Australian bushfires February 12, 2009

Ponting pleased to make 'a small difference'

Ricky Ponting hugs and presents a bat to a bushfire victim © Getty Images

Times have been tough for the Australian team this season, but Ricky Ponting's men received a new measure on how bad things can be after seeing people at their "absolute lowest" in areas affected by the Victorian bushfires. Almost 200 people have died in the blazes that destroyed entire towns last weekend and Ponting said some of the players were concerned about what they might see during the visit to Whittlesea, north of Melbourne, on Wednesday.

"I must admit it was fairly confronting for all of us," Ponting said. "Once we got there, you could see we did make a small difference. We did lift a few spirits. A lot of the families and school teachers did come to us and say it's the first time they have seen smiles on the kids' faces for quite a while.

"We saw people at their absolute lowest, a whole community and a couple of communities at their absolute lowest. We were talking to people who had been back up the mountain for the first time and never wanted to go back again. It's a place a lot of people have lived for a lot of their lives and they don't want to go and face what's there."

Ponting said the Australian cricket community, which has helped raise more than A$9.5 million through the Commonwealth Bank appeal, should be proud of their efforts. "It was a devastating thing for all the people involved," he said. "We know it's only a tiny difference, but it appeared from the outside that everybody we rubbed shoulders with really enjoyed us being up there."

The Australians were impressed by the community spirit shown by the fire victims and Ponting hoped they could draw on the experience. "Some of the stories we were hearing, people driving a caravan a couple of hours so people could sleep in it, that sort of stuff," he said. "The sharing and selflessness that is up there at the moment is something to behold, seeing how strong and how much spirit people have."

Peter English is the Australasia editor of Cricinfo