O Ponting, My Ponting

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O Ponting, My Ponting
Michael Steele/Getty Images

August 25, 2009.

When the heat cools down and the dust settles, the 2009 Ashes defeat would hurt Australia much more than the loss in 2005. That was an England side on a winning spree, with a bowling attack that had phenomenal bite and their batting too was much better on paper than this time.

Australia had the services of most of their greats of the past decade and the matches were tight. Warne was magical throughout the series and brought Australia back into the contest almost in every game after Lord’s. England was a unit that looked like winning after the Edgbaston Test. This time it is not just a defeat but also a shock as this did not seem like a possibility after Leeds.

When Australia won the dead Sydney Test of January 1987, having already lost the Ashes, a journalist at the press conference asked the visiting captain Mike Gatting: Wasn’t it really rather good that the hosts had won a consolation victory? Didn’t he, deep down, feel a little sorry for the Aussies?

Gatting imparted some advice to remember. Beating Australia was always great, he insisted. And nobody, but nobody, should ever feel sorry for a cricketer in green and gold.

For the past decade or so I’ve always been thrilled to see Ponting’s back in any match. That 10-over spell of Ishant Sharma at Perth at the end of which he got his man was the moment when the match swung in India’s favour.

Ponting’s been a part of two amazing 16 Test wins on the trot for Australia in the last decade or so. He’s captained Australia to two World Cup wins and there have been times when the probability of the victory speech at the end of a Test match being his has been close to 100 percent even before the start of the game.

Sometimes his smirk has looked ugly and his celebration pompous; like after the acrimonious Sydney Test against India. His team remorselessly flogged England 5-0 the last time they met in Australia.

When he lost his wicket in the second innings at the Oval, for the first time I was shattered seeing him depart. I didn’t like seeing his back and the fact that it was because of a run out made it more painful. Suddenly, I saw everything in a completely different light; the reason to always celebrate his wicket had little to do with like or dislike and everything to do with his ability to single-handedly change the course of a game.

If there was one batsman who could have guided Australia to a mammoth fourth innings chase of around 550, it was Ponting. Ishant took just one wicket in Australia’s 2nd innings in Perth but it was that wicket that made the difference.

Ponting, more than anyone else I can think of, has performed by sheer will at times. And he has been very miffed if something has gone wrong when he has been in that sort of a mood.

The superb match-saving innings of 150 plus runs in 2005 immediately comes to my mind. His run out by a fielding substitute in 2005 and the anger it caused him also resonates.

This is hardly the time to criticise Ponting; this is the time to feel the anguish of a great competitor. When the Sun sets on Ponting’s career, he wouldn’t just be a modern great; he would be sitting up there in the company of the best that the world has seen for over more than 100 years.

There’s no reason to feel sorry for Ponting; what is sad is that his and his team’s luck ran out at the Oval. With due apologies to Broad who had left them reeling, and having a mountain to climb.

Ponting was in that sort of a mood where he would have dodged bullets and stood his ground at the Oval. It was a terribly-misjudged run; Hussey just ran for the other end and Ponting was that little hesitant for a moment before setting off on seeing Hussey’s dash. And Flintoff had his last moment under the Sun. Mr Cricket got it all wrong for just a single and the captain had to leave, accepting what cricketers consider the most cruel form of dismissal.

That the in-form Clarke also fell to a run out in a space of just an over killed Australia’s chances completely. Clarke’s dismissal showed why you always need one specialist spinner in a big game on any surface. Despite having a mountain of runs under his belt and the exceptional ability to play spinners he looked twitchy starting his innings.

There were fielders all around and the captain had just departed, the pressure was telling on Clarke. He didn’t look comfortable, though another 20 balls would have been enough for him to settle down. And he was extremely unlucky.

If the third umpire saw what was shown on TV, then Clarke was hardly done. It was very tight and the angles shown on TV were not conclusive enough; there was no shot that showed clearly that Clarke was short when the bails were completely dislodged. The benefit of doubt should have gone to the batsman and I thought it would, until the giant screen flashed the verdict.

In 2005, after Australia dominated the first game at Lord’s the momentum shifted towards England after the nerve wrecking match at Edgbaston that levelled the series. Then Australia battled hard for a draw where rain and Ricky Ponting’s phenomenal innings saved them by just a hair’s breadth at Old Trafford. Then their resistance was broken in Trent Bridge as England went up 2-1; Pietersen’s first Test hundred at the Oval ensured that the series was sealed with Australia having no chance to force a win. It was all England after Lord’s.

This time it was England that survived by a millimetre at Cardiff but took the lead at Lord’s. Pietersen was then unavailable for the series due to injury and the third Test at Edgbaston was a draw. Australia thumped England to level the series at Leeds and the hosts looked very wobbly without Flintoff and Pietersen.

Everything happened right for the Aussies going into the final Test and there seemed no way that England could hold out. England made two changes to the side that lost in Leeds, Trott made his debut and replaced the hapless Bopara and Flintoff came in for Onions. Australia fielded the same side, though in hindsight Hauritz was a must.

Debutant Trott made 41 in the first innings and a hundred in the second; and Flintoff just made that one decisive throw that sealed the Ashes. Both the sides had sublime and ridiculous performances throughout the series, no match was closely contested.

Monty Panesar survived more than 11 overs along with James Andersen in Cardiff; and in the final analysis that was a massive performance. This would definitely hurt Australia much more.

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