Former England skipper Michael Atherton on Friday waxed eloquence on Ricky Ponting, saying the Australian captain has left a "mighty stamp" with his fighting hundred in his team`s quarterfinal loss to India in the World Cup.
"This was the reply of one of the greatest competitors of the modern game and if this is to be his last appearance in a World Cup then he leaves a mighty stamp," Atherton said.
After a string of failures with the bat in the quadrennial extravaganza, Ponting was under immense pressure to perform prior to the India match, but answered his critics with a knock that held Australia`s innings together at the Sardar Patel Stadium in Ahmedabad yesterday.
"With a brilliant, `raging against the dying of the light` hundred, Ponting did more than anybody yesterday to hold on to the trophy Australia have cradled for the past dozen years, but ultimately his team was not good enough," he said.
Atherton was particularly pleased with the way Ponting handled the pressure, with rumours of him losing favour with Cricket Australia running thick and fast Down Under.
"What an innings the Australia captain played. As well as being short of form, there were rumours from Down Under that he had lost the support of Cricket Australia and all kinds of petty nonsense -- involving dressing-room tantrums, the bawling out of a team-mate on the field and, incredibly, criticism for not walking -- meant that he came into this match under severe personal pressure."
While Ponting`s dream of winning a fourth World Cup medal is over, Atherton said prospects of Sachin Tendulkar lifting the elusive trophy brightened after India`s five-wicket victory over the four-time World Cup winners.
"Ricky Ponting`s dream of a fourth winner`s medal is over; for Sachin Tendulkar, a first is still very much on the cards. Only two matches stand between him and what millions in this country believe to be his destiny in Mumbai a week tomorrow," Atherton wrote in `The Australian`.
Atherton felt Australia lacked a good slow bowler, someone who could use the conditions to the hilt.
The presence of a quality spinner, Atherton said, could have made things difficult for India after Mahendra Singh Dhoni`s dismissal at 187 for five.
"With the dismissal of Mahendra Singh Dhoni, who looks as if the time spent filming numerous television commercials has come at the expense of his batting form, India were wobbling at 5-187, chasing 261.”
"A good, experienced slow bowler might have helped to wrap things up for Australia in very helpful conditions, but Jason Krejza, Australia`s solitary frontline spinner, had a poor match and the only wicket to fall to spin came off a rank full toss from David Hussey, a part-time off-break bowler."
The former England opener said that unless Australia find a genuine wicket-taking spinner, they would struggle to regain their aura.
"What many thought to be their Achilles` heel came to haunt them. A pitch -- dry and dusty -- that was tailored for India`s spinners nullified Australia`s pace attack and highlighted once again that they are unlikely to be a serious force until they find a wicket-taking spinner.”
"In truth, as well as lacking a good spinner, Australia`s batting has looked suspect throughout and other than a half-century from Brad Haddin there was precious little support for Ponting," he said.
Yuvraj Singh and Suresh Raina made the chase look easy in the end with their fluent batting but, according to Atherton, the atmosphere was tense till Yuvraj hit the winning run.
"Ultimately, India cantered over the finish line, by five wickets and with 14 balls to spare, but they and millions of onlookers would testify to the tension and closeness of the game.”
"Yuvraj, who often in the past has given the impression of someone who would shy away from, rather than revel in, a taut finish, played majestically in company with Raina. Gradually, India`s challenge is looking more and more serious.”
Atherton said off-spinner R Ashwin`s inclusion has added variety to the Indian attack.
"Ravichandran Ashwin is a good addition to the bowling attack -- adding variety, a fierce competitive streak and an ability to bowl in the powerplay overs -- while Raina`s presence alongside Kohli has increased their athleticism in the field."