Good Colly! The wonder catch that could seal Ricky Ponting's fate

Ricky Ponting bore the look of a man bemused, a leader who could not believe what the fates had bestowed on him just when he most needed them to look kindly his way.

The Australia captain, who had got off the mark on the first day of the all-important third Test with a streaky four through the vacant fourth slip area, had fallen victim soon afterwards to a quite outstanding catch by Paul Collingwood. He had also been forced to come to terms with the fact that his ship was rapidly sinking.

Ricky Ponting edges a ball off Jimmy Anderson

A bit of a blur: Ricky Ponting edges a ball off Jimmy Anderson and in a flash Paul Collingwood, at third slip, throws himself upwards to his right. Ponting can't believe it... and he's not the only one

It remains to be seen how long it is before Ponting, one of Australia's greats, goes down with that submerging vessel. Ponting, in decline as a batsman for at least the last year and averaging 20 in this Ashes series, is clinging on to the last vestiges of his leadership simply because he cannot believe that his powers are deserting him at precisely the wrong time.

It is actually sad to see what is happening to Australian cricket, even through long- suf fering English eyes, and sad to see Ponting floundering when he has contributed so much to his country as their last great legend still to be alive and kicking.


AUSTRALIA - First innings

S Watson lbw b Finn13
P Hughes b Tremlett2
R Ponting c Collingwood b Anderson12
M Clarke c Prior b Tremlett4
M Hussey c Prior b Swann61
S Smith c Strauss b Tremlett7
B Haddin c Swann b Anderson53
M Johnson c Anderson b Finn62
R Harris b Anderson 3
P Siddle not out35
B Hilfenhaus c Cook b Swann13
3lb 3
(All out 76.0 overs) 268

Fall: 1-2, 2-17, 3-28,  4-36, 5-69, 6-137, 7-189, 8-201, 9-233, 10-268

Bowling: Anderson 20-3-61-3, Tremlett 23-3-63-3, Finn 15-1-86-2, Collingwood 2-0-3-0, Swann 16-0-52-2

ENGLAND - First innings

A Strauss not out  12
A Cook not out 17

(0 wkts 12.0 overs) 29

To bat: J Trott, K Pietersen, P Collingwood, I Bell, M Prior, G Swann, J Anderson, S Finn, C Tremlett.

Bowling: Hilfenhaus 4-2-5-0, Harris 4.0-1-16-0, Siddle 2.0-1-4-0, Johnson 2.0-1-4-0

Surely, though, he will not be alive and kicking for much longer. The Australia captain is on his last legs and may have to resign as early as Sunday or Monday if England build on their first day exploits at the Waca and go on to win this Test, as they should, and retain the Ashes.

Ponting seems utterly powerless to resist the English charge. How he must long for the days of Australian domination. Four years ago Adam Gilchrist smashed England all over Perth and they were forced to concede the Ashes barely 11 days into the campaign after working so hard to win them in 2005.

Now, however, the guard is changing and England are on the brink of backing up their narrow victory in 2009 with a much more comprehensive series win here, what would be the first English Ashes triumph in Australia for 24 years. It would be thoroughly deserved.

England were hugely impressive again yesterday. Australia had displayed the confusion and chaos in their ranks by omitting spinner Michael Beer and preferring an all-pace attack. This was apparently because Ponting had watched the slow left-armer in the nets and could not quite believe that his selectors had thrust him upon Australia.

Simply, Beer, with just five firstclass appearances to his name, was outbowled here by Hampshire's rookie Danny Briggs, joining in the nets with the England Performance Squad. Ponting, for one, could not countenance having Beer in the Australia side.

Enter five quicks and an England captain who was happy to insert the opposition without the threat of a spinner bowling against his side on a last-day pitch.

Strauss may have been happy to throw the ball to his seam attack but he knew that Stuart Broad was missing, Jimmy Anderson was only recently back from his roundthe- world trip to see the birth of his second child and that Steven Finn remained inexperienced and vulnerable to injury.

Chris Tremlett took centre stage instead. Surrey's gentle giant was under enormous pressure - not least because Strauss had decided to bowl first and piled the pressure on an attack with a spearhead who has long had his temperament and character questioned.

Tremlett was equal to the task. His first over to Phil Hughes was simply a work of art and he followed that up by troubling all of Australia's batsmen with the perfect line and length, just backward of a short length, and a maturity that belied his lack of experience and his reputation as being too flaky for his own good. Tremlett, 29, is flaky no more.

Giant strides: 6ft 8in Chris Tremlett enjoyed a superb first day in the Ashes

Giant strides: 6ft 8in Chris Tremlett enjoyed a superb first day in the Ashes

Australia contributed to their own decline, not least Ponting, who played at a ball from Anderson outside off-stump that he could easily have left alone.

His deputy Michael Clarke also played a quite horrible shot at Tremlett that was nothing more than an injudicious flick at another wide ball.

If Ponting is approaching the end of a glorious captaincy reign - and Michael Vaughan says he can see the comparisons between his own era and Ponting's now - Australia need another strong leader who can carry them forward. Is Clarke really that man?

Jumping for joy: James Anderson leaps in the air after dismissing captain Ricky Ponting

Jumping for joy: James Anderson leaps in the air after dismissing captain Ricky Ponting

Strauss cannot allow himself to worry about Australia's problems. He went into the second day knowing that England had kept Australia to a modest score when electing to bowl first, even though Mitchell Johnson, Michael Hussey and Brad Haddin had contributed half-centuries.

Johnson remains the one Australia cricketer with the x-factor, a man who, if he gets it right, could easily bowl Australia back into this contest and the Ashes with one, inspiring spell.

His confidence was lifted by top scoring with the bat, making 62, and England went into the second day knowing they could not let Johnson breach their defences with the ball if they were to maintain their domination of this series.

Tough times: The Australians walk off at the end of day one at the WACA

Tough times: The Australians walk off at the end of day one at the WACA

Australia and umpire Billy Doctrove, exposed by the decision review system yesterday, had bad days but England were in the ascendancy, even without their enforcer Broad.

England were again brilliant in backing up their bowlers - Matt Prior was exceptional behind the stumps - and as clinical as they can be in the field.

All they needed today was for their batsmen to post a decent first-innings score.

Then England could allow themselves to dream.

Delight: Graeme Swann successfully appeals for the crucial wicket of Mike Hussey

Delight: Graeme Swann successfully appeals for the crucial wicket of Mike Hussey

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