Ponting knows he must contribute in Adelaide
Five balls, no runs, one innings. It wasn't much, but in a world of instant judgements and enthusiastic speculation that was all it took for Ricky Ponting to shift in public perception from the best-performed domestic batsman so far this season to one of the more supposedly vulnerable members of the Australian Test team to face South Africa in Adelaide.
Having already weathered one helluva storm this time last year against South Africa and New Zealand to keep his Test career intact, Ponting knows the score. No longer the captain, no longer a multi-format player, he is well aware that another brief stay at the crease in Adelaide will push him further still towards an exit before his desired date with Ashes reckoning in England and Australia next year.
"I don't mind it, I don't shy away from it," Ponting said of the pressure, either real or imagined, he now found himself under. "I've been around enough and played in enough high-pressure situations, whether it's a big game or a game where you're under pressure because you haven't scored runs yourself. Most players who've played international cricket have found themselves in that position at least once in their career. It's not always plain sailing; it's the way cricket's supposed to be.
"International cricket and Test cricket is about being challenged all the time, and as I say year after year it's about reinventing yourself as a player because opposition teams are going to be very well planned against you, they're going to target your weaknesses and not give you too much in your strength areas, so that's what it's all about. A disappointing week for me, a very good week for the team and I've just got to make sure I'm contributing this week."
Ponting's most recent reinvention began in South Africa, when he eradicated a technical hitch that had him out LBW in three consecutive innings. He endured further struggles against New Zealand in Hobart before righting the ship against India and contributing in the West Indies. Nonetheless, two previous ducks against South Africa in 2011 have been conveniently strung together with Ponting's nought in Brisbane to suggest this is one obstacle he may struggle to overcome.
"It would suggest they've got it over me of late. There's seven or eight hundreds in another column there as well that probably haven't been brought up," Ponting said. "But of late they definitely have. I was disappointed last week, with all the work I put in pre-season and to make a little error like that and have your game over and done with in five balls was disappointing.
"It's a fresh start this week, I've got make sure there's plenty of runs in the column. I've prepared well, will top-up tomorrow and when it's my turn to bat make sure I'm one of the guys who contributes more than last week. One of the things I brought up in the team meeting yesterday there were three guys who did the majority of the batting last week and we've got to make sure everyone's contributing if we want to beat a good South African team."
It has been widely noted that Ponting's contribution goes beyond runs. His ravenous appetite for training and ability to help team-mates sort out their own batting foibles were both evident in Adelaide on Tuesday, as Michael Clarke sought help for throw-downs to prepare for an expected short-pitched attack from South Africa before Ed Cowan worked with Ponting as the session wound down.
"That's nothing different than we would normally do. Both he [Clarke] and Ed like to prepare that way and get a bit of short-ball work done," Ponting said. "It's part of the preparation and I am sure Michael will do a bit more of that tomorrow. I saw there was a bit of noise in the press about the South Africans bowling shorter to him this week. It probably doesn't matter where you bowl to Michael at the moment; he's playing that well all around the ground. They bowled a bit of short stuff to him last week but he's very good at getting himself well prepared and he would have been thinking of how they will change things up and he will be prepared.
"I'm always around to help out, nearly always the last one to leave the nets. If any guys want some extra work then I'll stay around and help them out. That's what I'd have liked if I was a young guy coming into the side, so now I'm one of the more senior guys I'll always be there to help them."
One man who could also do with Ponting's help is David Warner, who remains less than certain of his place in the team after a run of nine innings with only one fifty. Ponting spoke of Warner in the manner that he might have once opined about Mark Waugh, another batsman so capable of match-winning innings that the selectors were prepared to weather lean sequences either side of them. As it was he mentioned Warner in the same breath as Adam Gilchrist, someone Warner himself has cited as an inspiration for fearless batting.
"There's always going to be those questions asked about Dave because of the way he plays. It's a bit like Gilly as well, no-one thought Gilly would have the temperament to survive and make as many hundreds as he did in Test cricket, but he found a way and he did it," Ponting said. "Sure it's a bit different for Dave because he's an opening batsman, but the bottom line is he's not playing any more short-form games than the majority of our players.
"What he has to be able to do though is adapt himself very quickly from the changeover of formats, and find a way to be a very consistent run-scorer for Australia at the top of the order. That's what we have to do and it's not an easy thing. One thing I know is if he's playing well and hitting the ball off the middle of the bat, he'll set up a lot of Test wins for Australia in the future."
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here