Scoring and settling scores

Ricky Ponting was thinking ahead. He did not merely want to win at the 'GABBA. He wanted to win everywhere.-

Maturity has been detected in his captaincy; consistency has been seen in his batting. His team had a productive summer in 2005-06, trouncing all comers. Ponting rose in stature. He looked like a boy but he had become a man, writes Peter Roebuck.

Revenge is a dish best served cold. Nothing irked Ricky Ponting as much as the sight of Duncan Fletcher smirking as the batsman left the field after a calamitous run out in Nottingham in the 2005 Ashes series. Something about the dour, knowing Zimbabwean antagonises Australians. Already irritated by his opponents' lack of scruple and frustrated by the ineptitude of his bowlers, Ponting stormed back to the pavilion, observed the smile and saw red. Australia narrowly lost the match and famously lost the series. Ever since, the Tasmanian has been a different man. Defeat in England was the second turning point in his career. Admitting he had a drinking problem was the first breakthrough. Not every ambitious cricketer would dare to call a press conference to confirm that all the stories were true, to thank reporters for their discretion and to add that he intended to sort himself out. Recognition was a step towards rehabilitation.

Now Ponting faced another challenge. His reputation was at stake. That he was the first Australian captain to emerge from a neglected island added to the pressure. He had to succeed. Ever since he has dedicated himself to remedying the wrong. Maturity has been detected in his captaincy, consistency has been seen in his batting. His team had a productive summer in 2005-06, trouncing all comers. Ponting rose in stature. He looked like a boy but he had become a man.

Ponting was helped by the calm reaction in Australia to losing the Ashes. Although disappointed, the cricket community took the setback in its stride. England had been the better side. No-one was sacked, not a single head was chopped. Rather a committee of thoughtful past players was asked to examine the causes of the loss and to suggest improvements that could be made. Mark Taylor, Allan Border and company concluded that preparations had been poor and amongst other things recommended the appointment of a bowling coach (whose contributions have been crucial).

Ponting was given the support every captain needs. The sense of service is strong in Australian cricket. Agendas are few and far between. Teams, selectors, coaches are picked on their merits and with reference to their records. Victory is expected but not taken for granted. Its achievement is saluted but the party does not last long.

Ponting had been waiting a long time for England to arrive. Nevertheless he kept his side focused on matters in hand so well that Australia stormed to victory in the Champions Trophy. Meanwhile England fretted. At last the chance came as the sides met in Brisbane.

The Tasmanian promptly gave the most flawless batting exhibition of a distinguished career. Next he declined to enforce the follow-on, preferring the slow kill to the quick slaughter. Here was ruthlessness. Ponting was thinking ahead. He did not merely want to win at the 'Gabba. He wanted to win everywhere.

Stymied in Adelaide, spared on the boundary, he scored another hundred and cursed himself for losing his wicket with his side still in peril. Not even he could have foreseen subsequent events. England withdrew. Australia attacked. Ponting walked to the wicket with a match at his mercy. Determination drove him along. His eyes were dark, his intent clear. Nor did he fail his team, batting adroitly, scoring 49 before falling with the match in the bag.

Afterwards the Australians celebrated deep into the night. It had been a great fightback. The old guard had led the way, and a captain eager both to score and to settle scores.