Ponting hails Johnson’s heroics

RICKY PONTING believes Mitchell Johnson’s “unbelievable” spell of fast, swing bowling transformed not just the third Test but perhaps the entire Ashes series.

Johnson’s first-innings six for 38 — and specifically a fearsome spell of four wickets for seven runs — obliterated England’s frontline batting on day two at the WACA.

The tourists had no answer, faltering from 78 for none to 187 all out in reply to 268.

The consequence, after Michael Hussey’s second hundred of the series had consolidated Australia’s advantage and Ryan Harris had — like Johnson — finished with nine wickets in the match, was home victory by 267 runs less than halfway through the fourth morning.

England must therefore regroup significantly to restate their authority in a series tied at 1-1, with two to play — and Ponting is already expressing his doubts as to whether the opposition’s confidence can recover from Johnson’s battering.

“Mitch’s spell was unbelievable, probably one of the all-time great Ashes spells — and to have that happen when it did, and have him coming into the game under a bit of pressure as well, was an amazing achievement from him and brilliant for the team,” said Ponting.

Johnson could hardly have gone more conspicuously from zero to hero, having been dropped for the second Test after a woeful none for 170 and a 19-ball duck for good measure in last month’s opening draw at Brisbane.

His man-of-the-match performance on his new home ground in Perth began with 62 runs to resuscitate Australia’s first innings from 137 for six, and culminated in match figures of nine for 82 for the left-armer.

“It set up this victory, and (has) no doubt now set up the series for us,” Ponting added.

“It’s transformed him and it’s transformed the way that everybody talks about him and thinks about him as a bowler, whether that’s in this room or in the English dressing room — most importantly in the English dressing room.

“I heard some whispers coming into the game that they had Mitch’s type of bowling worked out and they knew how they were going to play him. I’m not sure if they’re saying that now.”

Ponting was always optimistic that Australia could exploit perceived English vulnerabilities to extreme pace and bounce at this venue, where they have so rarely succeeded.

“I know a lot about their stats and their facts and figures here at the WACA, which don’t make for flattering reading. So I felt this was a good week for us.

“I know for a fact that there are a lot of times the England team come here and make scores below 200 — and we’ve done that to them twice this week.”

Ponting senses a major turning point has been reached for a team who have fallen from first to fifth in the Test rankings and had appeared in grave danger of surrendering the Ashes on home soil in record time.

“We’ve set ourselves, I believe anyway, a new set of standards as far as our Test cricket’s concerned this week,” he said.

The skipper is prepared to leave the decision of whether he is fit for the fourth Ashes Test on St Stephen’s Day until the last minute.

Ponting, 36 yesterday, broke a bone in his left little finger when he parried a catch from second slip to wicketkeeper Brad Haddin.

Ponting tested the injury in warm-ups yesterday morning, he sat out what turned out to be the final session of the match as Australia prevailed by 267 runs on the fourth morning.

Ponting was subsequently named as captain in an unchanged 12-man squad for next week’s Melbourne Test, which will begin with the series all square at 1-1 and two matches to play.

“I’ll have to make the decision close to the game — probably on the morning itself,” he said.

Ponting’s opposite number Andrew Strauss believes it is right that the decision will come down to the man himself.

“That’s always an individual thing on how your hands feel around the bat,” said the England captain.

“It’s never so much the pain — it’s if it restricts your ability to bat. That’s a decision he’ll have to make.”

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