2nd April 2012, 02:30 PM
Ponting enters new phase
When David Boon lost his place in Australia's ODI team, he felt entirely uneasy about spending time on the couch between Tests.
His feeling of displacement was compounded when he returned to the side for the 1995 Boxing Day match against Sri Lanka, to be greeted by a bevy of back-slaps and "good to have you back" sentiment. To be a bit-part player in Australian cricket did not sit well with Boon, and he retired at the end of the series.
Ricky Ponting was then a precocious, goateed member of Mark Taylor's team, and the heir apparent to Boon's No. 3 batting spot. Years later, Ponting is now cast in much the same role as his fellow Tasmanian had been, a senior Test man surplus to the team's ODI concerns. So far, Ponting is sharing none of Boon's discomfort with a reduced role, and said in Bridgetown that if anything, his enthusiasm has been enhanced by the time away from the dressing room that had been his domain for so long.
Unlike Boon shifting uncomfortably in his seat in front of the TV during those World Series matches, Ponting had less time to contemplate his new arrangement. A heavy late season schedule with Tasmania, with the team making it to both Ryobi One-Day Cup and Sheffield Shield finals, kept Ponting busy until a few days before his West Indies departure, and helped assuage any lingering pain about the loss of his ODI place.
"I'm not sure freshened up is the right word because I've probably ended up playing more cricket than these guys," Ponting said. "The last few weeks I've had three Shield games and the one-day final so I've had plenty of cricket under my belt. Because I was playing as much as I was, I probably didn't keep an eye on the international stuff as much as I normally do.
"I was so focussed on what I was trying to do with Tassie [Tasmania] that I've sort of been away from the national set-up a little bit. To join the boys this week has been good. There's a good feeling around the group, switching back to the Test arena now and the preparation's been good. I suppose when you've been away from international cricket for a little bit it does make you that little bit more excited about it."
Taking out the five consecutive slim scores that tipped him out of the limited-overs calculations, Ponting has been in his best touch for some years, clattering runs against India and then doing likewise for Tasmania in domestic matches. Though he did not fare well in a hotly contested and narrowly lost Sheffield Shield final in Brisbane, Ponting said he was ready to ensure the Indian summer proved to be more than a final fling.
"That's what it's all about. International cricket's not about having one good series here or there, it's about being consistent and putting performances on the board game after game," he said. "The Indian Test series was great. It had been a long time between drinks since I'd had a series like that and to come out of that and play well in the games I played for Tassie was satisfying."
"To know the hard work I've been doing is paying off is satisfying as well. That's what this week's all about now, making sure I get that preparation spot on and am ready to go for the three-day game, get something out of that which I can then take into the Test matches."
At the back of Ponting's mind is England, and it has not escaped his or anyone else's attention that the holders of the Ashes have stuttered noticeably in recent months. Swept 3-0 by Pakistan, Andrew Strauss' team is now facing another series defeat in Sri Lanka, and it is now possible that Australia and England will trade places in the ICC rankings if Michael Clarke's team dominates West Indies.
"It goes to show we're on the right track to turning our cricket around and probably goes to show that England might have been at the start of the end of their cycle," Ponting said. "It's really hard to stay up and dominate international cricket as long as we did a few years ago."
"England have got a taste of it up there for a little bit and have started to struggle a bit in their last couple of series. When you're up the top and you've got everyone trying to chase you, it's hard to maintain that."
So long as he feels comfortable and useful in the Test team, and so long as his performances merit selection, Ponting can retain hope of facing England again next year. Then, as Boon did 16 years before, he will have the chance to end his career with the Ashes safely in Australia's keeping.
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