Ponting's pyrotechnics

Ricky Ponting and Justin Langer (below) made merry.-AP Ricky Ponting and Justin Langer (below) made merry.

The Australian skipper had given us an exhibition of the style that has brought seven centuries in eight Tests and the suggestion that he is the new Bradman, writes Ted Corbett.

I rode the free bus from my city centre hotel to 'Gabba for the Brisbane Test, not just because I am a skinflint but to see how the 10,000 Brits travelled and whether all the stories of Queensland being a state without a sense of humour were true.

Sad to say, the fun police as they are known by the local papers, did their best to show that George Orwell's 1984 was not just a bizarre figment of the imagination.

The fans were fine. I went back to the hotel early one afternoon and during the 10-minute journey through the tunnels and along the bus paths of this 21st century city there was one scuffle and a bit of shouting as well as some pushing and shoving.

AP

Compared with an afternoon in the English Premiership a few years ago it was a picnic. Not a blow struck, no blood on the pavement, hardly a threat spoken in anger.

In fact I will go so far as to say that, in 50 years covering sport all over the world, I have rarely seen such good tempered fans.

Much like the cricket I suppose.

Of course I and the Barmy Army come from a country where it is often said that you can do anything that is not against the law and we cherish our freedom to make fools of ourselves, even to put ourselves in danger and expect no retaliation unless we distress someone else.

Jay walking is a national pastime; chanting and singing at football games is seen as a sign of a good day out. And if you think the British like to let their hair down you should see the French and the Italians.

In Queensland fun is frowned upon. I saw one policeman threaten to arrest a man who tried to cross an empty road and when a family tried to take a short cut through a bus station the full might of security and a loud public address announcement was called up to stop their trespass.

What a contrast with the 2005 day in Manchester when heaven alone knows how many thousands were turned away from the gates by a single policeman bellowing: "Please go home. You are got going to get in here."

They all went home too; without more than a whisper of protest.

You will be saying to yourself that law and order have no place in a sports report but surely when 10,000 people travel 10,000 miles to see a sporting event how they are treated by the locals is important.

Throughout this Test there was little trouble between fans. Between fans and security there was a running battle with 80 arrests in the first four days.

The security guy who guarded one lift that was reserved for the media examined passes as if he had charge of Fort Knox, the same man told me every day that I would not be able to take my knapsack into the ground even though it had a label permitting me to do just that and seemed disappointed when he was shown to be wrong. Four days in a row.

The citizens of Brisbane thought a more relaxed atmosphere would be good because when a Barmy Army lad had his trumpet confiscated — what did they think he was going to do, blow the call sign for a charge and start a revolution? — they wrote to the Brisbane Courier Mail and complained that it was no way to treat a foreign guest.

Queensland has a reputation for nasty policing. Of course there are times when that is necessary but by the end of a week the Barmy Army generals were suggesting they might call off the rest of their trip and that coming back to this booming city was out of the question.

The cricket was not good either if you were British.

Marcus Trescothick went home, Michael Vaughan could only try a few shots in the nets and as for those who managed to get on to the field, nothing went right.

By the end of the first day we all knew the result, especially as Queensland was in such a parched state after months without rain that the chance of the weather intervening was remote.

Australia made 602 for nine declared, Ricky Ponting had given us an exhibition of the style that has brought seven centuries in eight Tests and the suggestion that he is the new Bradman.

Ponting is in the form of his life and by the sound of it has no idea how to answer to next question about what makes him such a great batsman and still sound relatively modest.

If Bradman was much better then it is a reason to regret that as a schoolboy in 1948 I never got the chance to see him bat. He was 40 and still scoring runs as if age had not wearied him and now the scrappy bits of film that are left do him no credit.

But we have Ponting and Lara who has just scored two Test centuries in a week. If I read the histories correctly the pair have more flourish, style and a wider range of strokes than the Don.

It would be interesting to make a more precise evaluation of Bradman, Lara, Ponting and Tendulkar if Bradman had played 300 one-day internationals as well as all his Tests. Not that I would dream of denying his greatness. The figures alone are enough proof for me.

Justin Langer, who has more reason to be modest and who worried before the game that he might be dropped, made an 80 — and improved on it in the quite unnecessary second Australian innings.

England, having been swept away in the first innings by the incomparable Glenn McGrath, made up some ground in the second with the highest fourth innings score at the Gabba and still lost by 277 runs.

It was a salutary lesson for the newcomers, who have never had to face the barrage of insults thrown out by the fans and the Aussie newspapers who all seem to think that they ought to play a part in securing victory.

In the quarter of a century I have been coming to this country the patriotism has undoubtedly become more aggressive.

Defeat in the last Ashes series in England has given it a keen edge, and only the good sense of the fans has prevented violence.

Thank heavens for that.

At the end of the Test English fans and Australians went off for a final drink together, Andrew Flintoff, the England captain, led his men out to shake hands with the victors and then strolled across the ground to give their supporters a grateful round of applause too.

I trust those in authority saw these gestures and appreciated that even in the midst of the Ashes there is a camaraderie among sportsmen and women that needs no tight controls, no harsh punishment and only the lightest touch of the reins.

The Scores

Woolloongabba, Brisbane, November 23 to 27. Australia won by 277 runs.

Australia 1st innings: J. L. Langer c Pietersen b Flintoff 82; M. L. Hayden c Collingwood b Flintoff 21; R. T. Ponting lbw b Hoggard 196; D. R. Martyn c Collingwood b Giles 29; M. E. K. Hussey b Flintoff 86; M. J. Clarke c Strauss b Anderson 56; A. C. Gilchrist lbw b Hoggard 0; S. K. Warne c Jones b Harmison 17; B. Lee (not out) 43; S. R. Clark b Flintoff 39; G. D. McGrath (not out) 8; Extras (b 2, lb 8, w 8, nb 7) 25; Total (for nine wts.) 602.

Fall of wkts: 1-79, 2-141, 3-198, 4-407, 5-467, 6-467, 7-500, 8-528, 9-578.

England bowling: Harmison 30-4-123-1; Hoggard 31-5-98-2; Anderson 29-6-141-1; Flintoff 30-4-99-4; Giles 25-2-91-1;Bell 1-0-12-0; Pietersen 9-1-28-0.

England 1st innings: A. J. Strauss c Hussey b McGrath 12; A. N. Cook c Warne b McGrath 11; I. R. Bell c Ponting b Clark 50; P. D. Collingwood c Gilchrist b Clark 5; K. P. Pietersen lbw b McGrath 16; A. Flintoff c Gilchrist b Lee 0; G. O. Jones lbw b McGrath 19; A. F. Giles c Hayden b McGrath 24; M. J. Hoggard c Gilchrist b Clark 0; S. J. Harmison c Gilchrist b McGrath 0; J. M. Anderson not out 2; Extras (b 2, lb 8, w 2, nb 6) 18; Total: 157.

Fall of wkts: 1-28, 2-28, 3-42, 4-78, 5-79, 6-126, 7-149, 8-153, 9-154.

Australia bowling: Lee 15-3-51-1;McGrath 23.1-8-50-6; Clark 14-5-21-3; Warne 9-0-25-0.

Australia 2nd innings: J. L. Langer (not out) 100; M. L. Hayden (run out) 37; R. T. Ponting (not out) 60; Extras (lb 4, nb 1) 5; Total (for one wkt. decl.) 202.

Fall of wkt: 68.

England bowling: Hoggard 11-2-43-0; Anderson 9-1-54-0; Flintoff 5-2-11-0; Harmison 12.1-1-54-0; Giles 5-0-22-0; Pietersen 3-0-14-0.

England 2nd innings: A. J. Strauss c sub.Broad b Clark 11; A. N. Cook c Hussey b Warne 43; I. R. Bell lbw b Warne 0; P. D. Collingwood st. Gilchrist b Warne 96; K. P. Pietersen c Martyn b Lee 92; A. Flintoff c Langer b Warne 16; G. O. Jones b McGrath 33; A. F. Giles c Warne b Clark 23; M. J. Hoggard c Warne b Clark 8; S. J. Harmison c McGrath b Clark 13; J. M. Anderson (not out) 4; Extras (b 8, lb 10, w 2, nb 11) 31; Total: 370.

Fall of wkts: 1-29, 2-36, 3-91, 4-244, 5-271, 6-293, 7-326, 8-346, 9-361.

Australia bowling: Lee 22-1-98-1; McGrath 19-3-53-1; Clark 24.1-6-72-4; Warne 34-7-124-4; Hussey 1-0-5-0.