Ricky Ponting scored a fluent 62 against India in the first innings of MCG Test after initial hiccups © Getty Images
Ricky Ponting scored a fluent 62 against India in the first innings of MCG Test after initial hiccups © Getty Images

 

By Madan Mohan

 

The pre-series talk centred less on who would be expected to win and more around the fitness of Zaheer Khan and Ishant Sharma, the form of Ricky Ponting and Mike Hussey and Sachin Tendulkar’s impending milestone of … well, no prizes for guessing that one! Some suggested that India offered the perfect opportunity for Ponting and Hussey to bat themselves back into form. And Ponting wasted no time in grabbing the opportunity with both hands, making a statement right on Day 1 of a long series.

 

Much like in the previous Boxing Day Test between the two sides in 2007, fortunes swung before settling somewhat in favour of Australia at stumps. Australia got off to a good start before a weather interruption allowed India to regroup. India got back with two quick wickets and that brought Ponting to the crease.

 

He shook off a tentative start, dug deep and eventually began to score briskly. His strike rate of 66 was very healthy, given the conditions. He looked awkward and off balance initially as he attempted to essay his favourite shot. But as the Indian bowlers continued to feed him short deliveries, the swivel of old was back. He also began to play strokes with greater assurance as he confidently got forward.

 

That, ultimately, was also his undoing. India would have been both delighted at his mode of dismissal and disappointed they couldn’t induce it earlier in his innings. His dismissal was almost identical to the manner in which he got out at Perth, 2008. This time, it was off the bowling of Umesh Yadav; Ponting was yet again unable to make up his mind whether to play or leave a delivery outside off stump. Incidentally, Yadav stole the thunder in the bowling department, nabbing three of the six wickets that fell on Day 1 of the Boxing Day Test.

 

The question now would be whether that is a perennial weakness that bowlers somehow did not capitalize on all these years or has surfaced recently. The answer to this question has implications for whether Ponting can convert this bright start to another purple patch or will a 40th Test century continue to elude him.

 

When he played the delivery that ended his stay at the crease, he was once again far too square than straight. His huge front foot stride also made it difficult for him to pull out of the shot. Because he gets too square, his judgment in leaving deliveries seems to fail him sometimes; the front-foot movement makes last-minute adjustments even more difficult.  It perhaps also raises questions about the preparation of India’s bowlers. They ought to ideally be at him all the time and pepper him with precisely that line until to induce a nick. But they were too inconsistent and wayward to a batsman of his calibre.

 

In the near term, this knock alone may buy him time till the end of the series. He took guard at an important juncture in the Australian innings and quick wickets would have put India in the driver’s seat.  He gritted it out and eventually tapped into some form to give Australia the ascendancy for the first two sessions.

 

But India would have mixed feelings about the way Ponting went about his business on Day 1. The surge in his confidence would have bothered them and he did look ominous and good for a big century. But they may take heart from the manner in which he was eventually dismissed.  It’s an old weakness and India could put renewed effort to attacking it and see what answers he comes up with. Besides, he was not ultimately imposing enough to put Australia completely in command and left with a handy half century and no more.

 

Amidst all the grumbling, much from it from British quarters, that this series is not really great shakes, the Border-Gavaskar Trophy has got off to an interesting start. The coming days will tell us just what the import of this Ponting knock is for the match and the series.  As well as whether upstart Umesh Yadav will build on the promise he displayed on Day 1 in unfamiliar conditions.

 

(Madan Mohan, a 25-year old CA from Mumbai, is passionate about writing, music and cricket. Writing on cricket is like the icing on the cake)