Ponting still won't put away the pull
Ricky Ponting isn't giving up the pull and hook shots but he's going to think more carefully about when to play them. That attitude threatens to cause Ponting even more problems than his faltering cross-bat swipes have over the past year.
Hooks and pulls are unveiled on instinct, in the split-second when a batsman judges the difference in length. Adding extra time to consider whether the shot is safe cuts down the moments needed to play it - or avoid the ball. The catch 22 could provide more chances to fine leg or sore elbows like the one Kemar Roach delivered in Perth last year, which eventually resulted in Ponting modifying an approach that has gained him so many runs.
From the moment Roach had Ponting wincing, opposition fast bowlers sensed a weakness. Instead of a solid stance, Ponting became jumpy, even though he remained determined to keep swinging. Pride and programming could not alter his outlook and he fell to cross-bat errors against Pakistan in Melbourne and Sydney, and almost went first ball in Hobart. Age and softening reflexes were blamed for his mistakes along with the painful elbow.
In the off-season Ponting attempted to eliminate the errors but he has opened his summer by pulling terminally against Sri Lanka in an ODI and last week was bounced out by Shane Watson. Watson is sharp, but not express, so by that gauge the England bowlers will be capable of adding further confusion to Ponting's dilemma.
"I have to choose the right ball to play, choose the right ball not to play," Ponting said. "Probably my biggest strength in playing the short balls over the years is making sure I'm playing the shot to the appropriate ball. In the last 12 months I've probably been a bit the other way, been a bit keen to get away and get on top of the short-pitched bowling and got out."
Mitchell Johnson thinks Andrew Strauss's pulling is also suspect so both captains will be ready for bouncers. "I've had to deal with a lot of short balls in the past," Strauss said. "I'm quite happy with my technique against it. If Mitchell wants to let us know their bowling plans a day early that's very kind of him."
Both captains are involved early in the innings, increasing the prospects of a bumper opening to the five-Test contest. Ponting is a master at starting the series with a big score and is particularly effective against England. He has opened the past two home Ashes campaigns at the Gabba with 123 and 196 in the first innings, and also posted 150 in Australia's opening reply to England in Cardiff last year.
"It's to do with the challenge you're confronted with as an experienced player and a top-order batsman and leader of your team," Ponting said. "I've always really focused on making sure that I'm right for that first innings of the series. I feel that I have a big say in how a series develops."
As the one great player in the home side, Ponting needs huge returns to lift his team and also to avoid becoming only the second Australia captain to lose the Ashes three times. "I've worked hard the last eight weeks to be right to go," he said. "Hopefully there's another hundred there for me tomorrow."
Peter English is the Australasia editor of Cricinfo