Cricket: Stage set for Ponting heroics

The stage is set for Ricky Ponting. REUTERS/Stringer
The stage is set for Ricky Ponting. REUTERS/Stringer
Would the real Ricky Ponting please stand up?

There's already been one false alarm, but when the next wicket falls in the defining third Test against South Africa in Perth, retiring champion Ponting will stride to the crease.

Ponting will be on a wave of support not seen since his predecessor as captain Steve Waugh made a career-saving hundred against England at the SCG in 2003 on the last ball of the day.

It's fitting that Ponting joins Waugh as the most capped Australian player of all time (168 Tests) in this his last match.

The Australians resume on Saturday 2-33 in their reply to South Africa's first innings of 225.

Nathan Lyon is not out 7 and David Warner 12.

Just as the Sydney crowd was delirious for Waugh, the Perth faithful erupted late on Friday when No.3 Shane Watson was sent on his way and Ponting was due to walk to the middle.

The cries from the stands were matched by Ponting's nervous wife Rianna.

Only problem was, it was Lyon making his way out to bat as a nightwatchman, and not man-of-the-moment Ponting.

The crowd was so irate when they realised they'd been duped that they decided to boo Lyon.

The first session on day two could go a long way towards sealing the match, the series and the No.1 Test ranking.

A few wickets and Australia will be under enormous pressure, but a vintage performance from Ponting and the home side will be well on their way to stealing top spot in Test cricket from the Proteas.

Ponting has scored 41 Test hundreds, third on the all-time list after Sachin Tendulkar and Jacques Kallis, but a three-figure score in Perth would just about be the best of them.

The 37-year-old has scored just two tons in the past three years and his efforts so far this series have been nought, four and 16.

The odds are stacked against Ponting but, at the same time, he has a golden opportunity to go out with a bang.

He can bat for as long as he wants and play a key innings for Australia.

A big knock would complete the symmetry of his 96 on Test debut in Perth back in 1995 against Sri Lanka, when a poor umpiring decision cost him a hundred.