Ponting the best in the world, says Hayden

Published: Tuesday, March 28, 2006, 23:53 [IST]
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Durban:Australian captain Ricky Ponting was hailed by teammate Matthew Hayden as the best batsman in the world after he hit two centuries in a Test match for the third time this season at Kingsmead.

Ponting and Hayden put on 201 for the second wicket to set up an Australian declaration on the fourth day of the second Test against South Africa, but bad light thwarted their push for victory, with play called off soon after tea when South Africa, set an improbable 410 to win, were 29 for no wicket.

Ponting added 116 to his first innings 103, while Hayden hit 102.

"Ricky is head and shoulders the number one in the world," said Hayden.

"On all surfaces and in all conditions he's been a wonderful player for the past 18 months or two years.

"At such a young age he's mastered all conditions. He's a generational player. He's definitely going to be (remembered as) one of Australia's finest for years to come."

Hayden said the weather was a worry, with more cloud and possible rain predicted for Tuesday.

"The pitch seems to have settled down nicely and we'll have to work very hard for our win," he said. "We'll need a full day's play although (leg-spinner) Shane Warne could come into his own. It will turn a lot."

In an attempt to keep play under way in poor light Monday, Ponting used medium-pacer Andrew Symonds and Warne after tea but only another 2.1 overs were bowled before play was called off.

South African coach Mickey Arthur said he was confident his batsmen could save the match.

"It's time for the batters to step up to the plate," he said. "They probably let the bowling unit down in the first innings and I am confident they can do it tomorrow."

Australia piled up 307 for four before declaring. South Africa needed to bat out a possible 131 overs to avoid a series-deciding second successive defeat but the early stoppage reduced that to a possible 98 Tuesday.

It was the second time in three Tests that Ponting, who hit 103 in the first innings, made two centuries in a match against South Africa. He made two hundreds in his 100th Test appearance in Sydney in January.

He also notched twin hundreds against the West Indies in Brisbane in November.

Ponting is only the second man to have scored two centuries in a match on three occasions in a career, joining India's Sunil Gavaskar.

The Australian captain has enjoyed an extraordinary run feast against South Africa this summer.

He made 515 runs at an average of 103 when the sides met in a three-match series in Australia. He has made 294 runs in four innings in the current series. It was his fifth century in his last eight innings against South Africa and the seventh of his career against them.

It was Ponting's 30th Test century, taking him ahead of Don Bradman to fifth place on an all-time list headed by Sachin Tendulkar of India, who has made 35. Steve Waugh, on 32, is the only Australian ahead of him.

Ponting and Hayden were seldom troubled as they took the match beyond South Africa's reach, with the home players looking increasingly dispirited as the partnership progressed. "Our quick bowlers are feeling the effect of a long series," admitted Arthur.

Ponting reached his century off 166 balls, while Hayden needed 209 to reach the same mark. The left-handed Hayden took 130 balls to reach his fifty before picking up the pace of his batting, hitting some powerful offside shots as he moved to his 26th Test century and his sixth against South Africa.

Ponting looked in total command and played some fine strokes, including a pulled six off Shaun Pollock. He was eventually out caught at deep square leg trying to force the pace ahead of a declaration.

Adam Gilchrist struck 22 runs in an over off Andre Nel. There was a verbal confrontation between batsman and bowler after Gilchrist hit a four off the first ball of the over and was missed by AB de Villiers off the next, scoring two runs. Gilchrist hammered the next four deliveries to the boundary.

"Gilly said it all with his bat," said Hayden. "To wind him up is a dangerous thing."

In the next over, Gilchrist was caught by Nel at long-on off left-arm spinner Nicky Boje for 24, made off nine balls. Ponting declared immediately.

Australia won the series in Australia 2-0 and won the first Test of the current series in Cape Town.

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