As a young player on the fringes of Australia's top six in 1999, Ricky Ponting felt strongly that the team's best batsman and captain Steve Waugh should be walking to the wicket at No. 3. Fourteen years later, on the eve of a home Ashes summer, Ponting believes the incumbent captain Michael Clarke should be doing the same.
During a frank and detailed interview with ESPNcricinfo following the release of his autobiography At the Close of Play, Ponting stated that a team's most accomplished batsman should always bat at first wicket down, not only to accept the greatest batting challenge ahead of less talented team-mates but also to present the most positive front to the opposition. When asked about his earlier wish that Waugh had taken up the post rather than his usual No. 5 berth, Ponting said the same applied to Clarke.
"I still have the same thoughts now. The best batsman should be at three - I said it during the last Ashes series as well," Ponting said. "The times where we were 3 or 4 for 30, if your best batsman had been in earlier then maybe we'd have been only 1 or 2 for 30 or 40. You're the best batsman in the team because you've got the most skill. You've got more skill and can handle situations better than others.
"Michael has clearly been the best batsman in Australian cricket for probably the last three years, but he was almost coming in too late when the damage had already been done. I just think it sends a great statement as well, 'I'm coming in now', it puts pressure back on the bowlers, and just the way I feel it should be. That's why I said it about Steve, he was clearly the best batsman in our team and ranked the best batsman in the world. I don't think you can ask less skilled or less experienced guys to handle the hardest positions, it should always be up to you."
Ponting also opened up about how the challenges of batting had changed for him over time. For so many years a fearless, aggressive batsman, perfectly suited to Australia's era of dominance, Ponting said the challenge that ultimately overwhelmed him was a mounting fear of getting out, rather than simply focusing on making runs.
"I was more worried about getting out at the end than scoring runs. That was my downfall - I was more worried about survival than hitting the first ball I saw for four," Ponting said. "When I was batting at my best it didn't matter when it arrived, if it was a half-volley or a short one then I was going to hit it for four. Towards the end it was more getting myself in through the initial period, building an innings, that sort of thing.
"No matter how hard I tried, I couldn't release the handbrake the way I needed to. So the pressure of it got me as much as anything and I don't mind saying that. That was one thing that changed."