Testing time for Ricky Ponting
By Bernie Wijesekera
The Australian team who will be here next month under dynamic Ricky Ponting who will be leading the Aussie Test team for first time after the retirement of Steve Waugh. He made his test debut against Sri Lanka in 1996 in Perth, It could have been a dream debut for Ricky , but when he was on 96 he was given out leg-before off Vaas. He has proved his mettle as a one-day captain. Ponting led the team from the front by example. The tour here is no picnic for him. Aussies will find the Lankans hard to confront in their own backyard. After a gruelling series against India though tiring, the players have the skill and stamina to give the Sri Lankans a good run with their grit and determination.

Ponting hails from a cricketing stock. His uncle Greg Campbell played for Australia as a fast bowler. His father who served the Tasmanian staff is an ardent supporter of the game and a source of inspiration, to his son. Ponting played for Tasmania as a teenager and learnt much from David Boon also a Tasmanian test player his cricketing idol.

Ricky a nimble-footed batsman was a rage since he started playing for Tasmania. He possessed freakish talent. At the age of 16 he was ushered into the Academy - youngest entrant as a future test prospect. After his graduation, he was in the Tasmanian team in 1992- '93, and proved an instant success and never looked back since then.

At the age of 20, he gave notice of his batting skills against Sri Lanka in 1995-'96 season. He made 84 n.o., in the four -day match at Lauceston and followed up with 131 n.o., in the second innings. This prompted Aussie selection panel to send Peter Taylor to make his observations. He enjoyed a rollicking season in the Sheffield Shield season.

Despite making an awe-inspiring start he was dumped from the team. The selectors thought that his form was poor. His exile did good to restore his temperament. His omission put him in a spin after this lay-off. His axing did well to sharpen him. It did. On the Ashes tour after being ignored for the S. African tour in 1997 Ponting was overlooked for the first three tests, but came back with a bang - a determined 126 n.o., in the fourth test when Australia was struggling at 4 for 50. He erased all past memories making a century on a pitch that was most troublesome to the batsmen.

Since then he has never looked back. Ponting had the audacity and a wide range of shots on either side of the wicket. He could adjust himself to the conditions and bat even on a dust bowl which takes plenty of turn. Pointing was the only player in both Australian teams and captained on the shorter game. He proved an instant success and led by example. He won great admiration from his team mates on a number of occasions and dug Australia out of trouble.

He played in the shadow of Steve Waugh as captain and has learnt much from him to emerge as a shrewed leader for the future. For the first time he will be leading both teams in the forthcoming tour to Sri Lanka next month for a three-test series and five one-dayers. The splitting of both teams and captains raises the question as there a danger of paying, too much credence to the one-day game, Sri Lanka, too followed the Aussies.

Mike Tissera the former Sri Lanka skipper said, 'Once Steve Waugh retires there will never again be a two captain force . It will be Ricky Ponting. Has met Geoff Marsh at home and abroad. He is a good reader of the game, commands respect and totally committed as coach. He attributes Ponting's rise to fame due to his self belief and hard work. No one works harder than Ponting. It should do well that our youngsters take note of whilst watching him on this tour. Besides his batting he's a brilliant fielder - in the mould of a Jonty Rhodes. Both Ponting and Rhodes attributes their success to be brilliant and agile fielders due to their own hard work at the nets or otherwise.

He will be one to watch and admire on this tour. He showed immense leadership qualities. This was mentioned by the likes of Bob Simpson, Ian Chappell and his coach Rod Marsh, has got the challenge now to lead the team in the established game, and proved it in the shorter game. In the forthcoming three-test series this will be his first baptism away from home playing under varying conditions. He has shown his mettle as one of the best batsmen and the best fielder in the world. He will be leading the best team in the world, too.

He has had his own problems on and off the field. But one can't take away Ponting's aggressive approach to the game be it as batsman where he has proved in the just concluded series at home against India. That's how the Aussies play test cricket and bring more life than a mere drawl. Ponting must have learnt the diplomatic skills to lead the team under pressure from his predecessors Mark Taylor and Steve Waugh.

The Lankans are no pushover side in their own backyard despite confronting the World champions. The Aussies are quite aware if one went by the past performances. They will have to face a physchological battle against 'Murali'. But they may have done their homework well in advance. To make it a keen contest our top order batsmen must bat with responsibility and play a long innings unlike against England.

The Aussie attack has variety with the possible return of Shane Warne. The prevailing conditions with bright sunshine, humid and dry weather is ideal for cricket. With nimble-footed Ponting to lead and in terrific form the batting looks sound with the top order among the runs. Watch out for a batting fiesta.


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