The beginnings of the Ponting legend

It was on this day 20 years ago that Ricky Ponting completed his first Test century, on his Ashes debut no less

On the 1997 Ashes tour, Australia were in the middle of perhaps their most dominant period in history against their oldest foe, and is if things couldn't get more one-sided, they were about to unleash a hugely promising young batsman named Ricky Ponting for the first time in cricket's greatest rivalry.

Mark Taylor's side had levelled the six-Test series after a shock defeat in the series opener at Edgbaston, with Steve Waugh's epic twin tons at Old Trafford in the third Test putting the ledger at one-all.

So the two teams travelled to Leeds with the Ashes very much alive, and it was there that Ponting, who had played six Tests previously but had been unceremoniously dumped the summer prior, made his re-selection count.  

"That was vital for me," Ponting said of his Ashes debut hundred at Headingley. "I got picked on the Ashes tour, only in the touring squad, but I didn't play the first three Tests of that series and came in for the fourth, in Michael Bevan's spot."

Australia rolled England for 172 after a fired-up Jason Gillespie took 7-37, but Taylor's men stumbled in reply, collapsing to 4-50.

Ponting strode to the middle, where he was greeted by another emerging talent, Matthew Elliott (199), and together the pair turned the contest on its head.

By stumps on day two, Ponting had raced to 86 not out, unfurling the full arsenal of stroke-play he would become renowned for, including a couple of signature shots.

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"I was also lucky in that I'm not sure the Poms were too thorough when they did their homework on me," Ponting wrote in his book, At the Close of Play.

"The ball was seaming about but they seemed keen to test me out with some short stuff and I relished the chance to show them I could hook and pull.

"To get off the mark, I pulled a bumper from (Dean) Headley which rocketed to the boundary and the confidence that one shot gave me was liberating."

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And it was exactly 20 years ago today that Ponting nudged the off-spin of Robert Croft into the leg side for the single that brought up his maiden Test hundred.

It was the beginning of a legend; over the ensuing 15 years, the Tasmanian would add another 40 hundreds to his name, though he reckons few were better than his first-up 127.

"That day I probably played as well as I have in any Test innings, and that made it even more pleasing," Ponting said.

"That'd be as close as any (to my best).

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"I remember that day, just really being on top of things and feeling really at home at the crease.

"The ones that actually mean the most to you are probably the ones that you think you played better in anyway, so the first one is always going to be remembered a bit more but I just thought I played really well."

It also helped that Australia won the Test match to go 2-1 up in the series, a lead they never relinquished as they secured the Ashes for a fifth straight time. 

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