Tasmania v Queensland, Sheffield Shield Final, Hobart March 21, 2013

Ponting favours tough batting school


Ricky Ponting likes the tough school. Whether it be his Mowbray upbringing, his teenaged elevation to the cricket academy and then first-class ranks, a Test debut at 20 or his return this season to a Sheffield Shield competition now dominated by pace bowlers, Ponting's appetite for challenges is undimmed.

Though he admits the circumstances of his increased availability were less than ideal - a retirement from internationals pressed by a poor series against South Africa - Ponting has delighted in playing near enough to a full season for Tasmania. It has resulted in his most prolific at Shield level in 20 years, the competition's player of the year award, and the Australian Cricketers Association garland as player of the month for February.

The last summer in which Ponting did not have his state appearances curtailed by the national selectors was 1993-94. Back then, Australian batting was blooming into the sort of period oft-described as a "golden age". No fewer than six players - Michael Bevan, Justin Langer, Matthew Hayden, Darren Lehmann, Dene Hills and Greg Blewett - topped 1000 first-class runs for the summer. Another five, Ponting included, reached 900.

Hayden's effort was most astounding, tallying 1136 runs in six matches for Queensland, and coshing seven hundreds. All this by a batsman still seven years away from becoming a regular at Test level. Ponting's 896 Shield runs that summer helped his state into their first final, and impressed all observers with their poise and power. Two decades on, and Ponting may yet surpass that tally in this year's decider, but in a competition now far more difficult for batting.

There has been debate over the past several years about whether or not surfaces more conducive to seam and swing have detracted from the development of Australian batting. Arguments have been raised about how representative such pitches are when mos Test strips are considerably flatter and drier - none more so than those currently undoing Michael Clarke's team in India. However Ponting is adamant that the redressed balance between bat and ball will be beneficial.

"There's no doubt that pitches these days are more bowler friendly and that trend has been building over the last four or five seasons," Ponting told ESPNcricnfo. "I think the overall standard is still particularly strong and as you can see from this year, the competition is very competitive.

"I don't think it's hindering development at all. In fact, it's a positive thing for batters who have to work harder in tougher conditions to consistently score runs. The only thing is that the selectors have to appreciate that there is a trend for lower scores because of these conditions."

These lower scores are reflected in the recent records of younger batsmen coming through in each state. Where once an average of at least 50 was required to push a case, now 40 seems closer to the norm. Ponting, though, has shown that it is possible to score heavily in this climate. For that he offered generous praise to the coaching and culture of the Tigers.

"There's such a great culture here and so much of the credit for that has to go to Tim Coyle and his staff," Ponting said. "They have always been able to blend experience with talented younger players coming through the ranks. If you look at this season, that's exactly what we have.

"Senior players like George Bailey, Ben Hilfenhaus, Tim Paine, Xavier Doherty, Alex Doolan and Luke Butterworth have been working so well with the next generation of young players like James Faulkner, Jonathan Wells and Jordan Silk.

"Doing the whole pre-season with the boys was just fantastic and so was playing the games at the start of the season. But then to come back at the pointy end of the season and make the Shield final like we did has just about capped off a wonderful year for Tasmanian cricket. Hopefully we can finish it off with a trophy next week."

Personal possession of the Shield trophy is the one thing that has eluded Ponting over his career. Tasmania's two wins took place in his absence, and last year's final was narrowly lost. Given how strongly he has performed this summer, it would be bold to doubt that the time has come.

Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Philip on March 22, 2013, 8:46 GMT

    My mistake, it wasn't Tassie I was watching, but the edited highlights of Chris Tavare, that is all the balls he never attempted to score off. I think?

  • Philip on March 22, 2013, 8:43 GMT

    @Meety - Tassie's certainly batting long on the first day of the final. So long in fact, something should be done about it. Funny i'n' it, how a pace-bowler's delight during the season dies as soon as the final comes along?

  • Andrew on March 22, 2013, 0:17 GMT

    @HatsforBats on (March 21, 2013, 12:36 GMT) - if it translates to Tests - I am okay with it. Otherwise it does us out of batsmen & spinners!

  • Andrew on March 22, 2013, 0:11 GMT

    I think what would benefit the batsmen more, is more variety in the pitches. I understand that the weather certainly has hampered some preparation here, I couldn't believe they had prepped a pitch for the last shield match at the Gabba as the sun hadn't poked its head thru the rain for a fortnight prior. There needs to be the odd "nude" pitch the curator version of a Brazillian (just wanted to type the word). This would give the batsmen a chance to face spinners & maybe some good conditions to score plenty of runs at the front end of the match. I don't think it can be good having sides constantly 4/50 in every innings. It also (I think), means bowlers may not be fully prepared for the Test environment. Batsmen need to be ABLE to bat long - not fearful of facing 2 or 3 unplayable deliveries an over (in some matches).

  • Heath on March 21, 2013, 13:59 GMT

    That's what I've been saying for years, (a couple of times on this website). The biggest influence on Australia's test cricket development has been the wickets prepared for Sheffield Shield. They are too green, so as to get a result inside 4 days. They should prepare test standard wickets and change the rules to promote aggressive captaincy to get results inside 4 days. It is too difficult for spinners and is flattering quicks.

  • kieran on March 21, 2013, 12:54 GMT

    @Mitty2, I'm not so sure, maybe the quicks don't have to bend the back as much but they still have to be smart and consistent with their line & length to get wickets. It will also encourage them to pitch it up as the norm. To me it's more favourable than having them pound it in back of a length on flat tracks for a few days trying to limit the run feast. I agree completely about how the ideal pitches should play, though the wetter summers we've been having plus the desire for result pitches is making it hard (I would say some pitches may have gone to far toward producing the result). I disagree though about the primary function of the state competition. State cricket is a prestigious comp in it's own right with a long and rich history, it should not be used as a nursery but rather as a testing ground for our best players to stand up, from which the national team is then selected.

  • kieran on March 21, 2013, 12:36 GMT

    @Meety, look at the positives, now we have a bunch of quicks averaging 20 for the season!

  • Dummy4 on March 21, 2013, 12:11 GMT

    People talking about young batsmen, Alex Doolan and Mark Cosgrove are only 28, with a good decade of batting ahead of them.

  • Simon on March 21, 2013, 11:49 GMT

    Inconsistency seems to be the problem. I also disagree with Ponting. The batters like himself get super confident and aren't afraid to take on the bowlers and the bowlers response is to be worried about being hit out of the attack. At this stage we only have Clarke as a world class batsman and Watson also has that ability.Warner is on track. It's about confidence at the crease and lots of runs gives you that confidence. A coach as a selector just doesn't work for batsmen.

  • Phil on March 21, 2013, 11:12 GMT

    We have some good young batsman in Hughes, Khawaja and Burns, Hughes has struggled against spin but he is good. Khawaja is also a very good test prospect but just needs his chance. Burns will come through next season.

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