On August 15, 2005, Ricky Ponting waged a lone battle for Australia and played a lion’s share in a nail-biting draw which ensured that the series remained at 1-1. Ponting led the dogged resistance but fell with four overs to go. Yet, he had done enough to save Australia from going down in the series. Sarang Bhalerao revisits Ponting’s epic 156.
Till 274 balls and 411 minutes, this Australian captain and arguably the best batsman in Australia had done everything to defy England a win at the Old Trafford. It was a matter of surviving another 25 deliveries in company of the stoic Brett Lee and the classic No 11 batsman Glenn McGrath.
Ricky Ponting had looked absolutely presumptuous in predicting a 5-0 scoreline at the start of the Ashes and his decision to ask England to bat in the second Test at Edgbaston backfired as the visitors lost the Test by two runs. But the Australian captain didn’t lack courage and guts as he was waging a sole battle against an inspired English attack in the third Test match.
The other batsmen failed to convert starts into substantial scores. Justin Langer (14), Matthew Hayden (36), Damien Martyn (19), Simon Katich (12), Adam Gilchrist (4), Michael Clarke (39) all of them had the propensity to score big but they all fell leaving Ponting to pull a rabbit out of the hat against Steve Harmison, Matthew Hoggard, Simon Jones and Andrew Flintoff. Ponting had the nous for a fight.
On Day Five, Australia needed 399 runs to win, whereas England needed 10 wickets. The home side lost opener Langer in the second over of the day. That brought Ponting to the wicket and he immediately got going. A flick off Hoggard for a boundary, and the signs were ominous for England. Flintoff’s short ball was deposited over the square-leg fence for a six. That announced Ponting’s intentions: he was ready to fight fire with fire.
The early morning jitters were taken care of by Ponting but Hayden seemed susceptible. The Australian opener was edgy against Flintoff, edging several balls behind the slip cordon for streaky boundaries. Eventually his vigil was ended by Flintoff when he changed his line of attack to over the wicket and had Hayden bowled behind his legs.
Ashley Giles was not finding any bite off the wicket and Australia were negotiating him easily. Ponting used his feet adroitly against the left-arm spinner and sometimes forced him to bowl short, a ploy which played into Australian captain’s hands.
England kept throwing everything at him. There was a phase in the match where the ball was reversing prodigiously and the England bowlers were bowling at 90 mph. While Katich, Gilchrist, Gillespie and Warne failed to negotiate the bowling, Ponting stood there like a rock negotiating everything that was thrown at him. There was a sense of purpose in his stance, the eyes were as determined as ever and the temperament was rock solid. Michael Vaughan, the England captain wrote in The Telegraph, “The innings he played at Old Trafford, in 2005, was the best I have seen. We had them down and out. We were about to take a lead in the series. But he was awesome.”
Ponting brought his century with an elegant cover-drive off Harmison; there was no contravention of any of the rules mentioned in the coaching manuals that was breached while executing it. There was an applause for Ponting from the Australian dressing room, the crowd and the England players.
It was now a battle between England and Ponting. The seven hour determined effort, it seemed, was good enough for Australia to secure a draw. For the first time in a decade the visitors were forced to play for a draw. But with 25 balls left in the innings pandemonium struck as Australia lost Ponting literally against the run of play.
The hook shot which was played with assurance throughout the day brought about the downfall of the Australian captain. Ponting was caught off the glove down the leg-side by Geraint Jones off Harmison’s bowling. The ball rose suddenly and Ponting, for the first time in his 275th delivery, committed a mistake. Ian Stafford mentions in his book Ashes Fever: “Ponting departed from the fray looking like a man who had just lost a Test match, rather than someone whose brilliant 411-minute innings had probably saved one.”
The remaining 24 balls were dramatic. Every ball was an event. The decibel levels soared progressively as the fast bowlers ran steaming in sensing a chance to go 2-1 up in the series. There was a reaction of oohs and aahs after every delivery. Lee shepherded McGrath as much as possible. It all boiled down to the final over. No 11 was on strike and Harmison had six balls to claim the elusive wicket. Seven fielders surrounded McGrath; any edge and he would have been out. One delivery in the final over missed McGrath’s off-stump by a whisker but Australia managed to hold on to a draw. The dressing room celebrated; Lee was euphoric while McGrath was content. The series was still 1-1.
Not many people had fingernails left considering the tense affair this Ashes was. In nine days’ time the teams geared up for another engrossing battle at the Trent Bridge. But Old Trafford will remember the grit and the fight of the Australian captain who is archetypical of the Australian attitude of fighting till the last drop of blood. He saved Australia from a defeat and led from the front.
The talks of a whitewash at the start of the Test series were ludicrous claims. Australia had a gargantuan challenge ahead of them. Epic compelling battles were fought and the home side believed they had it in them to dethrone the mighty Australians. It is not for nothing that the Ashes 2005 is regarded as one of the best series ever played in cricket.
England 444 (Michael Vaughan 166; Shane Warne 4 for 99) and 280 for 6 decl. (Andrew Strauss 106; Glenn McGrath 5 for 115) drew with Australia 302 (Shane Warne 90; Simon Jones 6 for 53) and 371 for 9 (Ricky Ponting 156; Andrew Flintoff 4 for 71).
(Sarang Bhalerao hails from a family of doctors, but did his engineering. He then dumped a career in IT with Infosys to follow his heart and passion and became a writer with CricketCountry. A voracious reader, Sarang aspires to beat Google with his knowledge of the game! You can follow him on Twitter here)