Ricky Ponting's curmudgeonly little legend face grimaced for the last time on a cricket field this week as he bowed out at the WACA with eight more than Don Bradman managed in his final innings but substantially less than he would have wanted. He was welcomed to the wicket by an appropriate guard of honour from the South African side and swept off it by a tide of admiration and gratitude which, as throughout his career, threatened to spill over into love but never quite did. Tributes have similarly bobbed along in the last week - the sheer weight of stats and nostalgia testament to the might of the Tasmanian with his 2003 World Cup final last ten overs obliteration of India and 156 at Old Trafford both receiving plenty of masochistic love from opponent fans. The one innings which to my mind most waterboarded English hopes, however, was his 142 in Adelaide in 2006, a knock which has over time become slightly lost in the general unspeakable horror of that match for England fans. In particular, the significance of Ponting's efforts have been inevitably obscured by the role of Shane Warne, who sucker-punched Andrew Flintoff's hapless charges in their second innings and inflicted one of the most emasculating Ashes defeats in history.
It wasn't perhaps his most assured or stylish display, nor against the most potent or motivated attack - despite Matthew Hoggard's in retrospect astounding 7-109 - but Ponting navigated his side from 8-1 to 257-4, laying the foundations for Clarke, Hussey and Gilchrist to bring England's easily clogged minds within range of Warne's psychological cholesterol. The tourists still emerged with a slight first innings lead, but unlike throughout the 2005 Ashes, England didn't have the strength to seize back the initiative. Punter had broken them on the wheel just when they believed they themselves had Australia on the rack.
Where Punter's knock and that match relates to England's present side is that Ashley Giles, their newly appointed ODI and T20 coach, actually put Ponting down when he was on 35, a drop which rivals Herschelle Gibbs's 1999 World Cup effort in the pantheon of disastrous consequence. It wasn't merely the nature of the fumble, however, or its repercussions for the match, but the fact the Warwickshire stalwart was playing at all given the clamour for England to reintroduce their new wunder-tweeker, Monty Panesar, for that Second Test after the promising start he'd made since debuting - and scalping Tendulkar - in India earlier that year. As a result, coach Duncan Fletcher and Giles himself - having both in differing ways been so instrumental in dragging English cricket out of the gutter during the previous eight years - were subject to personal vitriol which was entirely unjustified but nevertheless an expression of the frustration of England fans who felt Fletcher's loyalty to the tried and tested had become staid rather than honourable. In Adelaide, Giles actually scored an unbeaten 27 at number eight in England's first innings and went for only 2.45 an over in Australia's - as ever doing the job his coach Fletcher had for so long entrusted him with - but that drop proved too much even for Fletcher's fidelity to endure and ended the "King of Spain's" career. Panesar came in for the next Test at Perth and took a five-for in Australia's first innings which, while doing nothing to prevent the first Ashes whitewash for 86 years, at least justified Fletcher's eventually decision to mistrust his natural instincts.
Choosing loyalty over expediency has been a trait which has served Andy Flower incredibly well during his time as England coach, but not in the last year. Stuart Broad has equally served England very commendably in his 52 Tests and even, with a perhaps unlikely 40, taken the fourth highest number of wickets in the world this year. He is surely too distinguished a natural talent - despite the barbs his fondness for moisturisers and foot-stamping often invite - not to take many, many more in the future. For now, though, struggling on the subcontinent as his once miscast enforcer undeniably is and always has, Flower surely has to look at his opposite number in the Indian camp, then look at Steve Finn chomping at the bit like Ponting about to launch a swivel-pull, and ponder the lessons of Adelaide and Perth 2006 when he chooses the England side to walk out at Eden Gardens on Wednesday.