Ponting delighted as new-look team takes shape
Ricky Ponting might be able to teach Shahid Afridi something about rebuilding. Or Salman Butt. Or whoever captains Pakistan next. For the past couple of years, Ponting has been restructuring his side, if not from the ground up then close to it. And now, he's confident that he has the team required to take Australia forward.
Just as Pakistan are now facing life without Mohammad Yousuf and Younis Khan - and the soon-to-retire-again Afridi - Australia have had to find replacements for their stars in recent seasons. Since the start of 2008 baggy greens have been handed to 17 new players, including Tim Paine and Steven Smith at Lord's this week, and finally the results are beginning to flow.
They've now won seven consecutive Tests, and 13 in a row against Pakistan, which is a record for any country over any other nation. Ponting is optimistic about the progress his side has made, and with Brad Haddin, Nathan Hauritz, Peter Siddle and Ryan Harris all hoping to be fit in time for the Ashes, he is pleased with the position the Australians have reached.
"It's not about rebuilding now for us," Ponting said after the 150-run win at Lord's. "I feel that we're through that and once we get all our guys back to full fitness we're going to put a really formidable side on the park, which is a really good sign for us. Seven straight now and that's 13 straight against Pakistan, which is another good record to have over them.
"Things are coming together nicely. Without being silly, we've all got one eye on stuff that's happening later in the year and these steps this week have been good ones in the right direction as far as keeping on improving our Test cricket. We've got a few more Tests to play yet, but things are going well for us."
One of the most impressive aspects of their Lord's triumph was the emergence of Paine and Smith, who proved themselves to be of Test standard. Despite being outshone by the six-wicket haul from the part-time spinner Marcus North, the team's designated No. 1 slow bowler Smith showed promising signs by collecting 3 for 51.
The ball that would have excited Australia's selectors the most was a delivery that deceived a well-set Kamran Akmal, a quicker, fuller ball that turned and surprised the batsman to get through his defences. On the final day, Ponting had trusted North ahead of Smith due to the presence of two left-handers at the crease, but he said he could not have asked for any more from the debutant.
"He bowled a lot better today than he did in his first spell yesterday," Ponting said. "He will just continue to grow with confidence and he will put more work on the ball as a result of that and he is just a great kid to have around the side. His enthusiasm is terrific and we did not see the best of him with the bat this game. He is a highly talented batter as well."
Paine delivered an even more professional debut. He was cool-headed in making 47 in the second innings and he was clean and agile behind the stumps, finishing the game with five catches and a stumping. The leg-side effort to remove Butt, who had 92 and was Pakistan's best hope, was particularly encouraging.
North drifted his first delivery past the batsman's pads, Butt advanced and missed the ball, and like a flash Paine had whipped off the bails. It completed what Ponting called an outstanding debut from Paine, who in four days has gone a long towards securing his place as the long-term No. 2 gloveman behind Haddin.
"His work behind the stumps was very sharp," Ponting said. "It was a great stumping today, one sliding down the leg side behind a left-hander is always a hard one to take. That was a big moment in the game, really. Butt was playing beautifully and they're the sort of chances you hope your keeper or any of your fielders take. I thought he had an outstanding debut, as did Smith."
It's that sort of depth that has Ponting looking forward with confidence. The rebuilding is complete, now the finishing touches are being applied.
Brydon Coverdale is a staff writer at Cricinfo