Thursday 11 July, Sur v Not, all day
Time has a way of devising strange endings. Little can Ricky Ponting have imagined at any stage of his illustrious Test career that the final over he would face in first-class cricket would be Ajmal Shahzad’s party piece. Leg spin so rank that it gave joke bowling a bad name, delivered with the brittle braggadocio of a man doing a stag-night dare. Ponting dab-swept two from a ball pitching outside leg stump; blocked a couple of full tosses and knocked a single to mid-on. No egg on his face. When the draw was agreed, an hour early, Ponting was 169 not out.
I turned up on a bright July day expecting a last hurrah. A Punter century felt pre-ordained, a sure-fire bet. I sat in seat 74 of the balcony (1974 being the year of his birth) to aid good karma. He was 41 not out overnight. Surrey had a big deficit on first innings so the only requirement was to bat away the possibility of defeat. Even before the start of play, Ponting meant business. Catching intently with those cycling-style gloves that slippers seem to wear now in the warm-up. No outward sign of the melancholy that must have been swelling inside. He was all steely politeness with the gaggle of autograph-hunters and selfie-seekers that surrounded him by the groundsmen’s shed. I got my ticket signed for the boy. In honouring us, he was honouring what the game had brought him. Handing on what to respect.
He tucked a gentle one from Gurney round the corner to get off the mark for the day. Harinath was bowled two balls later, perhaps off his pad or perhaps moving too far across and losing his leg bail. Hard to tell. Careless either way. 187-3. De Bruyn, deflated and listless-looking on his way to the crease and in his brief knock until that point, prodded into towards mid-wicket and looked up. Ponting responded like a champion greyhound. De Bruyn dawdled, even on his own call, and was run out by a dead-eye throw from David Hussey. No cameras necessary. The new ball was taken with Ponting 53 not out at 206-4.
All the mannerisms were there. He tapped down the popping crease on the strip behind him; kicked away the dirt from his own with the underside of his boot. He wore a short-sleeved jumper (covering the stencils of his name and Surrey number, so he appeared even more the Test player among the county hoi polloi). His shirt sleeves were rolled up. He was late on one trademark pull – this Oval track is so slovenly slow – and was rapped on the inner thigh. The very next delivery, he got it right. Swivelling to ease the ball in front of square. It went skimming across the practice pitches. A perfect amalgam of technique and timing.
There was scant Tasmanian devilry on display. Ponting was watchful on a tedious surface where lesser batsmen were slipping up. His innings was workmanlike, but it was work in the best sense, exuding skill and diligence. He was a master of the guild of batting, who made all the others mere apprentices (only Ansari, who got his head down for 105 balls in a 98-run partnership, was a worthy student). Punter proved that however much talent you have, you still have to adapt to circumstances to ply your trade. And that, for all one’s achievements, even the masters are ultimately servants of the game.
His century came off Patel. Trotting down the wicket, he slapped a drive wide of the bowler’s left hand and up to the fence at the Vauxhall End. After tea, he brought up his 150 with an all-run four to deep point. Total commitment unto the last. The last boundary, I think, was a backfoot drive – the acme of a batsman’s authority – again off the toiling Patel. Credit to Dernbach for holding the fort for 77 balls, but the standing ovation was for Ponting, and Ponting alone. Good on him.
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