Ponting hits a hundred in India at last

October 9th, 2008 - 8:37 pm ICT by IANS  

Bangalore, Oct 9 (IANS) There was an ugly blot in Ricky Ponting’s illustrious cricket CV when he arrived in India. That the Australian captain had aggregated a paltry 172 runs in eight previous Tests here had stuck out like a sore thumb. He corrected it on the first day of the four-Test series by cracking a century as his side ended the day at a reasonably healthy 254 for four here Thursday. As he walked tentatively into the humid M. Chinnaswamy cauldron after the early demise of Matthew Hayden, he was palpably filled with self doubt. For about 20 minutes he was ill at ease against Ishant Sharma. Smelling blood, India sought to rid him off the square.

But the plucky Tasmanian dispelled his Indian blues with a masterly 123, notching his 36th Test hundred in his 200th innings. His pugnacious knock as well his 166-run second wicket association with Simon Katich (66) was the fulcrum around which the Australian first innings gathered momentum.

Australia could well have been three down at draw of stumps, but Zaheer Khan, bowling the last over of the day, had Michael Clarke right in front of the wicket with one which kept low. Michael Hussey was batting with a polished 46 (141 minutes, five fours).

It did not matter that the Australians were not at their aggressive best, scoring well below their standard of four runs an over. But they played to a plan to come up on top of India in what could be an absorbing Test match.

If Ishant, who had hassled him throughout the home series earlier this year, had him in a spot of bother at the beginning, Ponting was in his element in the post-lunch session, driving elegantly on the up, back-cutting when the bowlers begged to be punished and pulled when Ishant dropped the ball short. It was the uninhibited free-stroking Ponting of yore.

The determination in which he ground his heel at the wicket brought back memories of the 2003-2004 series when he carved back-to-back double hundreds at Melbourne and Adelaide. He could well have spanked the rather craggy Indian attack, but he chose to bade his time at the square and accrue as many runs as he could, solely to swell his side’s total.

It must be said the Punter eschewed his natural flamboyance to deliver when it mattered, putting his side in a position from they can plan to plot to conquer Anil Kumble’s ageing legion.

It was rather unfortunate that Australia lost Ponting towards the fag end of the day to an iffy leg-before-wicket decision. Attempting to sweep Harbhajan, Ponting had thrust his front pad quite some way. But umpire Asad Rauf deemed that the ball would have hit middle stick.

Earlier in the day, Ponting had survived a vociferous appeal for caught and bowled by Kumble. But umpire Rudy Koertzen, after consulting his on-field partner, overruled though the ball seemed to balloon from the bottom of the bat.

It would be unfair to ignore Katich’s contribution. The left hander, who had stood between India and rare series triumph Down Under in 2003-04 with a stodgy 125, was as resolute as his captain. Given the task to take the wind out of the bowlers, he merely plodded on, seldom showing aggression even when Harbhajan and Kumble drifted the ball into his pads. Rotate the strike he did, running between the wickets like a hare in Ponting’s association to leave the Indian fielders exasperated.

Katich could have continued to frustrate the Indians. But a casual wave of his bat at a distant Ishant Sharma delivery saw him fall minutes before tea. But by then, he had done what had been expected of him. Given his ability to go on and on and considering the aplomb in which he batted against Kumble and Harbhajan, the New South Wales opener is bound to be a thorn in India’s flesh right through the series.

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