India has been gripped by Australia fever'. Two months ago the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) appointed the Commonwealth Bank Cricket Academy's Head Coach, Rodney Marsh, as the consultant for their National Cricket Academy (NCA) in Bangalore. Then Greg Chappell visited three Indian cities to sell his special programme on sports management that he is conducting at the Griffiths University in Brisbane and hired Ricky Ponting to conduct cricket clinics in Mumbai, Bangalore and New Delhi. And lastly, not a cricketer, but a former Olympian swimmer who won a gold medal in the 1500 metres freestyle event at Rome in I960. John Konrads launched the "Australia 2000' event in Mumbai for Fosters India Limited.
For Ponting, back in the Australian squad after an injury for the historic three-match series against South Africa to be played at the Indoor Colonial Stadium, Docklands, Melbourne in August, it was a completely different experience. He was in Mumbai to teach the basics and the nuances of the game to a group of youngsters. Ponting has always believed in going back to the 'basics' when his form has been in question and more often than not, he has come back revitalised.
"It has been frustrating to be away from all the action." said the ‘Tasmanian Tiger' or 'Punter' as he is known to most. Ponting had hurt his ankle while fielding at the Sydney Cricket Ground in February in the second final of the Carlton United Series against Pakistan and was forced to miss the short series in New Zealand and the three one-day internationals in South Africa.
Ricky Thomas Ponting, born on December 19, 1974 made his first class debut at 17 and straightaway rewrote the record books. He became the youngest to score a century in first class cricket and also the youngest to do so in each innings. The two years at the Australian Cricket Academy under Rodney Marsh gave him a huge boost. A sure shot selection (at No. 3) for one-day internationals, he took some time to establish himself in the Australian team for Tests, but his success last summer made the selectors nominate him as vice-captain.
Ponting bats at No. 6 in Test matches. In 34 games he has made 2233 runs (highest 197 against Pakistan) with seven centuries and 10 fifties for a 47 plus average. In 101 one-day internationals he has made 3611 runs with six centuries and 20 half-centuries for an average which is over 40.
He stayed clear of controversy while answering questions on 'match-fixing' at the press get-together in Mumbai, except for reiterating that he was approached by a bookmaker once. Given an opportunity, he said, he would like to play in the English County cricket championship, where more than a dozen Australians are playing this season.
What goes into making an Australian cricketer? And how different is it from the rest?
I think it has got a lot to do with our first class cricket in Australia. The cricketers we are producing now are all very exciting, guys who back themselves in any given situation, guys who score runs very quickly, bowlers who try and bowl you out all the time. We have seen very few Test matches in the last three or four years ending in draws. And that's something that stems from our first class cricket. And what we try and achieve in four days is a result. No one wants to play for a draw. Australian cricketers try to be winners all the time. They play with a lot of flair. I am sure a lot of Indian and Pakistan players have flair, but I think it's the winning part of it which has made the Australians the top-notch team. We perform and help out our teammates. That's where we are very strong...how well we have gone on together. When we get on to the field, every one wants to do as much as he can and help his mates out and be part of the winning side.
When we get into trouble, that's something worth speaking about. Like when we are three or four down for not many, we think of a partnership. Then we decide to save the situation not for ourselves, but for the guys in the dressing room and getting the team back into the game. I think it's the will to achieve something with our mates that drives us to perform.
Would you say that such an attitude was evident in the big Langer-Gilchrist stand in the Test against Pakistan last summer?
If you look back at that partnership you would notice Langer and Gilchrist looking at the dressing room quite often and saying, "We are going to do this for you guys". They were getting runs not so much for themselves personally, but were concerned about the situation of the series and doing it for the guys sitting in the dressing room. It was not that they did not want to let themselves down, but they did not want to let us down back in the change rooms. Once they got a sniff that they were going to be there till the end, they made sure they did it and not leave the job to any one else to do.
Which are the areas in which Australia is far ahead of the rest of the world? It is said that the South Africans are closer to Australian standards than the others.
I would agree with that a bit. The South Africans play a similar brand of cricket. Their personalities are similar to the Australians as well. They play (the game hard and tough on the field). But as I said, it's our physical side of it. We have athletes in the side. We always turn half chances into chances because we have guys who can move quickly and save a few runs and come out with a freakish run out from nowhere hitting the stumps a lot more than most other sides do. So our physical preparation, the way we train and the other things we do contribute a lot to the team. This is the area in which we set very high standards.
There has been talk of 'inputs' from each and every Australian player in the dressing room. What happens in the Australian dressing room before a match?
It's not so much just before we get on to the ground. It's the night before in the team meetings. We have pretty in-depth team meetings and game plans we take into every game. Quite often what we did right through the World Cup was that every one was given an opposition player to study. His strengths and weaknesses had to be judged and any other comments were also welcome. It gave everyone a chance to stand up in the meeting and say what he thought. They were all contributing which is always good. We were all going in the same direction, doing the extra little things. Even a one per cent thing for your teammates goes a long way in achieving great team spirit which is what you need to win.
You spent two years at the Australian Cricket Academy. Greg Chappell said the academy has given the cutting edge to the top class performers, who would have any way played for Australia.
One of the Cricket Academy's attributes is it speeds up everyone's learning process. I left school at the age of 15 and straightaway went into the academy. And by the time I was 17. I was into first class cricket. I am sure it happens a lot in India and Pakistan as well, but it doesn't happen very much in Australia. Young guys are not introduced to the game. It never used to be at a very early age in Australia because of the depth of players we had.
So what it did to me was great. I trained six days a week. We always had at the Academy the best coaches...Ian Chappell and Greg Chappell, John Inverarity and Dennis Lillee..., Ashley Mallett and Rodney Marsh... all those guys coming and helping us wherever they could. We learned a lot about how skilled a first class cricketer needed to be, the mental side of things and goal-setting and physical preparation as well. All this came at a young age...I played first class cricket at a very young age and it helped me. We have pretty in-depth team meetings and game plans we take into every game. To get into Australian cricket at a young age, when you learn all those things you plan to play cricket for Australia at a young age. You learn a hell of a lot in the first couple of years being there. I am 25 now. I have played four years of Test cricket. I have still got a long way to go. There is a lot of cricket ahead of me still.
A lot of people in England get into Test cricket at 24 or 25. And it takes two or three years to really learn what it takes to succeed at Test level. Once they do that. they are only left with a couple of years in top class cricket. Whereas the Cricket Academy helped me with all that and I have already
played for four years.
So would you say that the Sheffield Shield prepares you for Test cricket straightaway?
By the time one finishes at the Academy, he is ready for Sheffield Shield cricket. Definitely. And one is ready to play for Australia in four to five years, depending on how strong his contribution has been. That's the reason a lot of guys who have come into the Australian side in the last four years have been able to succeed in international cricket. That says a lot about our first class cricket.
Would you say that the Australian Cricket Board (ACB) is inclined to send a team to one of the countries in the sub-continent once in three years or more frequently to get used to the conditions?
Australia lost to India in 1998, but beat Pakistan in Pakistan. I think we have still a long way to go in the sub-continent. Our target was to beat India in India. We have beaten Pakistan and Sri Lanka. It's all mental. We are probably thinking too much about the wickets and spin bowlers and not about the game. But that's (winning a Test series in India) certainly one mountain we can hope to climb next summer here.
Obviously you must have been disappointed at missing the tour to New Zealand?
I deliberately stayed away watching too much on television. If I had seen every ball of every match, it would have been more frustrating. I saw a bit of action, but spoke to the guys a lot. But yes, it was frustrating, watching cricket from home (he was on crutches for two months) when records were being broken. Well, I have done that (diving into the fence) may be a hundred times before and never come out like this before. I will be thinking about doing it again. Well, everyone in the Australian team would have done that. We are always desperate to save runs on the field and score as many runs as possible. We are always hungry to win games.
(This interview was first published in Sportstar on July 22, 2000)
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