From the publishers of THE HINDU

K. C. VIJAYA KUMAR

RICKY PONTING has a tough job in hand, after taking over the one-day captaincy from the redoubtable Steve Waugh. But Ponting has done his best, mapping his own path.

"I learnt a lot watching Stephen (Waugh) but every captain has his style and I have my own individual approach," the Aussie one-day team captain says. Ponting was in Bangalore to inaugurate and also to conduct a few coaching sessions of the 'Parle-G Make My Dream Come True' cricket clinic.

It is early days for Ponting, the one-day skipper. But is happy with his start. "We played outstanding cricket and won the one-day series in South Africa and though we lost to Pakistan back home, I am happy with our performance," he says.

Waugh remains the Test team captain. However, Ponting is aware of his chances of succeeding Waugh in the Test arena too. "But I am not losing sleep over it," he says.

Nicknamed the 'Punter', for his gambling instinct, Ponting had a few off-field lows - a brawl at a Kolkata night club for instance.

Ponting claims he is no longer brash. "Look, being captain has not changed me as a person but I have mellowed down over the years and I guess the ACB authorities noticed this before giving me the honour of leading Australia in the one-dayers. And recently I got married and that does stabilise things," he says.

Ponting was once dropped on disciplinary grounds. And now he says he has clamped down on 'personal sledging.' The Aussies have sanctified sledging with a euphemism - 'mental disintegration.'

Even Ponting had his blind spots. Not long ago, he was quite rude with an apologetic Srinath after the Indian speedster had hurt the Aussie batsman with his delivery. "There is nothing wrong in being aggressive but I have made it clear to my mates that personal sledging will not be accepted. We need to tidy up our image," Ponting says.

"We are proud to play for our country and give more than a 100 per cent and we are a terrific bunch of pals playing together and that raises our game to a higher level," he says.

When asked who will be the champion Test team? Ponting places Australia as the firm favourite for the tag.

"Winning 16 Tests in a row is no mean achievement. Yes we did lose to India in our last tour out here but if you look at our overall record, it is obvious that we are the best," he says and his words reflect a punch.

Crystalball gazing is tough and Ponting gets pragmatic to a query on World Cup prospects. "Australia, South Africa, India, Pakistan, England and New Zealand are all capable teams. Last year, New Zealand ran us hard and now we lost to Pakistan. But my team is shaping well and will be up there among the contenders for the World Cup. We also have pretty good reserve strength. Say for instance Matthew Hayden, Michael Bevan and Glenn McGrath get injured, I think we still do have players who can adequately step into their shoes.

"And fielding will be crucial, we should be hitting the stumps and taking our catches," says the man who is ranked alongside Jonty Rhodes and Herschelle Gibbs in the fielding.

Captaincy is a matter of honest appraisal. "I have to work on my consistency factor. I have these major highs and then I have these real bad lows. I need to straighten that graph a little bit," he says.

Ponting made just 17 runs, averaging 3.40, in the Test series in India during 2001. "Oh, that was really bad. In the first Test at Mumbai, I played forward to Harbhajan and was caught at short-leg. I thought I did the right thing in going forward and yet Harbhajan was tough to figure out. In fact in a tour game before the Tests, I scored runs off the likes of Hirwani and Sarandeep Singh. But after that dismissal, I tried everything, playing back, using the sweep but it just didn't work," he says while trying to figure out the young Sikh who dismissed him on five occasions. "May be next time around, I should trust my own technique," he adds.

His views on Brett Lee's performance. "Let's get this clear, I never told Brett Lee to cut down on his pace because guys like him and Shoaib (Akhtar) can blow away the batsmen.

"But if you look at the figures where say McGrath has a 10-over spell giving only 35 runs and then Lee goes for 60 in 10, then both put together will be nearly 100 in 20. And that I don't accept because he is also upsetting the gains made by McGrath. All I told Lee is to keep it tight. I am sure in the World Cup there will come a time when we need a tight 10-over spell from Lee. And I expect him to do that job," he says.

The man from Launceston in Tasmania was inspired by his Statemate, David Boon. Ponting had a training stint at the Commonwealth Bank Cricket Academy in Adelaide. But ask Ponting to pick one cricketer who has inspired him in recent times and pat comes the reply: "Steve Waugh."

"Steve Waugh's achievements are terrific. His single-minded approach and tough attitude has rubbed off not only on me but on the entire team," he says.

Right now Ponting is under learning process. All he now wants is to "go out there and perform."