Ponting among the best

Ponting is the finest ALL-ROUND batsman in the world today. He has demonstrated this in all the countries he has played in and with the added responsibility of captaincy.

Ricky Ponting's extraordinary batting performances since Australia's disappointing Ashes series last year have raised the inevitable comparison between him and Sir Donald Bradman. One of the television channels even asked its viewers to say yes or no to a question, can Ricky Ponting be compared to the great Don? Not surprisingly, 67 percent of the viewers said yes.

You would have thought there had to be a great percentage of the viewers in the young or very parochial group. As for my views on the comparison, I would say it is an impossible task to compare players of two different eras. For instance, you have to take into account the quality of the opposing teams, the laws of the game, the batting conditions and the quality of the wickets and the strength of your own team. So many unanswerable questions.

I suppose you could rely on statistics as a common factor, but it can be dramatically altered by the above considerations. Generally, statistics alone from one era to another do not give a true comparison, but in the case of Bradman they do.

When I am asked to compare Bradman's record to other fine batsmen I always demur and suggest that since his statistics are so far above all other batsmen, we should place him above all and then discuss the rest. For example, Bradman averaged 99.94 in Test cricket, while Ponting's average after the second Test against South Africa in Durban is 58.14. Of all players who have played a minimum of 20 Tests, the closest to Bradman is South Africa's great Graeme Pollock, who averaged 60.97.

Ricky Ponting took 102 Tests to equal Bradman's 29 Test centuries, achieved in just 52 Tests. Knowing Ricky, he would be embarrassed by the comparisons between Bradman and himself. In a recent interview, when attention was drawn to his scoring the same number of Test centuries as Bradman, he remarked wryly: "True, but it took me twice as many Tests." An honest reply from a very realistic cricketer.

How good a player is Ricky Ponting?

In my view, he is right up there with the wonderful players of world cricket such as George Headley and Everton Weekes (both West Indies), Herbert Sutcliffe, Eddie Paynter, Ken Barrington and Wally Hammond (all England), who have averaged over 58 in their Test careers. Undoubtedly, Ponting is the finest all-round batsman in the world today. He has demonstrated this in all the countries he has played in and with the added responsibility of captaincy. Of the nine batsmen who stand above him and below Bradman, only Wally Hammond was captain of his country.

The demands of captaincy and the strain that it imposes has seen the decline of many a fine batsman. The latest victim of the pressures of captaincy is South Africa's Graeme Smith, who has had a dreadful run in recent Tests against Australia, both in Australia and at home.

I first saw Ponting when I was coaching Australia and visited the Australian Cricket Academy as a guest coach. He was 16 at the time and hit the ball with a fluency that I had never seen in a 16-year-old before.

Even at that stage of his career he hit the ball with portentous timing and great power. He was a natural athlete and ball sports came easily to him. His dad was a professional golfer. Ponting himself is a superb golfer who still plays off a three handicap.

I first got to know Ricky a few years later when he was selected in an Australian XI against a visiting team. He had made his debut for Tasmania at 17, and made an immediate impact. In those days these Australian XI matches were viewed as an ideal opportunity to assess the young and up and coming players in a tougher environment than the Sheffield Shield. They were approached as though they were a Test match and had the Australian support team, as small as it was in those days, in charge.

As Australian coach I put the team through the same procedures as I would the Test XI. We found these games invaluable as they quickly pointed out those with the heart and mind for higher honours and those who were happy to be Sheffield Shield cricketers. Ricky, to say the least, made an inauspicious beginning, as it needed a call from our Manager to wake him up and get him to the ground barely 30 minutes before the match.

On the field he was all concentration and committed. He was a superb all-round fielder. While he had completed two years at the academy, he still needed some fine-tuning. He tended to over-balance occasionally when pushing forward and gave the impression that he was trying to hit the ball on the run and this made him vulnerable to the ball moving away. It has always been my view that any technical problem with your batting that you sorted out earlier in your career will lie dormant and would return to haunt you. Ricky is a magnificent player today, but early in his innings he could still get into trouble by playing forward "on the run." If you don't get him out early by capitalising on this problem of his, he will make you pay big time.

Ricky works the ball too much on the on side, but he does it so well that it is his main scoring shot. Against Pakistan in Australia two seasons ago he had scored 80 runs out of the 95 he had made then through strokes on the leg side. This says much for Ricky's leg side ability, but much more about the line the Pakistanis bowled.

Pound for pound Ponting is the biggest hitter of a cricket ball I have seen. His timing, placement and power are, as they say so often these days, awesome.

Ponting's amazing run of centuries have been well deserved and a joy to watch. He has displayed wonderful concentration and has a style that is always pleasing. I don't think there is any great secret to his success, for at present he is judging the length of the ball perfectly and this is giving him the extra time and security to get into the right position as quickly as any other batsman I have seen. Some of his hooking is reminiscent of the great Don Bradman and no praise is higher than that.

We should not forget his fielding too; it is a joy to watch. He is undoubtedly the best all-round fielder in the game. When Jonty Rhodes was playing some suggested he was better than Ponting. Jonty was certainly a wonderful fielder, but whenever there was a chance of a run out, Ricky hit the stumps with greater regularity than Jonty.