David Leggat on sport

David Leggat is a Herald sport writer

David Leggat: Ponting's worry lines point to the end of a career

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Ricky Ponting. Photo / Getty Images
Ricky Ponting. Photo / Getty Images

One look at Ricky Ponting's face yesterday told exactly how much winning yesterday's World Cup quarter-final meant to Australia.

His faced was creased with worry lines before he'd even got out to the middle to play what turned into a terrific century in a losing cause.

As India eventually got on top in their chase before a raucous packed house in Ahmedabad he wore the look of a haunted man.

Having led Australia to a record three Ashes series losses, Ponting has now lost, in a manner of speaking, the World Cup, after three successive titles won from 1999.

Saddling him with that weight is unfair, given that this was the poorest of the last four Australian squads, weak in spin - which is crucial on the sub-continent - and lacking a genuine great.

Ponting has been, and still has the heart for a scrap, but is on the slide.

It is rebuilding time, almost certainly under Michael Clarke.

So should Ponting, if he vacates the officer's quarters, remain as one of the troops? The Australian way is usually once a captain is replaced he's shown the door for good.

Can the Aussies afford to dispense with Ponting's batting talent? It's not as if bright young things are putting up inarguable cases to replace the flinty little Tasmanian.

The first two quarter-finals threw up some fascinating issues.

Can Pakistan emulate the class of '92 and go on to win the cup? They've now beaten two major nations back-to-back in Australia and the West Indies, if the former giants of the Caribbean can still be classed that way.

You wonder how the erratic Shahid Afridi turned himself into the irresistible bowling force at the tournament. He leads the field with 21 wickets from seven games at a barely credible 10.7 apiece.

They reintroduced the classy offspinner Saeed Ajmal at the right time - strangely he's only played one previous game at the cup - they have good pace bowlers and batsmen who can be damaging if they're in the right mindset. And that's the key for Pakistan. If they're on, watch out. The other semifinalists, whoever they are, would rather face a good quality team who play with predictability than one which mixes brilliance with the ordinary.

Now Pakistan face India in a high-octane confrontation in Chandigarh next Wednesday night. They have met four times in past World Cups, the Indians winning the lot.

When India's captain MS Dhoni was out yesterday, leaving India teetering at 187 for five, still 74 away, you wondered if the nerve would hold.

It did, with the bullying Yuvraj Singh, with his confident swagger, and gifted little lefthander Suresh Raina getting the job done with aplomb, and 14 balls to spare.

It was Yuvraj's fourth man-of-the- match award in the tournament and hints at a case of cometh the cup, cometh the hero.

Perhaps if India go on to lift the cup next weekend, they'll reflect on that partnership and the message it sent out: that the crushing weight of expectations of their adoring millions wouldn't make them freeze.

It could have all gone wrong for India in their chase. Both openers had early scares which on other days could have had different endings.

But these events are all about seizing the moment. India did yesterday.

Sri Lanka, also a joint host, will want to do the same against England at Colombo tonight.

An India-Sri Lanka final looks a decent bet. Cream rising to the top? That's invariably the way in the big tournaments.

- NZ Herald

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