Ponting rates his bowlers the world's best
Ricky Ponting believes Australia's pace attack is the best in the world and hasn't ruled out Shaun Tait being used in one-day internationals after breaking the 160kph barrier in Friday night's Twenty20 win. Tait's Man-of-the-Match performance in his first game for Australia in a year served as another reminder of the depth in the country's fast-bowling ranks, which has been tested over the past few months.
Brett Lee (elbow) hasn't played since the early stages of the India tour in October, Stuart Clark (back) knows his international career is all but over, Peter Siddle (back) is out for the season and Ben Hilfenhaus (knee) has not appeared for Australia since the first Test of the summer. Throw in Nathan Bracken's knee surgery and fringe player Brett Geeves being out with back stress fractures and Australia's attack at times has looked more like a state list than an international group.
It is the success of those new men that has thrilled Ponting. Since Clint McKay's debut in November no Australian has taken more than his 17 ODI wickets, Ryan Harris has played four one-dayers and already has a Player-of-the-Series title, Doug Bollinger continues to make himself a star and Shane Watson's bowling has improved dramatically.
"I think the depth that we've got now as far as our fast-bowling goes is outstanding," Ponting said ahead of the first ODI against West Indies. "It would have to be the best group of fast bowlers anywhere in the world right at the moment. We were most stretched in India in the one-day series we had over there a few months ago and we had probably five or six of our guys injured and back in Australia but ... the depth is terrific."
It's hard to argue with Ponting after Australia's Twenty20 win against Pakistan when Tait, Dirk Nannes and Mitchell Johnson were all regularly in the 150kph region. Having three men in one side capable of those speeds is almost unheard of and Tait and Nannes are not even part of the ODI side.
Tait has given up playing first-class cricket so he can keep fresh for the short formats and could be a key player at May's World Twenty20. However, Ponting has not ruled out bringing Tait in to the one-day squad with one eye looking ahead to next year's 50-over World Cup, after Tait starred at the 2007 tournament with 23 wickets at 20.30.
"We saw in our last World Cup campaign in the 50-over game just how valuable he can be there," Ponting said. "He was probably our best bowler through that tournament and we used him in different roles as a real strike bowler, as Michael [Clarke] did last night.
"He definitely is somebody that you have to manage particularly well, so I'm sure with the World T20 coming up that they'll be doing everything in their power to make sure he's right for that. But that doesn't necessarily mean that he won't play 50-over cricket for us."
Friday's game demonstrated that loads of sixes and massive totals aren't all that the fans want from the shorter formats. When Tait stumbled over from his third ball, straining with the extra effort to hit 160.7kph, the crowd roared as the speed was displayed on the big screen. It was a sight that pleased Ponting, who was a spectator having retired from Twenty20 cricket.
"There were three guys last night all pushing 150, or two guys pushing 150 and Taity pushing 160," Ponting said. "That's great to have around your group. You've got incredible strike-power then and all of those guys are a good chance of playing 50-over cricket for us as well and it adds a lot to the spectacle of the game, when you see bowlers bowling that sort of pace."
Brydon Coverdale is a staff writer at Cricinfo