Australian legend Ricky Ponting has scored a total of 71 international hundreds, 41 of those in Test cricket. But, in his words, he has never been almost as nervous as he was when he was batting on 99 and on the cusp of his first Test ton back in 1997. Fittingly, it came during the Ashes in England and is still considered one of his best performances in the format.
The Australian, who had been dismissed on an agonising 96 on debut in 1995, had played six Tests before this. And he was also making a comeback after being dropped, adding to the pressure of an away Ashes series.
“That was vital for me. I got picked on the Ashes tour, only in the touring squad, but I didn’t play the first three Tests of that series and came in for the fourth, in Michael Bevan’s spot,” Ponting was quoted as saying by cricket.com.au on the anniversary of the innings.
The series was poised at 1-1 and after the first innings at Headingley, Australia were in a good position after Jason Gillespie took 7/37 to skittle England for 172.
However, Australia crumbled to 50/4 in response with the likes of Mark Taylor and the Waugh brothers back in the pavilion. In walked a young Ponting and went on to give a glimpse of his impending greatness with a fluent century.
By stumps on day two, Ponting had raced to 86 not out with a gorgeous display of stroke-making. By the third day – on 26 July, 1997 – the then 22-year-old had brought up his first Test century. The first of 41 Test tons, the third most in cricket history.
“That’d be as close as any [to my best.] I remember that day, just really being on top of things and feeling really at home at the crease. The ones that actually mean the most to you are probably the ones that you think you played better in anyway, so the first one is always going to be remembered a bit more but I just thought I played really well,” he said.
His stylish 127 came off 202 balls and was studded with 16 boundaries and a six. He shared a solid 268-run stand with Matthew Elliott which put the match decidedly in Australia’s favour. He was finally dismissed by Darren Gough while Elliott himself was out on 199 later and Australia eventually declared at 501/9.
They dismissed England for 268 and won the match by an innings and 61 runs, with Gillespie being named player of the match for his nine wickets in the match. But in hindsight, the highlight of this match was the making of an all-time great.
Watch the highlights of the innings here: