Ponting urges creation of legends
Before each training session and practice game, an Australian cricketer has stood before his teammates and shared his recollections of Ashes series past. Some have read from prepared scripts, some have free-styled. One player wrote and recited poetry, while another presented a slideshow of his favourite images from Australia-England series.
The Tim Nielsen-inspired orations came to a dramatic conclusion on Tuesday when, less than 24 hours before the first ball was due to be bowled in the 2009 Ashes series, Ricky Ponting addressed his team in the Sophia Gardens dressing rooms. Now on his fourth Ashes tour, Ponting stirred the emotions of all present during a heartfelt speech that charted his path from nephew of an Australian cricketer to captain of a proud nation.
"It goes back a long time for me," Ponting said. "My uncle (Greg Campbell) was selected in the 1989 Ashes touring squad and I remember going down to his house just after his kit arrived with his baggy green and his jumper and playing shirts in the bag. To go through that and touch the clothing and touch the baggy green cap was where for me the dream of playing Ashes cricket really all started.
"To listen to some of the stories about some of the young guys watching their heroes on television is great, but at the same time it makes me feel quite old because I was part of some of those Test matches that they were watching. There is genuine excitement around the place."
With Ponting's emotional address still ringing in their ears, the Australians set out for their final training session ahead of the first Test. The tales of triumphs past presumably made for a pleasing contrast to the drama of recent days, in which the tourists have contended with inclement Cardiff weather and an injury to Brett Lee that has thrown selection plans into chaos.
As of Tuesday evening, Ponting and Andrew Hilditch, the chairman of selectors, had yet to decide precisely who would replace Lee, their most experienced and decorated paceman. Nathan Hauritz, the offspinner, was unconvincing in both warm-up games and Cardiff's short straight boundaries - barely above the Test minimum - could prove difficult to defend when he is in operation.
Australia have not entered an Ashes Test without a frontline spinner since the first match of the 1989 series, and any move to omit Hauritz would increase the pressure and workload on part-time tweakers Marcus North, Michael Clarke and Simon Katich. Still, a four-man pace attack of Mitchell Johnson, Peter Siddle, Stuart Clark and Ben Hilfenhaus appears the most likely option, although Andrew McDonald - who has played in Australia's last four Tests - cannot be completely discounted.
"We've got a number of different ways we can go," Ponting said. "Do you play four quicks, do you play three quicks and a medium pacer, do you play three quicks and a spinner? All those things are right in the equation for us right at the moment.
"We've got great flexibility. We had five fast bowlers when we arrived that all felt they shoul dhave been playing in the first Test match. Hopefully we'll get our XI perfectly suited to what we're confronted with."
Despite the eleventh hour selection shuffle, Ponting remained imperiously confident that his young squad was capable of a victory that would enshrine them in Ashes folklore. Fortified by a recent 2-1 series victory in South Africa with a youtful squad, the Australian captain called on his band of rookies to forge their reputations on Test cricket's grandest stage.
"Having experienced what we experienced in South Africa was one of the most satisfying moments of my career with a young group of players," he said. "Reputations and legends are generally made out of these bigger series and there is no bigger series than an Ashes.
"Hopefully through the next couple of months you're going to see some things that will surprise you from our team. That's what I want to see from the guys. I know what all these guys are capable of and right at the moment there's not one guy in our dressing room that has done anything that has surprised me on a cricket field. What I want to see from the guys in the next couple of months are some things that everyone will be in amazement of."
Alex Brown is deputy editor of Cricinfo