|Player:||RT Ponting, MA Taylor, SR Waugh, A Flintoff, SR Tendulkar, SM Gavaskar, BC Lara, RS Dravid, MEK Hussey|
DateLine: 21st November 2006
Ricky Ponting's captaincy will be under scrutiny in his jousts with counterpart Andrew Flintoff after being derided as the Australian skipper who lost the prized Ashes to England.
Perhaps no Australian player absorbed more of the blame for last year's Ashes loss after 16 years than Ponting. Ponting, who inherited an ageing Australian team after golden eras under Mark Taylor and Steve Waugh, was lambasted for his tactics and consensus approach to the captaincy as England ran the show to win the epic series 2-1. Constant reminders over the last 14 months of his unwanted place in Australian cricket history have spurred the 31-year-old Tasmanian to declare the lessons have been learnt and now it's time to retrieve the urn. "We will be a better team this time around. We've looked at ourselves closer than before the last Ashes. We've identified what might have held us back last time," Ponting said. "I don't think there's going to be too much drastic change - we just made a lot of mistakes last time. The no balls we bowled, we put a lot of catches down, when we had partnerships going, we managed to make a mistake that got England back into the game, or Andrew Flintoff came on and got a wicket. They're things we won't allow to happen again. It's at home, and we play very well at home." Ponting, earlier this month crowned the ICC Test Player of the Year and Player of the Year, says he will remain consultative, despite doubts from outside about whose team it is. "I've done that since the first one-day game I captained and won a World Cup undefeated doing that sort of stuff," he said. "I'm not going to keep everyone happy all the time. That's what I know and realise. As long as I'm keeping this team happy that's what matters to me." Captaincy apart, Ponting is a prime member of this all-star Australian team. Since the last Ashes series Ponting, batting at No.3, has scored eight centuries in 11 Tests and overall has amassed 31 Test hundreds in 105 matches, placing him fifth all-time behind Sachin Tendulkar (35), Sunil Gavaskar (34), Brian Lara (33) and Steve Waugh (32). He has accumulated 8,792 runs, the ninth all-time highest in Test cricket. His 58.23 Test average is only bettered among his comtemporaries by teammate Mike Hussey (75.93) and India's Rahul Dravid (58.76). Ponting has led Australia in 30 Tests and lost only three, although two of those losses painfully came at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge last year against England. He has been accused of being too conservative. The night watchman and third man have returned, fieldsmen have been spread to the boundary and follow-ons are often not enforced. "I don't know if I'm any less attacking or not. I try and go with the momentum of the game. If there's a chance for us to really attack then I'll do that, but if we're getting smacked around why have three slips, no third man and a short leg?" he said. But where Ponting is like his predecessor Waugh is dallying in mind-games with his opponents. "I think the pressure's probably on England," Ponting said ahead of the series. "There's more questions being asked of them and their team and their fitness than there is of us. Our record this year has been very good, their's has not been so good. They've won five of their 13 Tests (since the 2005 Ashes) and we've won 11 of our 12." But Ponting's dilemma is that he is in charge of a team that contains nine players aged 30 or more and several are expected to retire over the next six months leaving him with the monumental task of leading a generational rebuilding phase in Australian cricket.