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Punter believes in his graft

There are examples of both varieties in history and classifying any one of them in either of the two categories is not the objective here, reports Atreyo Mukhopadhyay.

cricket Updated: Jan 28, 2008 01:37 IST
Atreyo Mukhopadhyay

Some captains lead from the front by performing under pressure and some chalk out a plan to put the opposition under pressure, without actually doing the job themselves. There are examples of both varieties in history and classifying any one of them in either of the two categories is not the objective here.

After taking charge of Australia, Ricky Ponting has played many memorable innings, most fetching him centuries. The one he scored here can be looked at just one of them, but the difference between this one and other ones becomes clear when put in perspective and in context.

Of the four three-figure knocks in this Test so far, his was the ugliest in terms of the quality of batting, domination over the bowlers and the aesthetic element. Ponting didn’t match Sachin Tendulkar in the range of shots displayed, Matthew Hayden in his command over bowlers or Michael Clarke in neatness.

But what he did was matchless in a different way. Ponting scored this century after coming in and initially batting at a period when another wicket could have tilted the balance in India's favour. He was out of form coming into this game which was evident in his struggle early on and that he still weathered everything on way to scripting an innings that thwarted India’s push for victory, makes it precious if not priceless.

The way he was batting, there was no indication that this man has close to 10,000 runs under his belt, averages above 58 and is close to the top on the list of century makers. His only previous fifty-plus score in this series was not unblemished, his discomfort against a teenager and a tweaker in turban was well documented and talked about.

Ponting had every reason to be edgy in the early stage of this innings and he was. Time and again he misread Ishant Sharma's length, failed to understand what Harbhajan Singh was throwing at him, on the third afternoon and evening of this final Test.

The crucial point was he still chose to grind it out, even if it meant that at times he looked like a greenhorn against a rank newcomer.

He knew the difference in adrenaline flow a wicket makes in the opposition. Everyone saw that in Perth where Hayden didn’t play.

It was essentially a question of getting him before India could attack with renewed vigour, pumped up in the knowledge that they had got the big one.

Playing, missing, edging, getting struck on the body and finding it difficult to time his shots, Ponting looked anything but a batsman of towering deeds.

He didn’t mind because he knew it was just a question of being there, no matter how or in what shape.

And there he was, for 392 minutes, leaving only after steering his team to safety.

It was a unique exhibition of valour and discretion coming together. Valorous because of the way he grafted out of trouble and as far as being discrete was concerned, he showed that in ample measure, not accepting any bait.

When India look back, they will probably accept that this was the wicket they wanted, but didn’t get until it was too late.

With this one, Ponting perched himself alongside Sunil Gavaskar and Brian Lara with 34 centuries, five behind Tendulkar’s world record.

When he looks back, he will certainly not rate this as his best in terms of quality.

He might still value this one a lot because it denied India an outside chance of levelling the series, which would have been as big as defeat for Australia.