There’s only one Ricky Ponting, and over lunch the crowd were whipping themselves into a frenzy.
From the start of the day they had dared to dream that they would see this special moment, dared to believe that it would be theirs to cherish.
Four overs into the middle session the warrior of our times was undefeated on a flawless 99, and presented with a straight ball.
As with his very first ball of the day, it was pushed to mid-on and a single set off for. But this push was too firm! The fielder more alert! Suicide being committed before our very eyes!
Ponting was committed to the run, barely halfway down the wicket when the ball arrived in Zaheer Khan’s hand, and his cricketing life was flashing before his eyes. 160 tests. 273 innings. 39 centuries, never knowing if another would arrive.
Somewhere, Usain Bolt was heard to comment that he never would have attempted such a run.
The ball was released. The dive was launched. The crowd held their collective breath.
A shout…as the ball was in mid-air. A thud…as his ageing body hit turf. A gasp…as a nation contemplated the unthinkable.
The ball was almost at the stumps…
Earlier in the day…
After spending much of yesterday’s blog lauding the superiority of all things Victoria, it is time to pay credit where it’s due in regard to my brethren north of the border.
As word reached me of Melbourne weather lurching from a 40 degree heatwave to storms bordering on tropical, I awoke to another superb day of high 20’s and the sort of conditions under which the angels play cricket in heaven.
A brisk ten minute walk to the ground among the people had me feeling pretty good about a Ponting century, despite being one of those fools who thought pre-Christmas that he was finished.
A batsman of his class and skill can only get so many starts without going on to a hundred before he will break through, and the consensus was that today would be the day.
He had looked in fine fettle in Melbourne for a couple of fifties, as well as the previous afternoon, flying under the radar to 44 while the pace bowlers drew their rightful acclaim.
The great Punter faced the first ball off the day, and it was an offering on leg stump from Khan with all the ferocity of a kitten playing with a ball of string.
Ricky eased it towards mid-on, and the applause was as genuine as I’ve seen for a non-milestone, almost in the category of rapturous.
This was a sign of an educated crowd with expectation on their minds, a storied hundred in their sights, and warmth and appreciation in their hearts, desperately seeking an outlet.
Sydney’s own Michael Clarke took three off the next ball to bring up his 50, and more heartfelt applause followed.
Much has been made of the Australian skipper being booed at this ground last year, and this response was also imbued with feeling. Yes, a knowledgeable crowd had shown up today, impressing this biased and partisan Victorian only two balls in.
The batting that followed throughout the first session was peerless.
They played with positivity and intent, always looking to score where possible, but not at the expense of defence and keeping their wicket intact.
As the batsmen were getting better and better, the Indians were showing all the application of a child confronted with boiled vegetables.
The field settings were questionable and the enthusiasm when the ball approached was low, but this was largely immaterial because the bowling was as threatening as a Justin Bieber glare.
Clarke raced through the 90’s and reached his century before lunch. Despite some shaky beginnings the afternoon before, he has seldom looked more in control as he did in the morning session and beyond.
There have been some critics lining up to attack his record with Australia in trouble, but as captain he has scored four centuries in nine tests, three of them under the heat of first innings pressure, coming in at 3/40, 3/91, and this innings’ peril of 3/37.
While Pup has been a pleasure to watch, the day had really belonged to Ponting and his quest to end his drought.
The crowd was willing him to join his skipper on triple figures before the interval, but it wasn’t to be. Clarke kept getting back the strike, often with a rueful smile, as he was no doubt of the same disposition as the public.
But getting through to lunch undisturbed was more important than a milestone for the grizzled veteran, and so it was achieved.
Play resumed, and Punter moved untroubled to 99 when the unthinkable looked bound to happen.
A shout… A thud… A gasp…The ball was almost at the stumps…
WIDE! The ball was wide!
And so the former captain raised his century amid aforementioned theatrics, the sight of him rising to his feet, helmet askew, surrounded by a cloud of dust, was fitting. His shirt was no longer recognizable as white, but a shade of dirty brown.
Here was a true street-fighter, wretched and battle-scarred, a face made of leather that betrayed a flood of internal rhetorical questions.
Could it have really been two years between hundreds? Could relief have ever felt so sweet? Did I really have to do it in such ridiculous fashion?
While celebrations were taking place, a fresh shirt was brought out for Ponting.
As the exchange was made and his bare chest was on display, the wolf-whistles and cat-calls brought back memories of my stroll down Oxford St, Paddington, the night before (this Dandenong boy is being culturally awakened on this trip).
Perhaps Ricky was occupied by similar thoughts when he was finally dismissed for 134.
In summary, day two will be remembered as a near-faultless display of batting from two veterans, but it takes some player to overshadow the feat of an Australian captain batting all day and ending up not out on 251.
But then, the Launceston run-machine has never just been ‘some player’.
After all, there’s only one Ricky Ponting.
The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of Cricket Australia