Australia in South Africa 2011-12 November 7, 2011

I don't see a finish line yet - Ponting

Ricky Ponting says he's been batting well in the nets but that hasn't translated into runs in the middle yet

During his worst slump, Greg Chappell famously said he wasn't batting badly, he was just getting out. Ricky Ponting has taken that sentiment to a new level, declaring himself to be batting the best he has in two years. He just doesn't have the scores to show for it.

Ponting enters the first Test in Cape Town under pressure. Last time he was preparing for a Newlands Test, in early 2009, he was the captain, his side had already won the series and retained the No. 1 Test ranking, and he had made three Test centuries in the previous 12 months.

Now Ponting has given up the leadership, has been demoted to No. 4, and he has one international hundred in his past 53 innings. That century came in the World Cup quarter-final loss to India; he hasn't scored a Test ton since his 209 in Hobart nearly two years ago, when Mohammad Amir dropped a sitter off Ponting before he had scored.

No batsman can afford this kind of trough, least of all a man who turns 37 next month. Few players have returned from lean periods at that age. The selection panel is being rebuilt from the ground up and John Inverarity's new group might wonder about the wisdom of the mid-year decision to keep Ponting but axe Simon Katich.

Katich, Ponting and Michael Hussey were all in the 35-plus age bracket and a succession plan was required. Hussey was in the best form of the three, Ponting had earned some latitude, and Phillip Hughes was ready to step into Katich's role. Now Usman Khawaja is hovering on the sidelines. But if he's expecting Ponting to walk away, he could be waiting for some time.

This summer's home series against India seems the logical occasion for a Ponting farewell, but he has still not ruled out trying for the 2013 Ashes. To reach that goal he would need to regain his best form. A murderous, flat pull for six off the young fast bowler Marchant de Lange in last week's tour match was a hint of such form, but was offset by a lacklustre clip down mid-on's throat off Robin Peterson's spin.

"I honestly don't think I'm far away [from my best]," Ponting said in the lead-up to the Newlands Test. "I had probably a couple of the best training sessions I've had down in Potch. I spent day two in the nets against our bowlers and that was the best I've batted in and out of games for a couple of years.

"At the end of the day, we're judged on our performances in the middle and how many runs we score and I probably let a couple of good opportunities slip in Sri Lanka. Forty-odd in the first Test and another 40 in the first innings of the second Test, if you convert those scores and they become big scores, you feel better about yourself but you get a few people off your back as well."

The trouble for Ponting is that he isn't converting those starts, while younger men are. The new No. 3, Shaun Marsh, scored a century on debut against Sri Lanka and 81 in his second Test, as well as a pair of half-centuries in the warm-up game in Potchefstroom. Hughes made 126 in his last Test innings.

The selectors will see those returns and wonder what other fresh blood could be introduced into Michael Clarke's side. There needs to be a Ricky Ponting succession plan, but it's not something the man himself is considering.

"I don't see a finish line yet and I think it's really important for me that I don't look at it that way," Ponting said. "Things haven't been as I would have liked for the last 12 months. I haven't scored a Test hundred in that period of time. I want to make sure that I'm getting back to playing somewhere near my best cricket. If I can do that then who knows, the Ashes mightn't be out of the question. My destiny lies in my hands, really. I'm enjoying the game and the challenge as much as ever."

If he fails to have an impact in these two Tests, that might change. He may be batting well in the nets, but runs on the board are all that matters. And Ponting's are gradually running out.

Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Bazza on November 10, 2011, 20:58 GMT

    A lot of people talk up ponting as one of the greatest batsmen ever. When in his prime, he had a heap of other great Ozzie batsmen scoring runs constantly at the other end as well. Take away those other batsmen over the last few years and what do we get. Take away the Waugh, Hayden, Langer, Gilchrist etc etc, and all of a sudden he is no longer great. Brian Lara had to bat in an inferior team for his whole career, with people constantly falling at the other end. If Lara was batting in the Oz or Indian team, there would have been all sorts of records added to the already great list he has. Ponting was a good batsmen a few years ago, but time to retire before he is pushed.

  • Dummy4 on November 10, 2011, 18:09 GMT

    RandyOZ : Once I went to the stadium to see the Aussie side bat in Bangalore Test "the second greatest batsman" just could not play spin at all !!

    The Green-Track-bully displayed a poor technique against quality Spin!

  • kan on November 10, 2011, 16:32 GMT

    2 more failures, how long Ponting can be selfish and carry on, it is more than 2 years now that he is a burden, liability in the side, no wonder why Australia is ranked 4-5

  • Dummy4 on November 10, 2011, 12:39 GMT

    Good news Ponting, Australia isn't touring India any time soon.

  • Kannan on November 10, 2011, 9:45 GMT

    Jesse Owens was a truly great during his time, but would have sucked if he had competed with Usain Bolt. Bradman was no great shakes. Even in his last series where she scored about 500, he was only number 3 on the aggregate list for the series. There's no saying that a 800 m runner can run the marathon let alone be competitive. No reason to believe Bradman would have kept up the high averages. Even Ponting from a high of 57 is sub 53 in Test average as I write. One cannot truncate and look at a marathon runner's performance in 800m sections and compare with a 800m runner. When stats get abused, the fools can seldom tell the difference. Sachin didn't score a century in his first 89 innings. Imagine judging him based on that section of his career! With 99 centuries compared to his closest rival's 69 in the same competitive era as Lara, Kallis, Dravid, Ponting and others, Sachin has shown why is the greatest. Yeah, 99 is far superior to a 29 even down-under!

  • Andrew on November 10, 2011, 5:17 GMT

    @RandyOZ - there is an article on cricinfo trying to see who else had as good a 52 test sequence as the Don. The name that tops the list is no surprise - Ponting! Whilst I actually believe there have been better batsmen than Punter, I have long maintained that his form burst (2002-2006), was the greatest non-Bradman burst ever. (Hussey not far behind) It is now statistically proven - the funny thing is reading all the Indian Princesses that can't hack stats that don't have a certain somebody #1! LOL! IMO - Greg Chappell was Oz 2nd best batsmen, & I also believe that Border's runs had a lot more merit. Obviously none of them could turn a Test match into an almost ODI-like batting clinic like Punter. The only player in the world who could ever be said to play the on-side cross bat shots about as good as Sir Viv!

  • Dummy4 on November 10, 2011, 3:51 GMT

    @ Karthik Raja, Yes cricket is a team game I know it like you. The only thing I was trying to say that Sachin Tendulkar is a great great cricketer and he deserved more from Indian supporters. They way they demand him making century is every inning is ridiculous. It is the media and crazy Indian supporters that put too much pressure on him. After all he is a human and the amount of pressure Sachin is bearing since he started to play cricket is very difficult to describe. Yes he did not get support from other side on occasions, but when he hangs up his boot eventually he will realize that he could have done little more than what he had done for his country.

  • Srinivas on November 9, 2011, 23:32 GMT

    Hope he goes out on a high. It's heart breaking to see a Legend struggle and suffer like this. May not be the nicest of persons around, but he surely mesmerised many a soul with his priceless and jaw-dropping knocks. Hope he goes out on a high. Hope the Aussie selectors give him a chance to go out on a high. After all, he has done so much for his team, both as a player and as a Captain. Hope they don't treat him like they treated Steve Waugh.

  • Andrew on November 9, 2011, 23:08 GMT

    @ zenboomerang - my previous post got lost! My point was in reference to the last 2 years - Oz has played twice as many tests as the Saffas. I am well aware of the Saffas isolation for 20yrs.

  • Randolph on November 9, 2011, 22:14 GMT

    Punter, the second greatest batsmen of all time.

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