Australia skipper Ricky Ponting raises his bat after his century during the Cricket World Cup quarterfinal match between India and Australia at the Sardar Patel Stadium, Motera in Ahmedabad.
In a match where everyone was grasping for breath, given the closeness of the contest and the stakes involved, it is hard not to get swayed by emotions and lose perspective. It is not easy to take a step back and reflect on the game in which India soaked in the pressure much better than the hard-boiled Australians.
On the eve of the match, an Australian scribe was seeking the answer to a simple question: Why do the Indians hate Ricky Ponting so much? Why is this match being made out to be an epic fight between Ravana (Ponting) and Ram (Tendulkar)?
Well, the answer is not very easy; neither is an attempt being made to answer it. What this match did show was that Ponting is a competitor worthy of huge respect and had he not played an innings of high quality under extreme duress, India would have cantered home and not been made to fight hard for a semi-final spot.
The wicket, it was very obvious, had been tailor-made for spinners - not the strength of the Australians. Had India won the toss, there is every possibility that the spinners would have made life miserable for the Australians under light. Even when the Australians were making first use of the track, the wicket was up to its tricks - it was turning and stopping. Under these conditions, Ponting played a sublime innings, taking care of the Australian batting with care and responsibility, interspacing his knock with strokes of great quality.
Dhoni, who has been criticised brutally by the media during this World Cup, was spot on with his bowling changes and displayed the kind of calm that enhances his leadership skills.
The Indians, when they appeared cruising, seemed set to commit another harakiri in the middle overs. However, the reborn Yuvraj Singh stole Ponting's thunder. What pressure does to a captain was reflected in Ponting's defensive field placements when his spinners were in operation, something which Dhoni did not succumb to - a rare quality for an Indian captain.
Tonight, Yuvraj must be the most loved Indian on the planet but do spare a thought for Ponting. In his last World Cup match, he played an innings of a lifetime and no Indian would hate him now.