Catch goes down, not heads
“You lucky so and so,” remarked a member of the British press when Ricky Ponting was dropped by Ashley Giles on the third morning in Adelaide.
A similar remark might have followed when Paul Collingwood, of all people, missed a chance soon after to run the Australia skipper out.
The reprieves weren’t quite of ‘You’ve just dropped the Ashes’ magnitude – well, time will be the judge of that – but you wouldn’t have known it at the time.
In the morning and evening of the most important day of the fledgling series to date, England roared. Looked all over like the rollicking cavaliers of last year. In between, it was a return to darker times.
It was difficult to assess England’s big total before watching Australia bat, but Matthew Hoggard’s double strikes at the bookends of the day gave visiting fans reason to think this Test could be theirs.
It could still be. It would almost certainly have been had Giles read the script when Ponting skied a pull-shot off Hoggard straight to him in the deep when on 35.
I’d like to say the ball hung in the air for what seemed like an eternity, but it didn’t. The length of time I was given was 1.38 seconds from bat face to Giles’ hands, which, extended above his head, couldn’t do what the brain asked. The pro-Aussie crown on the western side lapped it up. “You’re Monty in disguise,” bellowed some wit.
Had Giles held the very gettable chance, day three could have turned out so different. In the end England got their man, but not before Ponting had added another Test century – his second of the series and 33rd in all. The dropped catch cost England 107 runs and Heaven knows how much momentum.
By stumps, Australia had made avoiding the follow-on a virtual certainty. Ponting and Mike Hussey’s fourth-wicket partnership, which should not have been allowed to get off the ground, produced 192 runs and saved an absorbing day’s cricket for Australia.
Following a pattern for the game, the afternoon dourness was reflected by the mood of the crowd. As the evening progressed, many of the 30,000-plus throng got it together to choreograph the first Mexican Wave of the match.
It was also the last, if the South Australian Cricket Association has its way. Earlier in the day, a SACA spokesman said the Wave would be allowed as long as “people don’t throw objects”.
On cue, as soon as the third lap had been completed, the ground announcer respectfully asked the hedonists to stop. You can guess why.
By dint of England’s inability take chances when they first presented themselves, the day was about Ponting. Now, no Australian has more Test centuries. His average, after 107 Tests, has nudged above 60. As captain, that figure nears a dizzying 70.
Of the top five century-makers in cricket history, Ponting has played the fewest Test matches. Sachin Tendulkar is currently on top of the list, but probably not for long. His signs of decline are unmistakable.
Unless Mohammad Yousuf – how much better is he than Yousuf Youhana? – keeps going at his present rate, Ponting will make the top spot his own for many years to come.
He could get there this Ashes series, which, thanks to the tireless and underrated Hoggard, is very much alive.