Legends Month

Legends Month: The best of Ricky Ponting

As part of Legends Month, take a look back on one of Ricky Ponting's greatest performances

Louis Cameron

1 May 2018, 07:00 PM AEST

No Test captain has led Australia to more victories than Ricky Ponting, but the legendary batsman's proudest innings of a distinguished career came in what he would otherwise label a paradox - a triumphant draw.

On a bone-dry final-day Old Trafford pitch tailor-made for a brilliant England bowling attack, Ponting batted for nearly seven hours to stave off Australia’s hosts in one of the most memorable knocks in Ashes history to keep the 2005 series ledger even at 1-1.

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The roughly 20,000 fans who were let in on that August morning could not have predicted their good fortune; they were the lucky ones who witnessed as gripping a spectacle that Test cricket has to offer while a further 10,000 people were turned away at the gates.

The unprecedented scenes, which nearly saw Manchester local Andrew Flintoff miss the start of play due to chaotic traffic around the ground, coloured the most enthralling Ashes series played out this century.

Having nudged Australia to stumps on day four without the loss of a wicket, opener Justin Langer brought Ponting to the crease just six balls into the third Test’s fifth day when he edged behind off Matthew Hoggard.

Ponting repelled everything England threw at him // Getty
Ponting repelled everything England threw at him // Getty

Needing 423 to win, facing out the match's remaining 108 overs was identified as the more achievable target.

"(It was) unusual for us, because we weren't in that situation too often through my entire career," Ponting said in a video for Lord's 10 years on from the series.

"It was up to me as the No.3 batsman and the captain to try and save the game for my team.

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"It was a really difficult wicket, it was so dry. England right throughout that summer had been unbelievably good at getting the ball to reverse swing.

"England were on top in the game, they had very attacking fields, a day five pitch with a bit of reverse swing and a great attack."

Outplayed through the first four days, Ponting's men would not yield lightly even if a victory was out of the equation.

Flintoff ponders how to remove Australia's skipper // Getty
Flintoff ponders how to remove Australia's skipper // Getty

The Tasmanian nonetheless signalled he had no intention of simply blocking, when he swiftly pulled Flintoff for six off a perfectly good length.

Mixing a typically clinical array of strokes with stout defence against the late-swinging ball, Ponting was immovable as his team’s foundations gradually crumbled around him.

While none of his fellow specialist batsmen faced fewer than 20 balls, each of them succumbed to the home side's unstoppable pace attack in time.

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Relegated to No.7 due to a flare-up of the back issues that would, a decade later, contribute to the end his international career on the same British soil, Michael Clarke stoically helped put on 81 before not offering a shot to a Simon Jones in-swinger that clean-bowled him.

It was an iconic moment of the series and surely a sign England were destined to take the upper-hand.

Finding an ever-willing ally in Shane Warne, who was on the way to taking 40 wickets for the series, Ponting posted Test century No.23 and Australia's first of the series.

Ponting celebrates reaching three figures at Old Trafford // Getty
Ponting celebrates reaching three figures at Old Trafford // Getty

But the feeling of inevitability was heightened when Warne edged to second-slip and keeper Geraint Jones somehow caught the rebound off Andrew Strauss' knee.

With four overs left in the day, Ponting's 275-ball, 410-minute vigil was ended in the cruelest way when he gloved one down the leg-side to Jones.

As he listlessly walked off to a standing ovation from the Old Trafford faithful, Ponting was reconciled to the fact he'd failed at the final hurdle as No.11 Glenn McGrath went past him.

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"I remember walking off the field once I was dismissed thinking that I'd just lost the game for my team," he admitted.

"There were four overs to go and Brett Lee was at the other and Glenn McGrath was the guy to come in.

"I wasn't that confident that Glenn was going to be able to get though the last four overs of the game."

Lee, Ponting and McGrath reflect on the drawn third Test // Getty
Lee, Ponting and McGrath reflect on the drawn third Test // Getty

Watching the last of those 24 balls with "one eye" on a television in the visitors' changing room, Ponting's resignation eventually turned to delight when Australia's last pair survived those final four overs, with Lee bunting a Steve Harmison full toss away on the leg side to secure a draw.

"Unusually for us, (we) held on for a draw and it nearly felt like a win," Ponting reflects.

"Even to this day it's the innings in my whole career that I'm most proud of."