow bowlers.
So the bowlers, inevitably, were the men in the dock at the end of the day which wiped out any chance of an English victory. It is the way it goes in Test cricket, but the deeper truth was that it was the English batsmen who first threw away this game.
It was thus almost inevitable that Ponting and the men who followed him would show Pietersen and his colleagues precisely where they had gone wrong. England will do well to recover from the cruel punishment sometime this summer.
Bumble's Twittering: The grand slam of naans
David Lloyd (yes, that David Lloyd, not The Independent's cricket writer) has created a cult hit with his Twitter stream (twitter.com/bumblecricket). Here's the pick of his tweets from yesterday:
*Afraid jobsworths at it this morning. Didn't have my green armband. No armband – no entry!
*Came in this morning to John Cooper Clarke – Beazley Street. Magnificent
*Max Boyce in the house. Just clocked him in the media centre
*Katich out! Pitch it up swing it in easy as that! Big wicket for England – here comes Mr Cricket. He's been knocking up all night!
*Well well well. A bloke gets 150 and out like that. Who would have thought it? England right back in this. Could be a great Test this...
*Lots of rugger players here though. Never fancied it myself – reckon I'd be squashed
*Light lunch for me. Going for the Grand Slam of naans tonight – keema, peshwari, garlic and plain
*Despite thoughts of a light lunch I succumbed to Shepherd's Pie. Very good. Nasser & Atherton still waiting. Cheese & pickle for the big man
*Someone wants to know what software I'm using. I think it's gas – but could be wind turbine
*Thommo just been in the box – brings back painful memories
*Aussie sign in crowd "Yes their beer is warm and flat". At least it tastes of something...
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