Ponting keen to ensure 50-over cricket survives
Ricky Ponting is a believer in one of the game's less popular pursuits. He loves 50-over matches. In this era of Twenty20 lust, that makes him a staunch traditionalist. With concerns over workload and limited attention spans of spectators, many people expect the original one-day format to die and some, including Shane Warne, argue it should be put to sleep.
When Ponting retired from Twenty20 internationals last year, it was to help him stay fresh for Tests and ODIs. He also wanted to make it to the 2011 World Cup - remember that tournament? - as Australia, who have not been beaten this millennium, aim for a fourth consecutive trophy.
Ponting has also been let go by Kolkata Knight Riders in the Indian Premier League and isn't bothered. In the current climate, ditching Twenty20s is like house-hunting in the desert when everyone else is looking near the beach. It is important to Ponting that the 50-over format survives and his team will attempt to show its best qualities from Friday when they face Pakistan at the Gabba.
"I would hate to think about the day 50-over cricket isn't played any more and I don't think that will ever happen," Ponting said on the eve of the five-match series. "I know it is happening in England at the moment where they are playing 40-over cricket, but I think [50-over cricket] is a wonderful game. The pinnacle of the shorter game is the World Cup, which I have been lucky enough to play a few of, and have some of my fondest memories out of the game from winning World Cups. So long may it continue."
The Big Bash, Australia's domestic Twenty20 tournament, has attracted record crowds over the past month as it woos families and new audiences, but Australia will play only three short-form games over the next month. Television executives remain in love with the 50-over affairs and the hosts have ten ODIs against Pakistan and West Indies in a sequence that will determine how highly the spectators rate the 30-year friendship.
"I think it will be hard to judge on how the overall game is going, but I think we will have a good understanding of how much people want to come and watch it in Australia," Ponting said. "There has been a good Test summer, and there's no doubt that the Big Bash has had great attendances around Australia in the last few weeks. But all we can do as players is to go out there and put on the best show that we possibly can."
Ponting was pleased with the level of support during Australia's wins in the Champions Trophy and India last year, giving him hope the genre isn't in terminal decline. "Those contests were satisfying for me as a player when there is a lot of talk around about maybe the demise of 50-over cricket," he said. "As a player we certainly don't see that, we see a place in international cricket for all three forms of the game, I think they can all survive."
Apart from saving a treasured commodity, Ponting's men must also overcome a Pakistan team with more threats than the Test line-up that was just beaten 3-0. Shahid Afridi, Younis Khan and Rana Naved-ul-Hasan have provided the tourists with extra muscle, while Afridi and Rana have recent experience in the country after appearing in the Big Bash.
The captain Mohammad Yousuf believes his one-day line-up is "much better" than the ones put out during the Tests. "We have all young players and we haven't had much Test cricket, only in last two years," he said. "That's why we are troubled in Test cricket. We have played a lot of one-dayers, that's why this Pakistan team is much better than the Test team.
"Coming in the side is Afridi, a very exciting player, everyone knows that. He has already played Twenty20 here and performed good. I think it's a good one-day team."
Ponting is wary of the unit and expects them to be a challenge over the next five matches. "We know Pakistan are a dangerous one-day team and at different times I am sure they will be very good," he said. "We just have to make sure we don't let a lot of their match-winning players have too much of an effect on this series." The future of 50-over cricket in Australia may depend on it.
Peter English is the Australasia editor of Cricinfo