Ashes preparations October 22, 2006

Ponting better prepared for Ashes - Taylor

'There's no doubt the game got away from Australia at various times ... We didn't seem to have many plans as to how to rein it back in' - Mark Taylor on the 2005 Ashes © Getty Images
Ricky Ponting will be better prepared for anything he may encounter in this year's Ashes series against England, according to the former Australia captain Mark Taylor. Taylor, who led Australia in 50 Test matches from 1994 to 1999, including 26 wins, believes Ponting will have done more homework on the England team after being criticised for his leadership in last year's loss.

"You should never stop learning the game," Taylor told the Sun-Herald. "All the good captains I saw were prepared to keep learning. Ricky would have learnt a lot from that Ashes loss and I'm fairly sure he would have spent time working out how they're going to combat situations if they reoccur."

Ponting was criticised for some of his field placings and his use of bowlers during the series, which some claim helped England to win 2-1. Taylor, now a television cricket pundit and Cricket Australia board member, said he disagreed with the perception Ponting did not stamp his authority enough.

"I don't know about that," he said. "It's easy to think these things from afar. There's no doubt the game got away from Australia at various times. It just rolled along and we didn't seem to have many plans as to how to rein it back in."

Taylor believes the added pressure on Ponting's captaincy and the performances of his players will be a good aspect for the team. "I don't know if there's too many scars but I do think it's a fair point that there's added pressure, which could be used as a positive," he said. "There are a lot more players under pressure than there were 18 months ago. Going into the last Ashes series, we hadn't been challenged much over the past six or seven years and we were caught on the hop.

"Eighteen months on, there's still a lot of those guys around who played in that series but they'll be much keener and they know that a bad Test or two and they may not be playing any more."

One of those players, Glenn McGrath, is up to his usual psychological tricks of targeting a batsman. This time it's Kevin Pietersen, who has scored five hundreds in his 18 Tests. "Without any doubt he will be one of the keys alongside 'Freddy' Flintoff for England in this summer's Ashes campaign," McGrath wrote in his Sunday Telegraph column. "Because of the way Pietersen plays, it's a bit like Brian Lara, you always feel as though you are a chance to get him out."

McGrath, Test cricket's all-time leading fast bowler with 542 wickets in 119 Tests, says playing under pressure will be Pietersen's biggest examination under Australian conditions. "Coming out and batting without any fear when the boys in front of you have put some runs on the board is one thing," McGrath continued. "But coming out and batting without fear and playing your shots when there isn't as many runs on the board is another.

"I'm sure his team-mates would not be happy if Pietersen played a big shot and was dismissed cheaply when the pressure was really on. But, given that he loves to play strokes from the outset, that's always a chance.

"Is he a target of mine leading into the Ashes? Absolutely. Everyone in the England team is a target but particularly their class players. At the end of the day, my job is to get rid of their openers and expose the middle order."