The Complete Cricketer

AP

Ricky Ponting is the finest example of self-belief. To see him take guard is to see a man who has through habit and success achieved a level of assertiveness that brooks no question, writes Ted Corbett.

He is Punter to everyone in the Australian dressing room and beyond, yet at the moment it is a waste of time trying to get a bet on him as he threatens Don Bradman's supremacy as the greatest batsman of all time.

Ricky Ponting is only 31 years old — The Don was still leading his country in 1948 at the age of 40 — and Steve Waugh, another iconic Australian captain, reckons he will eventually hit 50 Test centuries.

If he continues at this rate — and as I write he has made eight hundreds in nine Tests — why should we consider 50 the limit?

A few years ago it would have been thought impossible for anyone to score so heavily. But who would have imagined that Shane Warne would have headed with such a sure touch towards 700 wickets? So much Test cricket is played in this era — 12 to 15 Tests a year by almost every nation — that the old parameters have to be forgotten. The numbers game has changed; the sky is the limit as Sachin Tendulkar, Brian Lara and now Ponting have demonstrated.

Ricky Ponting with his team-mates. The Australian skipper is a worthy successor to Steve Waugh and Mark Taylor, two of the finest captains of the last 20 years.-AP

This Punter is lucky, you will say. It must be easier to score runs in the 21st century than at any other time in the history of cricket.

There is some truth in that. The amount of cricket, both at Test level and in one-day internationals, means that as groundsmen build pitches to last five days — so that the TV moguls get their dollar's worth — there are more centuries on offer.

Bowlers are stretched to breaking point too. Of the major fast bowlers playing in the current Ashes series the majority have been out of the game for long periods because of injury: Glenn McGrath, Andrew Flintoff, the England captain, Steve Harmison, James Anderson all within the past year.

It was a lovely time to be a batsman in the 1920s and 1930s too when words like "featherbed" and "shirtfront" were coined to describe the heartless tracks on which Bradman and Ponsford, Hammond and Hutton accumulated their huge scores.

Ponting has another advantage over other batsmen. He has played in, and now leads, one of the greatest sides of any era. Australia dominate world cricket, pull off victories as they did against England at Adelaide, simply because they believe they are the greatest, because they have done it so often before.

Ponting is the finest example of that self-belief. Watch him walk to the middle like a light infantryman marching to war. To see him take guard is to see a man who has through habit and success achieved a level of assertiveness that brooks no question.

He knows he can score heavily again, even in those early minutes when he is at his most vulnerable he is sure that if he survives one more ball, one more over, yes, 10 more minutes he will be off and running.

We are lucky to have seen him in these years for he is a special talent; and not just as a batsman.

There are experts in England, old players wise in the ways of the game, in what can be achieved by tactical manoeuvring, and how the man holding the reins can get an advantage for his side, who say that Ponting the captain lacks technical skills. These men swear that in the famous Ashes clashes of 2005 Michael Vaughan had the edge. Ponting will answer that he has the trophies to prove that he is a worthy successor to Waugh and Mark Taylor, two of the finest captains of the last 20 years.

No one questions his fielding ability. In his early days as a Test player he kept in the public eye by his catching, his ground work and his ability to hit the stumps on the run.

Now, as he approaches cricket old age, there are no signs that the quickness of his eye or his fleetness of foot are diminishing. The way he ran out Kevin Pietersen at Adelaide is an example of not only the speed at which he moves but also his ability to concentrate during a long innings.

So Ponting is the complete cricketer, even if he no longer bowls that nagging medium pace which brought him one-day wickets in his youth.

Modern cricket demands more. Among the old-timers public relations was not a concept but the arrival of the immediate television interview, the press briefing after every big innings and the captain's press conferences at the beginning and end of every match there is a need for the skipper in particular to be personable and pleasant.

Ponting answers that call as easily as he pulls a bad ball from off stump to the deep mid-wicket boundary so it is no surprise to read that he is a relaxed captain in the dressing room, that he enjoys a joke and that he has time to see that any newcomer is made welcome.

Dog racing is his hobby and he owns two greyhounds that race as if their lives depended on the outcome. You will see the similarity between owner and dog.

Has success changed him? Of course, and for the better. The young Ponting could be irresponsible and slapdash. All that has gone as the responsibilities of leadership have kicked in.

But, as anyone who has contact with him on a daily basis will report, he is cheerful, ready to help and polite. He takes difficult questions in his stride, he offers a nice balance between the acceptance of his own accomplishments and the need to tell the opposition that there are more runs to come.

Ponting can be angry, as he was when he felt England were using too many substitute fielders in their Ashes triumph in 2005 and in particular when one ran him out. Is that a crime? Ponting spoke his mind loudly in public and then apologised as big men do.

We wait to discover how big he may be. That judgement — is he greater than Bradman and Waugh? — will be made when he steps down. Until that moment we should simply enjoy those dapper strokes from a batsman whose ability crosses international boundaries and who makes the bookmakers cringe each time he strides to the crease.