Ricky Ponting the peacemaker arrived like the Seventh Cavalry yesterday. Just when it seemed everybody was getting too hot under the collar about gamesmanship, brinkmanship and more other kinds of ship than there are in Her Majesty's Navy, Australia's captain wisely decided it was time to stop.
It was the Australia captain, of course, who when asked a straight question last Sunday evening about the appearance of England's 12th man on the field between overs during the thrilling climax of the first Test said that it was "pretty ordinary" behaviour.
He added that his team was there to abide by the spirit of the game, and that seemed to fuel the fires of discord. But upon arrival at Lord's yesterday to talk about the second Test, which begins today, Ponting was cordial to the point of geniality. All was forgotten.
"Was I that bad after the game?" he asked. "That was a one- or two-minute thing that has been made into a five-day thing." Told laughingly that this was precisely what his comments had encouraged the fourth estate to do – they were a gift from heaven – he said: "I'll know better next time, won't I? I have been reading about it but it's water off a duck's back now and it's time to get on with things and leave those things behind and make sure we have a great game this week."
This was Ponting on a charm offensive once more. He was slightly coyer than might have been expected on which side felt better after a match which Australia dominated and failed to win, and in which England were perpetually outsmarted but avoided defeat.
"It's hard to tell where the momentum is," he said. "It's going, I think, with how many individuals you have who perform well in the game and we had a lot of individuals who performed very well last week. We played well, we didn't get the result we were after but the individuals who came out of the game are very happy with the shape their game is in."
Ponting is thus quietly and reasonably confident that the fact that his side scored 674 runs in one innings and took 19 wickets compared to England's 687 runs in two innings and six wickets puts them in a happier place. He was also fairly sure that the announcement of Andrew Flintoff's impending retirement from Test cricket would affect England.
"We are all a little bit surprised, to tell you the truth," he said. "If he does play the remainder of the series, I am sure there will be some outside distractions for the England team to deal with, whether Andrew wanted it that way or not. I have been in teams when it has happened and it can be a distraction not only for the person involved but for the captain as well."
Ponting was being candid as ever and he just could not resist getting under England's skin a little more.
Second Test teams and details
England (probable) A J Strauss (c), A N Cook, R S Bopara, K P Pietersen, P D Collingwood, M J Prior (wkt), A Flintoff, S C J Broad, G P Swann, J M Anderson, S J Harmison
Australia (probable) S M Katich, P J Hughes, R T Ponting (c), M J Clarke, M E K Hussey, M J North, B J Haddin (wkt), M G Johnson, P M Siddle, B W Hilfenhaus, N M Hauritz
A quick, pacy pitch will suit seamers ahead of the weekend's rain.
Sunny intervals, risk of scattered showers in afternoon. Max temp 24c
Sky Sports 1, HD1: 10.00-19.00. Highlights: Five: 19.15-20.00, Sky Sports 1: 20.00-22.00
Bet of the day
Freddie Flintoff to make a century 9-1 (Coral)