Half an hour before lunch on the second day, there were still two ways of looking at it: England’s batsmen had either shown a collective irresponsibility in getting out when they’d almost all got set or had all played their individual parts to perfection in a great team display. No one, after all, had expected our last three wickets to add another hundred
By lunch, we had enjoyed a spot of counter-punching from Phillip Hughes, but expected Freddie, post-ham salad, to put him straight, and Jimmy “in the form of his life” Anderson and Stuart Broad to have lowered their hands into the wickets lucky-dip and come up with a Ponting or two.
By tea, Hughes had gone, not in the expected manner to a Flintoff snorter, but with a rather tame inside edge, but Ponting and Simon Katich were refusing to be prised from the lottery barrel.
And by the close, the pair were still there, hundreds apiece and looking well set for the 650 that will give Australia a fighting chance of victory on the final day – if you accept that Saturday, as the meteorologists assure us, is going to be even damper than usual in Cardiff Bay.
So now we know: England had been under-performing badly. That none of our 11 could better 69, while two of three Australians to have visited the crease have already passed the century-mark is a damning indictment on what came, and too quickly went, on Wednesday.
Ponting was back to his usual self, as presaged on these pages yesterday and in the process, clocked up his 11,000th Test run. To be honest, I feel like I’ve seen every one of those runs with my own eyes. The face of his bat has begun to look as broad as next door’s fence , and that is a meaty – and indeed mighty – impressive construction I can tell you.
A small digression: when I first saw Ponting, he had not scored a Test run. It was 1994 at Lilac Hill, that pretty outpost of Perth suburbia which, wikipedia whimsically reminds me, the Swan River wraps around on its southern and eastern borders. But the 17-year-old was highly regarded and, if memory serves me correctly, he unfurled a number of those pull shots that would become something of a trademark on his way to a fifty for the Aussie Chairman’s XI against the English tourists.
Now, I am sick to death of that shot. I see it when I close my eyes, I seet it in my Ashes nightmares, it creeps up on me even when I’m thinking of something completely unrelated.
It’s a great shot, admittedly: a silky swivel, of a type which Michael Jackson might have been proud to incorporate into one of his dance routines, followed by the crispest of connections and the almost instantaneous meeting of ball and boundary board and a flailing backwards square leg barely making it into the picture.
But you can overdose on beauty, even of the savage variety, and I have done so. Usually, when great cricketers leave the stage, it is a time for regret and reflection. When Ponting goes I will just breathe a sigh of relief.
And his cover drive and cut slightly backwards of square weren’t going too badly either.
Beauty, of a savage kind or any other, is not what you would associate with Simon Katich, but he is a sticker, and works some pretty impressive angles.
With Anderson back to his inconsistent worst, Broad, who’s beginning to look a bit of a prima donna with the aghast appearance his baby face takes on when another of his deliveries a yard wide of the off stump gets the treatment it deserves and one of two spinners suffering a recession of his very own, it was going to be a tough ask for England.
Graeme Swann said afterwards that he and Monty had got a bit excited when they’d seen Nathan Hauritz turn it on Wednesday and, although there was the occasional puff of dust from the bowlers’ footmarks, the spin was too slow and faithful in bounce to cause the Australian batting too much concern. In the end, they were merely keeping the scoring rate within manageable limits.
So another night, the same story. The first session tomorrow – or today as it indeed is – is going to be crucial. The new ball will come into play probably within the first hour and Anderson, Broad and Flintoff just have to make it deviate off the straight and narrow. Otherwise, you can see Ponting and Katich, the in-form Hussey and North and the classy Clarke filling their boots.