The challenge of rebuilding

PTI

Just as it did with Allan Border, Cricket Australia has placed trust on Ricky Ponting to rebuild the team. “I have enjoyed the role, taking up the responsibility in the last couple of years with the younger players around. As a senior player that’s what one is expected to do,” the Australian captain tells G. Viswanath.

Ricky Ponting made his international debut at Basin Reserve, Wellington, during the New Zealand Centenary One- day Tournament in 1995, against South Africa. Nearly 15 summers later he’s the longest serving international cricketer after Sachin Tendulkar, Muttiah Muralitharan and Shivnarine Chanderpaul.

Ponting has become an Australian legend. He’s scored runs aplenty — 11345 runs in 136 Tests and 12044 runs in 324 One-dayers. He is the only Australian batsman who has scored in excess of 10,000 runs in both forms of the game and has led Australia in 61 Tests and 193 one-day internationals. Perhaps the only jarring note in his long and distinguished career has been the back-to-back reverse against England in an Ashes Series in England. He was the captain of the Australian team in 2005 as well as in 2009 and lost both Series 1-2. He may be thinking of another Ashes bid in England; only time will tell if he will succeed.

For two days in Mumbai before flying to Vadodara for the first of the seven matches for the Hero Honda Cup, the 34-year-old did not look perturbed by the recent happenings in England. Coach Tim Nielsen said that the home series against South Africa was a watershed for Australian cricket. Ponting focussed on the missed chances against South Africa in the home series and also the opportunities his team failed to grab in the Ashes. However, he drew satisfaction from the fact that Australia had rebounded in the NatWest one-day internationals and also the ICC Champions Trophy.

Just as it did with Allan Border, Cricket Australia has placed trust on Ponting to rebuild the team. “I have enjoyed the role, taking up the responsibility in the last couple of years with the younger players around. As a senior player that’s what one is expected to do. It’s really a good time for me in my career. It’s a challenge, it’s exciting and I don’t shy away when it comes to rebuilding the side and talking to the younger players. I have probably played the best one-day cricket in the last couple of months,” said Ponting.

Michael Hussey echoed the view that the Ashes would remain a dream series for any Australian cricketer to figure in, especially in England, but Ponting singled out South Africa as one of the toughest opponents he has locked horns with in the last 10 years, although the rainbow nation has had its troubles in the ICC signature events. The Australian captain acknowledged his liking for travelling in India and said the Indian team was a tough opponent in home conditions, especially in one-day internationals. He also said that Australia has enjoyed the growing rivalry with India in recent times.

“The Indians are highly skilled and naturally talented players, particularly in Indian conditions. In the last couple of years, be it Tests or one-dayers, it’s generally been close and tough contests. We now play more against each other. It’s really healthy for the game, the rivalry between India and Australia,” said Ponting.

Ponting has come to India under Mark Taylor and Steve Waugh and as captain himself. Thanks to Waugh’s advice to his players to embrace the local culture and mingle with the milieu apart from his wish to cross the last frontier, there has been a dramatic change in the mindset of an Australian cricketer touring India. Ponting said his experience has been different. “I have played here in India for almost 15 years. I know the country really well. I know what to expect when I tour here. I have myself seen things dramatically change, whether it is hotels or ground facilities, which probably have made tours a lot easier for us from what it used to be for those guys back in the 1970s and 80s. There’s no doubt that the standards around the grounds and food have all changed.”

The present visit though is the first major series in India after the terror attack in Mumbai last November and this has somewhat restricted the movements of the Australian cricketers.

“Things have been a little bit different. The security around the hotel has been a lot stronger and stricter than it has been before. I think that’s expected. We just try and enjoy the tour as much as we can and play the best cricket we can. As far as getting out and probably travelling around a lot, that’s going to be slightly different.

“There is also the fact that during one-day tours there’s not much time between games; it’s all about travelling, a couple of training days and then the game. Most of the things we have experienced here have been during the Test series with a longer preparation going in. We see a few places, that’s part and parcel of any tour. It’s not only this country, but every country we travel to. It’s getting harder to do that with the tours being a lot compact and compressed these days. But cricket-wise we have a proud record in India; we have managed to counter India and perform well here.”

Ponting also spoke about the changes in Australia’s training methods because of the amount of cricket that goes on while on a long tour. “We try to make it a bit different. It all comes down to what the individual wants. We have a great relationship with the coaches.

“The coaches find out two days before a training session as to what the individuals want to get out of it. When I go for training I want the best bowlers to bowl at me with new balls. I want to be facing Brett Lee, Mitchell Johnson and Peter Siddle. Unless I do that I don’t feel I am well prepared. So that’s the one thing I demand. We try and make sure that our training is tailored to the individual needs as much as possible. There are certain times when you have to get things done as a group. We do our fielding with the same intensity as well. Unless you try with intensity, I don’t think you can improve.”

Obviously, Ponting wants the administrators to put an end to the seven-match one-day series. The Australians, who played a seven-match series two years ago, are scheduled to play seven in the ongoing Hero Honda Cup. Seven more have been scheduled in 2010.

“I think seven games are too many, five games are enough in a head to head one-day series. More so if you put in a Test series as well. We played a five-Test Ashes series, two Twenty20 games and then seven one-dayers. That added up to four months in one tour. That’s a long time to be away on one tour. For a one-day series, seven games is not for me. There’s always a Twenty20 or two tagged in a tour. It’s a lot of cricket against one team in a short period of time.”

50 & 20,the dilemma

Ponting on Test and one-day cricket: I am happy with the game as it is at the moment. It’s been very enjoyable and entertaining for us particularly in the last two years playing Test cricket. Keeping the balance between 50-over and 20-over cricket is going to be a great challenge for the administrators. They all understand where the Twenty20 game fits in, but it’s also important to understand where the 50-over game fits in.

The absence of Hayden and Gilchrist at the top of the order: Look at the way Shane Watson finished off the Champions Trophy with back to back hundreds in the semi-final and final. That’s a really good sign for us. Well, Hayden and Gichrist are once in a generation players, Gilchrist in particular. The way he batted was electrifying, he batted with no fear. You need to have some experience under your belt to play that way. We saw David Warner that way (against Victoria Bushrangers in the CLT20 semi-final). He showed what he’s capable of. The openers we had in England and the Champions Trophy, Watson and Paine, they are probably more the steady type players; they play more correct shots, but score at a pretty good rate. I think that can hold you in good stead as well. This is going to be crucial for us in the next few weeks here.

Mitchell Johnson: He’s one guy who is learning a lot about himself after the experience of the Ashes series. It’s the same with all of us. The more you think about the technical side of the game, the harder it always becomes. I have known that for a long time. When I was struggling with my batting, I got back to the basics and started from scratch. So do the basics well and the harder things will follow.

The changing composition of the Australian team: We lost five or six all-time greats in one stroke. Any team that goes through that is going to find it difficult to sustain the level of excellence. We are ranked fourth as a Test team. I think we are better than that. But while we are now rebuilding the side, in a couple of years South Africa will be doing that. The Indian team will also be doing that to a certain degree. It will be interesting to see how these teams rebound. By the time they go through the change, we would be probably having the younger guys having played 30 or 40 Test matches. I think Australia is on the right track. The fact that we remained as competitive in the last couple of years is a good sign for us.

IPL 3: The Australians will play in the second half of IPL 3. I enjoyed playing the first one.