Mahendra Singh Dhoni Fansite

Ricky Ponting’s day of destiny in Perth

Another magnificent day’s cricket at a ground made for thrills finished with Australia requiring a further 348 to become the first team in the history of the game to win 17 consecutive Test matches. Steve Waugh’s Australians had their 16-match run halted by India at Calcutta in 2001. It has been a frenzied couple of weeks in these parts and the need for something glorious is transparent.

By dismissing India for 294, Australia left themselves 413 for victory. This would be the highest score by any Australian team to win a Test.

The extreme threat of Virender Sehwag was extinguished 30 minutes into yesterday’s play by Stuart Clark’s lovely off-cutter. A couple of outswingers seduced his man and then the sucker ball was applied. Nobody was more relieved than Michael Hussey, who had dropped Sehwag in the gully moments earlier.

The Australians were visibly fired up, sick it seemed of pleasantries and keen to trade blows. Immediately, Brett Lee locked up Rahul Dravid with a perfect outswinger of his own and scenting blood, his mates closed in.

For a time it appeared as if India had forgotten how to win. Sachin Tedulkar was far from himself and a reluctance to take the battle to an evidently high-spirited opponent set the wrong tone for those around him.

It is a strange fact that this master batsman, a man on the brink of becoming the most prolific run scorer in history, should average just 16 in all his second innings against Australia.

Lee trapped him with a thrilling moment of fast bowling, delivered from wide on the return crease and spearing in at the most famous pads in cricket. Before those pads had been removed, Sourav Ganguly was on his way to the dressing-room too, easily snared at slip from an airy drive.

Four huge names had gone for a total of 59 between them and Sehwag accounted for 43 of them. At that stage of the day with five out and just 125 on the board, the Indians might have led by 243 but they were withering on the vine.

Not until the irresistible VVS Laxman rolled up his sleeves and told Mahendra Singh Dhoni that it was time. For a while they stayed patient, before expanding into repertoires we know well. Laxman flicked and flowed, Dhoni flourished down the ground with glamorous sixes and nudged singles that drew exasperated breath from Australians who began to wonder about the hand of fate. The 75 they found when most needed was worth more for it gave impetus to their own people and angst to the opposition.

Stupidly, Dhoni fell just before tea to a needless dink of a sweep shot. An intelligent man had batted with such thought and conviction that the stroke made no sense. As so often, one wicket brought two and a couple of balls later Andrew Symonds was celebrating the capture of Anil Kumble, who edged to slip. What a cricketer Symonds is, what an inspiration to the next generation. He had switched from seam to spin and, not for the first time, worked the Oracle.

Ricky Ponting is lucky to have him, especially so yesterday when Shaun Tait totally lost his nerve and bearings. The fastest bowler in Australia was rationed to just eight overs. None of them threatened and a number of balls were out of reach. Lee and Michael Clarke joined Symonds on the day’s honour board, so much did they give, and it was fitting that Lee finished the Indian innings.

Reference must be made to RP Singh and Irfan Pathan. These gifted swing bowlers, who will have a great say in matters in the rest of this Test, gave India a cushion with their batting. Pathan, who has made a Test hundred against Pakistan, came to the crease as a mere nightwatchman and blossomed into a batsman of real merit during his well-measured two-hour stay.

Later, in a ninth-wicket stand of 51 with Laxman, Singh made a valiant 30. Their efforts mean Australia must break records galore if they are to reach their Everest.

Both of the hosts’ inexperienced openers fell before the close, hustled by Pathan’s swing and extra bounce but Ponting, the redoubtable Australian captain, remained unbeaten on 24 with Hussey alongside him. It is almost eerie that Ponting now has this destiny in his hands.

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