Melbourne: The punter has turned hunter. And, really, Ricky Ponting is targeting the Indians as if there’s no tomorrow. Indeed, at the MCG on Sunday, Australia’s captain-designate crafted his second double hundred in as many Tests to push the visitors to the brink.
“We’ve down well in our drive towards making it 1-1 before Sydney... We were looking for a lead of 200 but, then, 192 is pretty close,” remarked Ponting, who reached a career-high of 257 (590 minutes, 458 balls, 25x4). The Adelaide Oval had seen him scripting 242, again in innings No.1.
In Ponting’s opinion, the second innings disaster (managing just 196) in Adelaide has served as a “wake-up call,” with the batsmen responding magnificently at the first available opportunity.
Of course, the Indians will rue the let-off on 126 — as early as the fifth over of the third day — when Parthiv Patel couldn’t snare Ponting. Later, the Australian quipped: “Mentally, did I take a fresh guard' No, all I remember is getting four runs... What matters is adding to the score, not the manner of doing so.”
Well, thus far this year, Ponting has added 1,472 to his career tally. The runs include a Bradman-like three double hundreds and, purely from the Australian perspective, he has overhauled Matthew Hayden’s record of 1,391 for the maximum runs in a calendar year. Hayden had topped in 2001.
With Ponting continuing to hold centrestage, Anil Kumble’s six for 176, his second successive haul of five or more wickets, got eclipsed. Ironically, he was dropped in the first Test (Brisbane), where Harbhajan Singh was preferred.
Kumble, though, insisted he hadn’t proved a point. “I’m giving that hundred per cent and enjoying the tour... As I’ve said, good or bad, everybody knows my worth,” he told The Telegraph, palpably tired after 51 overs.
The leggie’s workload increased as spearhead Zaheer Khan couldn’t bowl as much as Sourav Ganguly would have liked. Still, the quick sent down 25 overs and received a pat from Kumble, who lauded the “character and spirit” shown by him.
Actually, the tour has ended for Zaheer, who reported a strained left hamstring in the very first Test.
The day, incidentally, had moments of drama: When Steve Waugh (sans a protector) was struck on the left elbow by Ajit Agarkar, on the second delivery itself, and retired till the swelling caused by a burst blood vessel subsided. Then, later, when Sachin Tendulkar dropped himself in the order.
If there was one constant, it was Australia’s muscular grip on the Test. That got stronger when, in the second innings, India lost the openers inside five overs. Akash Chopra fell to a poor David Shepherd decision, with the ball making no contact with anything that would count, while Virender Sehwag’s flick was fatal.
Already weighed down by the 192-run deficit, India ended on 27 for two. At the wicket are vice-captain Rahul Dravid and the captain. To say the least, their task is well and truly cut out.
Earlier, resuming on 317 for three, the home team batted till into the scheduled last hour. But for the odd delivery from Ajit Agarkar or Ashish Nehra, the Pontings weren’t put to test. Only, Kumble kept “plugging away,” varying his pace and largely relying on the top-spinner.
“With the wicket playing well, I had to be patient and stick to one line... Personally, I feel the game is open... But, yes, we need to consolidate in tomorrow’s opening session,” Kumble, who has five or more victims in a Test innings 22 times, pointed out.
Ponting, of course, came through confidence personified. Significantly, while reflecting on a phenomenal run, he made the point about “enjoying” the responsibility which goes with batting at No.3. In fact, Ponting considers his ‘promotion’ as the defining moment of his nine-year career.
Meanwhile, an X-ray has confirmed Steve hasn’t suffered a fracture. “It’s a soft tissue injury,” explained team doctor Trefor James. He added: “Steve will be monitored, but I expect him to complete this Test and the one in Sydney...” It would have an anti-climax if the Agarkar blow denied Steve a farewell on his home turf.
Understandably, there was shock when Steve went off for icing in the dressing room. Equally, it didn’t surprise when the 33,000-plus turnout gave a standing ovation on his resuming the innings. As Steve may not bat a second time, there was an emotional round of applause when he got out to Kumble.
Match Referee Mike Procter has “cautioned” both teams against excessive appealing and showing disrespect to the umpires, veteran Shepherd and newcomer Billy Bowden.