Sydney: When the magic moment came, Ricky Ponting, who hadn't savoured the joy of a hundred for over two years, found himself sprawled on the dirt, having been inches away from heartbreak. As it turned out, the dive - which is not really a Ponting thing - wouldn't have saved him had Zaheer Khan's throw from mid-on found its mark.
Hundreds are a peculiar thing, one of the great idiosyncrasies of cricket that players and fans obsess about. By the time he got to 97, Ponting and Michael Clarke had already driven Australia to the point of near-unassailable ascendancy, which was a remarkable recovery from 3 for 37. This was only the second time in his career he had reeled off three half centuries in successive Tests, and surely he had earned himself the right to choose the course of his immediate future. But still, the failure to bring up the hundred would have counted as a tragedy.
The moment had built itself up nicely. Zaheer Khan had bowled a canny and tight over before lunch - leg-slip in place, midwicket catching, first round-the-wicket, then over - to keep him stuck on 97 with some help from Sachin Tendulkar, who hared to his right from mid-on and dived further to the right to save a boundary. Clarke had waltzed to his hundred with a cover drive, unfurled with casual majesty. When he scampered back for a second to deny Ponting the strike in the last over before lunch, the crowd booed.