Ricky Ponting is a name that will give many bowlers nightmares, and while many would have tipped the former skipper to have retired by now, he’s still going strong. Plus he’s notched up some meaty first-class runs ahead of the series against South Africa. By ANT SIMS.
One of the things that makes Test cricket special is the rivalry it weaves. Between countries, between players. The magic of a series can be passed on to generations to come. And few rivalries are as fierce as that between South Africa and Australia. There is palpable tension surrounding any meeting of the two sides, and everybody has their favourite memory of previous tours.
Ricky Ponting is a familiar foe, although the Proteas had his number the last time the two sides met. He passed double figures just once in the 2011 series, scoring 62 in the second innings of the second Test. The former skipper has been piling on the runs in the Sheffield Shield competition, and in three domestic matches in Australia, he's notched up 350 runs at an average of 175 – with an unbeaten 162 as his top score.
Ponting knows he’ll be up against it, and rates the South African attack – across the board – as one of the best.
“They've probably got the best bowling attack in the world, and arguably the best batting line-up as well – now with Mark Boucher going out of their side, as good a player as he was, and as good a keeper as he was – with De Villiers taking the gloves, they can afford to play a specialist batsman at number seven. And we know how good Steyn, Philander and Morkel have been for them over the years. They've got the class all-rounder in Kallis, so they've got most bases covered there,” Ponting told Ian Chappell in an interview with the Telegraph.
The former skipper also knows, though, that to be the best, you have to beat the best, and that is exactly the challenge Australia faces in the next few weeks.
“But I guess for us, if we want to get back to the number one team in the world, we've got to beat the best. At the moment they're the best, and we'll see how we go against them over the coming weeks.”
Ponting resigned from captaincy in March last year, and admits that while it was a difficult decision, he did it to help the transition of the new skipper go as smoothly as possible.
“I've wanted to be a successful part of a very successful team, and that's really what keeps me motivated now. I've always enjoyed working with the younger guys as well. I think I've got a lot to offer them and help them to develop that little bit quicker than they would playing with guys of the same age, so that's a big part of my role in the team now, almost as a mentor to some of the younger guys,” Ponting said.
He also acknowledged that competing, and the passion that goes with it, was something which had never faded for him – and the feverish battle between bat and ball keeps him invested.
“It’s the thrill of the contest that keeps me wanting to play. That, for me, has never diminished, and it probably won't even once I have retired from the game. That challenge of batsman versus bowler is still as exciting for me as ever. Every net session I have, it's that way, and every time I go out in the middle, it's that way, so that's what keeps me going.”
Rumours around his demise have been greatly exaggerated, though. While his batting average since stepping down is still at 44.68 – a little bit below his overall average of 52.75 – he is under no delusion about his future.
“I'm a realist, and I'll understand that if there [are] players out there who can play the game better than me, I'll be the first to accept it and walk away. I'm not going to let it get to the stage where the selectors drop me,” Ponting said.
“I think I'll identify the right time. Everyone I've spoken to that's retired has said they've felt when it's the right time, when they can't find it in themselves to elevate their game. I haven't felt that yet at all, so I know it's not the right time. I'm just going to prepare for the Brisbane test match, hopefully get a few there, and see what happens.”
There’s no doubt that the Proteas’ pace trio will be baying for Ponting’s blood when the two teams step over the ropes. But there is nobody quite so fiercely determined as the Tasmanian, and there’s no team that would fire him up more than that old foe, South Africa. DM
Photo: Australian cricket player Ricky Ponting speaks during a news conference in Sydney February 21, 2012. Ponting said he will continue to play test cricket, but doesn't expect to play one-day cricket for Australia any more. REUTERS/Daniel Munoz