Ponting endorses Smith as next ODI captain
Former Australia captain Ricky Ponting believes there is "no doubt at all" that Steven Smith should take over from Michael Clarke as the team's next ODI leader. Clarke retired from one-day cricket after leading Australia to victory in the World Cup final against New Zealand in Melbourne.
In the past, George Bailey has often filled in as captain during Clarke's absence, and even led Australia in their tournament opener against England. However, Bailey, who has captained Australia to 16 wins and 10 defeats in his 29 matches in-charge, lost his place in the playing eleven once Clarke retained full fitness.
"I am a huge George Bailey fan, we have played a lot of state cricket together," Ponting told ESPNcricinfo. "He's also been a great leader, but this guy, Smith, is just in the prime of his career right now. He is playing beautifully, and it looks like he has sewn down the No.3 batting spot, potentially even in the Test team. With Clarke making the decision to retire from one-day cricket, you would think he's only got a couple of years of Test cricket left in him, so Smith should be serving as one-day captain to be totally ready to take over the Test job when Michael finishes."
Clarke bid a teary goodbye to a record crowd at the MCG after top-scoring in the final with 74 off 72 balls to ensure there were no wobbles in Australia's pursuit of a small target. Praising his successor in the job for his "terrific record" over the years, Ponting said Clarke would have dearly enjoyed being out in the middle when the winning runs were scored.
"The way he batted was a terrific way for him to finish," Ponting said. "The New Zealanders decided to attack him early so he had a lot of open field where he could score from freely. He got through the initial 15-20 balls, then expanded his game and he would have loved to be not out at the end.
"Walk off the ground as the winning captain, maybe hitting the winning runs, but it wasn't meant to be. He's done a great job with the leadership of this team and you only have to look at his record. It's a terrific effort by him."
Ponting, who played in three World Cup winning finals, also believes Australia have the building blocks in place to dominate one-day cricket in the years to come. He credited Clarke and coach Darren Lehmann for ensuring the balance of the squad was "spot on" going into the tournament.
"It's probably a better team than we give it credit for right now," he said. "Probably because it's a young team that's developing we probably don't know just how good a team this is. I've sat back and looked at this one-day team over the last couple of years and it's a very good team.
"Only a couple of months ago, Johnson was the standout fast bowler in the world and all of a sudden, we're not even taking about him anymore, we are talking about Mitchell Starc. Every one of the allrounders could get themselves picked in one format. James Faulkner will get himself picked as a bowler, Shane Watson as a batter and Glenn Maxwell also as a batter.
"There's a few senior heads, Clarke bowing out, Haddin probably has some decisions to make around his one-day future, Mitchell Johnson would probably not be around for the next World Cup. Every successful Australian team that I have been part of has been a mix of youth and experience and this one is no different. There were some very exuberant youngsters in that side like Smith, Maxwell, Starc and Hazlewood. The balance has been spot on."
Looking back on the final, Ponting said Brendon Mcullum's dismissal for duck in the first over, and the quick wickets of Ross Taylor, Corey Anderson and Luke Ronchi early in the batting Powerplay were the decisive phases of the game.
"The first over with Starc knocking over McCullum, if you look at the way he executed those first three balls, they were three yorkers that were right on the money.
"Then at the start of the Powerplay when New Zealand had just fought their way back into the game, at that time Faulkner gets back to back wickets, Starc gets Ronchi in the next over and all of a sudden all the momentum the Kiwis had was completely taken away from them."
Ponting also lavished praise on Faulkner, who became the fifth Australian and the third from Tasmania to win a Man-of-the-Match award in a World Cup final. David Boon won the honour in 1987 for top-scoring in the final against England, and Ponting himself picked up the award in 2003, for his decimation for India with a memorable hundred.
"Faulkner is a very competitive person," Ponting said. "It sums up his character in that Powerplay. He is one guy who doesn't go running away from a Powerplay, he wants the ball in his hand, and he wants to compete. It was a terrific result for him today and you look back at the end of your career, there are only a few Man-of-the-Match performances that are memorable, and if it happens in a World Cup final that's something you can always be proud of."
Gaurav Kalra is a senior editor at ESPNcricinfo. @gauravkalra75