Superb 257 puts Ponting alongside Bradman

India 366 & 27-2 Australia 558
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The Independent Online

Ricky Ponting joined Don Bradman as the only players to score three double centuries in a year, leaving India battling to save the third cricket test at the Melbourne Cricket Ground.

Ponting, 29, played one of his most mature innings of a 74–test career to post a career–best 257 runs yesterday and put Australia in a strong position to level the series.

After India collapsed to 366 all out after deciding to bat first, Australia, resuming the day on 317 for three, hit up a match–controling 558 all out and a lead of 192 runs.

India was 27 for two in 11 overs at stumps and facing an uphill task to hang on to its 1–0 lead in the four–test series.

The visitors lost openers Akash Chopra (4) and Virender Sehwag (11) with the score on 19. But Rahul Dravid and skipper Sourav Ganguly, on six runs apiece, survived a menacing new–ball spell from fast bowler Brett Lee over 28 minutes to resume the fight Monday.

Bradman scored three centuries against England in 1930 – 254 at Lords, 334 at Headingley and 232 at The Oval – in 54 days.

Ponting, the captain–elect, and the most successful batsman in 2003 with 1,472 runs, batted responsibly and hit 26 fours off 458 balls as he batted for just 10 minutes under 10 hours – the longest he's batted.

His other double centuries were 206 against the West Indies in Port–of–Spain in April and 242 against India in Adelaide when Australia lost by four wickets.

Ponting said he has peaked as a batsman.

"Consistency has been the biggest thing for me this year," he said. "I'm probably at the pinnacle of my career batting–wise. The past 12 months, and the last two weeks in particular, has been pretty good to me.

"I don't think anything about those things (records). It's nice to have your name mentioned alongside the past legends of the game. That's as far as it goes with me."

Ponting scored 2,170 runs in the middle order, most often at No. 6, but since his promotion to No. 3 in 2001, he has scored 3,352 runs with 13 centuries.

Ponting is only the fifth batsman to score back–to–back double centuries after Englishman Walter Hammond, Bradman, South African Graeme Smith and Indian Vinod Kambli.

Ponting's six centuries this year has only been beat by Viv Richards' seven in 1976 when the West Indian scored 1,710 runs, the highest in test cricket in a single year.

Ponting's run total this year is the fourth highest behind Richards, India's Sunil Gavaskar (1,555 in 1979) and England's Michael Vaughan (1,480 in 2002).

Playing in his 11th test, Ponting passed teammate Matthew Hayden (1,259) and West Indian Brian Lara (1,333) to become the top run–getter this year so far. Ponting, Hayden and Lara have one more innings left to increase the tally.

Lara is leading the West Indies against South Africa in the second test in Durban.

After coming in at the fall of the first wicket just seven minutes before lunch on the second day, Ponting was the ninth out, stumped by Parthiv Patel to give legspinner Anil Kumble 6–176 runs in 51 overs.

Ponting survived a catch earlier in the day on 126, but batted unblemished otherwise in his 20th test century, and enjoying an outstanding year averaging 98.11 in each of his 17 visits to the crease.

Ponting's innings overshadowed the heroics of the retiring skipper Steve Waugh, who scored 19 runs in over an hour.

Waugh, who will retire after the Jan. 2 test in Sydney, was forced to retire after taking a painful blow on his left elbow which swelled up like a golf ball.

But the 38–year–old came back at the fall of the next wicket, and helped Ponting add an invaluable 65 runs. A visit to a nearby hospital and x–rays revealed Waugh didn't suffer bone damage.

Cricket Australia's medical officer Dr. Trefor James said Waugh suffered soft tissue damage and a ruptured blood vessel.

(Third day of five; India won toss)

INDIA - First innings (Friday night: 321-4)
S C Ganguly c Langer b Lee 37
V V S Laxman c Hayden b MacGill 19
P A Patel c Gilchrist b Bracken 0
A B Agarkar run out 0
A Kumble c Langer b Williams 3
Z Khan not out 0
A Nehra c Gilchrist b MacGill 0
Extras (lb3 w1 nb11) 15
Total (103 overs) 366

Fall: 1-141 2-278 3-286 4-311 5-350 6-353 7-353 8-366 9-366.

Bowling: Lee 27-7-103-2; Bracken 28-6-71-1; Williams 20-6-66-1; MacGill 15-3-70-3; Katich 4-0-18-1; Waugh 9-0-35-1.

AUSTRALIA - First innings
J L Langer c Tendulkar b Agarkar 14
M L Hayden lbw b Kumble 136
R T Ponting st Patel b Kumble 257
A C Gilchrist c Nehra b Kumble 14
D R Martyn c Patel b Agarkar 31
S R Waugh lbw b Kumble 19
S M Katich c Chopra b Kumble 29
N W Bracken c and b Tendulkar 1
B A Williams not out 10
S C G MacGill lbw b Agarkar 0
Extras (b4 lb8 w5 nb17 pens 5) 39
Total (151.2 overs) 558

Fall: 1-30 2-264 3-295 4-373 5-437 6-502 7-535 8-542 9-555.

Bowling: Agarkar 33.2-5-115-3; Khan 25-4-103-0; Nehra 29-3-90-0; Kumble 51-8-176-6; Tendulkar 13-0-57-1.

INDIA - Second innings
A Chopra c Gilchrist b Bracken 4
V Sehwag c Williams b Lee 11
R Dravid not out 6
S C Ganguly not out 6
Extras 0
Total (for 2, 11 overs) 27

Fall: 1-5 2-19.

To bat: S R Tendulkar, V V S Laxman, ÝP A Patel, A B Agarkar, A Kumble, Z Khan, A Nehra.

Bowling: Lee 6-1-20-1; Bracken 5-2-7-1.

Umpires: B F Bowden (NZ) and D R Shepherd (Eng).