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Pratt recalls making fool of Ponting

In the Trent Bridge Ashes Test of 2005 Andrew Flintoff fired a rapid century, Simon Jones snared an economical five-for and England snuck a nerve-jangling win. However, many remember the game for the brief intervention of relatively unknown substitute fielder Gary Pratt.

The 23-year-old Durham batsman was on for the injured Jones while captain was Ricky Ponting determined to wipe out England’s lead after Australia followed on for the first time since 1988-89.

Ponting, whose 156 almost single-handedly saved the previous Test at Old Trafford, was well set on 48 when Damien Martyn called him through for a risky single off Flintoff on the third evening. Pratt, swooped from the covers and hurled a direct-hit at the foot of the striker’s stumps with Ponting just short of making his ground.

The third umpire confirmed the dismissal and a fuming Ponting trudged off before launching a tirade towards those on England’s dressing room balcony, expressing his displeasure at the hosts’ use of substitute fielders in the series. His complaint in this situation was misplaced though because fast bowler Jones, who has not played a Test since, was in hospital with an ankle problem.

Following Ponting’s departure, Australia set England 129 to move 2-1 up with a match to go. They uneasily knocked off those runs on the fourth evening, a Sunday, to establish what became the series’ eventual scoreline.

Speaking exclusively to ecb.co.uk, Pratt recalled: “The game was kind of not going anywhere when I went on the field because Simon Jones was injured. There was not much happening for the England lads. Australia were looking pretty comfortable.

“It sometimes takes something like a run-out to change a game. Fortunately it did and it fell to me. The game kind of changed from there really. It was pretty fortunate for England and for myself.”

Pratt, now 31, was regarded as one of the best fielders in the United Kingdom and was used to being 12th man for England, having first done so in 2003 and intermittently continued that role through to the thrilling Edgbaston Test of 2005.

“It was pretty instinctive really,” he said of Ponting’s run-out. “It’s like a day-to-day job when you do it day in, day out; you see something and do it.

“It’s just like laying a brick. A brick-layer would just pick a brick up and slap it on, where as if you or I were to do it we would have to look a bit more in depth. It was just a normal thing really.”

As for Ponting’s reaction, Pratt believes the outburst was aimed at the then England coach.

“I think he was more annoyed, not at me, at Duncan Fletcher. But Duncan Fletcher didn’t even see the situation happen,” he continued. “I think it was more similar situations before that. It was really stuck in his throat before that.

“It wasn’t really that incident, because that incident was a genuine one where Simon Jones was actually in hospital. It was pretty unfortunate for that to happen at that time because he (Ponting) didn’t really have a leg to stand on.”

Pratt knows such spleen is not typical of Ponting, who was booed by crowds for the rest of the series.

“I saw him up at the Riverside, at Durham, a couple of years ago and he’s a great guy, a fantastic player and he was a fantastic captain,” Pratt revealed.

“Anybody that reads anything into his mouth or anything like that, it was just heat of the moment and absolutely nothing bad by it whatsoever really. He’s just a really good, nice fella.”

Pratt was not able to witness first-hand England’s nervy win the next day as he was summoned by Durham captain, and Ponting’s limited-overs international team-mate, Mike Hussey for the visit of Scotland in which he did not feature.

“Mike Hussey called me back to Durham for a one-day game the next day. So I don’t know if that was something to do with it. A little bit petit from the Australians I thought it was,” he joked.

With the Ashes on the line at The Oval, Pratt’s fielding was again required by England. This time he was present at the game’s conclusion and was part of the famous celebrations, including the open-top bus parade the next day.

“It was absolutely fantastic to see that many people out there,” he added. “The lads weren’t expecting it. They were expecting one man and his dog to be out there, but it was absolutely amazing to see the scenes at Trafalgar Square and stuff like that.”

Despite having exceeded 1,000 first-class runs two years earlier, Pratt did not represent Durham in that format during 2005. He gained a contract extension but was released after the 2006 season and was not signed by another first-class county.

Pratt has since played in the Minor Counties game for Cumberland, whom he captains along with Richmondshire Cricket Club in North Yorkshire. He works in Bishop Auckland at a cricket shop where he still gets recognised for running Ponting out.

“They do, more so when the Ashes comes round,” he admitted. “Word gets out there and people do just come in. It’s good because people like that kind of thing.”

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