Ricky Ponting has taken the blame for Australia’s disappointing year, but he aimed to take them out on a high with 101 as they posted 4 for 184 at tea.
With South Africa staying in touch with a couple of strikes by Dale Steyn, Ponting’s innings held the visitors off in fine style until he slipped against Paul Harris to end the second session.
Peter English writes for Cricinfo that it was a horrible blow for the home side as it attempted to recover from the stunning defeat at the WACA and level the series. However, the situation changed with Ponting’s exit and Australia found themselves in another difficult position against an outfit that no longer fears them.
South Africa earned important wickets to continue the momentum gained from Perth and Harris allowed them to forget about a moment that threatened to become crucial. In the over before lunch Steyn forced an edge from Ponting that went to second slip, where Neil McKenzie dropped it. Ponting was on 24 and fighting to find fluency, but the break came at the ideal time for Australia’s captain.
Coming back after the interval he struck his first ball, from Makhaya Ntini, straight down the ground for four and over the next two hours dominated South Africa with 74. The innings briefly covered the damage of losing Simon Katich and Michael Hussey, with the score slipping from 1 for 128 to 3 for 143.
Runs came behind square-leg, in the V, through point and cover, off the front foot and back. This was a man who was again a fabulous example, a figure of batting wonder rather than the grumpy captain on the final day in Perth. It was his 37th Test century, his fourth at the MCG, and he took time to wave to friends, family and fans.
South Africa were sensible to focus at the other end, even though Ponting offered occasional plays and misses. He square drove a four to bring up his half-century in 80 deliveries and followed next ball with a repeat off Ntini. The third boundary in a row came from a crisp straight drive.
He was verging on being unstoppable until pushing at Harris and popping a catch to Hashim Amla at short-leg. There were ten boundaries overall and a six, which arrived when he flicked Morne Morkel to fine-leg, but by tea Michael Clarke (11) had become the most important man.
While Ponting was purring after lunch, Katich returned quietly and departed when he tried to drive Steyn on the up and inside-edged the ball on to middle stump. His 54 was important in lifting Australia following the early loss of Matthew Hayden, who also fell to a bowler operating around the wicket. Hussey was another to fail against that angle, thinking about playing Steyn but pulling out too late and being caught behind by Mark Boucher. After 0 and 8 in Perth, Hussey was gone for 0, his third since returning from India.
The offside was a regular target for Katich and the most attractive parts of his collection came with smart driving between point and mid-off. Katich experienced an eventful first session that included being struck at the base of his helmet when turning his head to a short ball from Steyn. He was untroubled by the awkward blow on 4, but had another nervous moment when he pulled away just before Morkel delivered a ball that hit middle stump. The umpire Aleem Dar ruled it dead and there were no complaints.
Hayden could not find the innings that would extend his career and was dismissed on 8 trying to drive a wide ball from Ntini, which sliced to JP Duminy at backward point. Unless he can make a hefty contribution later in the game he may be farewelling his team-mates next week in Sydney.
The wicket refocussed South Africa’s bowlers, who had started with too many wide deliveries, and continued until Morkel arrived and was taken for 18 from his opening couple of overs. His team-mates helped the fight back as Steyn captured 2 for 22 in seven overs after lunch and Harris grabbed the most important breakthrough.Tweet