West Indies v Australia, 3rd Test, Roseau April 21, 2012

And then there was Ponting

The Dominica Test will be his last Australia match for six months, and Ponting is adamant the break won't dim his hunger for international cricket

Everybody had left Windsor Park. Rain-affected and uneven practice wickets sent all members of the Australian team scurrying back to their ocean-view hotel two days out from the third Test. All, that is, except one. About half an hour after the rest departed, once the Dominica sun had shone a little on the drying nets, Ricky Ponting strode out from the dressing room for a series of throw-downs and technical tweaks in the company of the assistant coach Justin Langer.

Of all the players on tour for Australia, Ponting would appear the least in need of another batting session. He has far and away the least to prove, had looked in good touch in the second innings in Trinidad on a testy pitch, and has the benefit of a deep and precise memory to guide him through the ways and means of batting on just about any surface international cricket can present. But still he worked, grooving his drives, forward and back defensives and pull shots, aware that this will be his last assignment for Australia for at least the next six months. South Africa arrive down under in November.

Half a year without international cricket is a long stretch for any player in 2012, let alone a 37-year-old Ponting, who has lived almost half his life playing for his country, and winning for it far more often than not. Amid all the drives, pushes and pulls, most compellingly well struck despite a practice pitch unsafe to be presented to an international bowler, Ponting had time to ponder whether this match might just be his last. Dominica would be an odd place for it all to end, but perhaps fitting, being one of the few international venues in which Ponting has not taken guard. No-one has travelled further in pursuit of team success and batting excellence over the past two decades than Ponting, and it remains to be seen what six months without those travels and challenges will do to his sense of hunger.

For now though, Ponting is adamant that his desire will be undimmed by the break. He is equally insistent that he will spend his time wisely, not lapsing into winter reverie now it may be spent in Sydney, Melbourne and Hobart rather than London, Johannesburg or Colombo. "My love for the game and passion and desire to play and be successful hasn't changed," Ponting said. "Even when things were really tough a few months ago, all I wanted to do was try to give myself the best chance to be able to play well again.

"I felt I got there through the summer and I feel like I'm batting really well at the moment. So I don't think a bit of time at home will override that. I've still got a few things I want to achieve and a few games of cricket I want to be a part of and win for Australia. As long as I feel I can play a role winning games of cricket for Australia I'll continue to do it. I'm enjoying it as much as ever and probably working harder than ever on my game."

To that end, Tasmania stands to see far more of Ponting in the spring than at almost any time since he began playing for and touring with Australia in 1995. Cricket Australia's desire to front-end the Sheffield Shield will mean a schedule rolling into action as early as September, and Ponting has set down a plan to spend extra time in Hobart. "I've known for a while that was going to be the case, to have a relatively long break like I've got coming up for a while and for 20 years it's been pretty unusual for me to get a break of that length," he said. "I'll make sure I use my time wisely and make sure I have a good break at the start of it.

"But I'm planning on spending a bit more time in Tassie this year and doing a lot more work with the Tassie boys down there leading into the start of the Sheffield Shield season which I think is going to be a fair bit earlier again this year by the sounds of things. I'm excited about this week but also looking forward to a bit of a break and a chance to really get my body and mind in great shape for the start of next year."

Though not at quite the same pitch of intensity that followed him through South Africa last year, when a technical hitch had him in knots against straight deliveries and forced a near total reboot of his methods, Ponting has been followed by plenty of speculation in the Caribbean. It has been fuelled by his summary dismissal from the ODI team during the home summer, and compounded by a series of slim scores in the Tests. The fact that Ponting's dismissals were run-out, bowled by a shooter, caught behind off a snorter and out hooking in the chase for quick runs has been noted, but more indifferent returns in Dominica will add to the ordinance being fired by those who think Australian cricket should move on.

"I'm a bit oblivious to how much has been spoken about me as well because I haven't been reading too much," Ponting said. "But to be totally honest I feel like I'm in as good a shape as ever. The start of my innings in the second innings last week was as good as I've played in a while. Even the way I started the other few innings early in the tour everything was feeling really good just carrying on from the end of the Shield season.

"Although the numbers and the runs didn't come in the first few innings it was nice to get a few last week. Disappointing not to have been 70 or 80 not out when we declared the other day, but it was that sort of wicket where once you got in it was hard to maintain high scoring rates and that's what we needed to do when I got out, we needed to start lifting the scoring rate a bit and just happened to get out when I did. I feel terrific, and have done right through the tour."

Terrific as he may have felt, Ponting still thought it necessary to hone his batting at a time when every other member of the touring party had retreated to the oceanfront. His tendency to train harder and longer than anyone else is a point of pride as well as fastidiousness, and has been of as much value to the rest of Australia's squad as it has been to Ponting himself. Even if they were not still at the ground, every player back at the hotel knew a familiar face was absent, training. Munching on some afternoon sustenance, every player also had the chance to ponder whether they should still have been there too. They are guaranteed to ponder it less when Ponting is finally absent, retired.

Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Andrew on April 24, 2012, 0:23 GMT

    @Hammond - what I meant by peer analysis was the IT Figures analysis comparing contempary players of each era, pitch quality & bowling strength. What worked against Barrington (again I can't remember for sure) was that he played in an era where big scoring & averages were common. Could be wrong. Anyways - the bit about Punter being the best since Bradman is only due to an IT figures analysis that did a report on rolling 52 test (Bradman's test career)comparisons for all batsmen. Obviously on averages Bradman was the best, the next best 52 test sequence was Ponting, where he averaged around 80. Does not make him the best since Bradman, but it was the best 52 test sequence since The Don. Anyways - I aint arguing about Barrington & Hutton being great batsmen.

  • Dummy4 on April 23, 2012, 17:25 GMT

    @Sam matthews get your facts right Pontings scores in South africa read 8 , 0, 0 , 60. When did he get 2 60s and a 40.

  • Dummy4 on April 23, 2012, 13:57 GMT

    He has guts and devotion to hold on to his place. I agree with his vision and planning. Hope it materialises.

  • Subba on April 23, 2012, 12:42 GMT

    @simonviller. Agree with you mate. Ponting's desperate to catch tendulkar's record, which he never will. But his selfishness is costing Australia dear in terms of their present and future.

  • Dummy4 on April 23, 2012, 12:12 GMT

    @Chithsabesh. You are clearly Indian, a team who recently LOST 8 out of 8 games against Australia and England, yet you say that neither are worthy for number 1? Right now, forgetting the rankings and just basing on CURRENT form I would say the order of teams would be: RSA, AUS, ENG, PAK, then the minnows.

    Ponting played South Africa 6 months ago, if your attention span can last that long, and in a very bowling dominated series he made 2 60's and a 40 which was more consistent than any other batsman.

  • Satish on April 23, 2012, 11:46 GMT

    I guess Punter had played the game far far better than anyone in this forum and in fact, any alive Australian selector.. Greg was equally good.. But Personally i would rate Punter above Greg on Punter's ability to do it consistently.. Yes he is not having a great end to his career but he had to carry on simply because he was the captain and the best match winners in his team are now not there.. Won't it be selfish on his side to leave the team when his main match winners went away? I don't think there is anyone who can push.. Might discuss but none has the credentials to push Punter or Sachin..

  • Geoffrey on April 23, 2012, 11:16 GMT

    Their "peer analysis" was exemplary actually. Hutton was considered probably the best opener of the whole era (post Hobbs) and Barrington was greatly respected by the best Aussie bowlers like Davidson & McKenzie, on whom he took a great toll.. (averaged 64 against Australia specifically). Ponting? If he is remembered at all it will be for his 3 ashes losses, general bad to mediocre captaincy, and flawed hard handed technique that got him in trouble whenever the ball moved either in the air (average 44.1 against England in England) or off the pitch (average 26.48 against India in India). Greatest batsman since Bradman? Hardly.

  • Andrew on April 23, 2012, 9:52 GMT

    LOL! @sachin_vvsfan/mari2619 - I am actually BACKING Punter! LOL! I was talking about Richie Richardson dropping off - captaining a once great team & the pressure got to him. Punter has done a good job, & he will be looked back upon as a trooper, whether he has another year or two left in him, remains to be seen. From what I can see, he is not leaving any stone unturned & has the commitment to potentially finish on a resounding high!!! @Hammond - re: Hutton & Barrington, they are statistically quite good (well great actually), but I believe (from memory) their peer analysis was not that great. I think the numbers have been done on the IT Figures page, could be wrong.

  • Geoffrey on April 23, 2012, 7:03 GMT

    @Bollo- since Bradman retired England have had two superior batsman to Ponting- signficantly superior. Len Hutton & Ken Barrington (and no they aren't South African)..

  • Mariam on April 23, 2012, 6:31 GMT

    Agree with both Meety and sachin_vvsfan, its time for Punter to go out gracefully.

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