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A single off the last ball of that over, and another from the first ball of the next, took Clarke to 99 and brought Ponting on strike to face Zaheer. The field came in to save the single. It hadn’t happened all morning. Ponting stroked three deliveries straight at fieldsmen.
The next one, fuller, he drove straight and hard. Sachin Tendulkar, who knows a thing or two about waiting for a hundred, ran across from mid on, dived to his left, and stopped it dead. Another dot ball followed. The fielders changed ends. Ishant Sharma’s first ball was full and wide. Two little half steps took Clarke towards the pitch, and the hands did the rest, waving his bat daintily through the line. An instant after bat met ball to direct it to the left of cover, it went up in the air. The Australian skipper had barely broken a sweat in getting to his hundred.
Ponting, however, would have to wait a little longer, till after lunch, since there were no singles or threes off the remainder of that Ishant over.
The last time Ponting had scored a Test century was at Hobart in January 2009. Thirty three innings had gone since then, with ten fifties but no hundred. This had rankled the Tasmanian no end. “There have been plenty of frustrating moments,” Ponting later said. “It’s not when you get out early. It’s when you have had a decent start and not capitalised. It’s a game where the low scores are always going to happen. But when you are 40, 50 and 60, the great players make big scores.”
Having come this close, after that long, the anxiety to get over the line was palpable. After four dot balls from Zaheer first thing after lunch, Ponting finally got one on the pads. His leg side flick would only get him two, though.
The last ball of Zaheer’s over, Ponting bunted just wide of short cover. Clarke, possibly even more anxious than the man at the other end, nearly ran himself out with a harebrained dash out of his crease. Clarke took seven off Ishant’s next over before bringing Ponting back on strike for the final delivery, which he drove straight to mid on to stay on 99. Zaheer then bowled a maiden to Clarke.
Single to glory
First ball from Ishant, Ponting tapped to mid on and took off instantaneously. It took a dive, a soiled shirt, and a slightly misdirected throw from Zaheer Khan for that old, elusive feeling to surge through the veins once more.
“I know that I was probably out by two yards if the ball hit the stumps,” Ponting said. “Bit of brain fade I guess. I hit it through the gap and it just got to him quicker than I thought it would. Thankfully he missed or it would have a pretty sad end to what could have been a good day. But I got up and my shirt was pretty much destroyed, my grill was pressed against my face and I was spitting out bits of the wicket so I could try and smile. But look, when you reach triple figures in a Test match, it’s a pretty special feeling and thankfully that’s the first time I’ve had to do it in those circumstances.”
A few minutes later, after soaking in the third and loudest ovation of his innings, Ponting called for a new shirt. There was no applause this time but plenty of whistling as he stripped off the old one in full view of 30,077 spectators. As a freshly laundered shirt covered his still more or less taut stomach, a dirt-caked piece of cloth flew towards the member’s stand and landed just outside the boundary rope.
Someone, somewhere, will soon pay a lot of money for it.