There is every reason to fear Ricky Ponting over the next couple of months. The Australian captain is one of the finest, match-winning batsmen in the world, of course, but recently he has been showing signs of a profoundly strong focus on the job at hand.
So engrossed was he on the job of dismantling the West Indies that nothing, not even the prospect of playing South Africa, could break his concentration or persuade him to take his eye off the ball.
We know this because in a recent interview with The Australian newspaper before South Africa arrived in the country he appeared to have spent very little time indeed thinking about Graeme Smith or his team – despite admitting to having watched them play against New Zealand and India.
“I’m a bit of a cricket tragic,” he admitted, “so if there’s a game on television then I’ll sit back and have a bit of a look at what’s going on, how they are playing and I’ll have a bit of a look at any new individuals they have in their side,” he said. There’s no doubt Ponting meant what he said when he called it a “bit” of a look as is proven by his next comment.
“South Africa have been playing a fair bit of one-day cricket of late, and in that side I know that AB de Villiers has done well for them as an opening batsman in both forms of the game. And he keeps (wicket) as well,” Ponting said.
De Villiers, as we know all too painfully, averages something like 16 in one-day cricket with a highest score of 39 in 15 matches. And he hasn’t picked up a pair of wicket keeping gloves in anger for over a year.
At this point I must say that Ponting is one of the most genuine, agenda-less men in world cricket. What you see is what you get and he is immensely respected by friend and foe alike for that quality. So it is interesting that he should single out the following two batsmen for special mention…
“Then there is (Boeta) Dippenaar and (Jacques) Rudolph who we have seen a little bit of over the years,” Ponting said, apparently unaware that one isn’t on the tour and the other is fortunate to have made the 14 as the reserve batsman and is highly unlikely to play.
But not all Ponting’s observations were askew and, naturally, he had taken note of one man’s performances with special interest.
“Justin Kemp is another one that helped them win a few of their recent one-dayers against New Zealand pretty much off his own bat…but they are a bit like us in that their big, important players are ones that have been around for a long time,” Ponting said.
“It’s guys like (Herschelle) Gibbs, (Jacques) Kallis, (Graeme) Smith, (Shaun) Pollock and (Makhaya) Ntini who are the ones that form a pretty strong nucleus to their team,” Ponting said before admitting that he was genuinely excited and looking forward to the prospect of playing South Africa.
“It is always a good challenge to play against South Africa. They play their cricket in a pretty similar way to what we do, and their personalities are fairly similar to Australians in the way they go about it so it is always a good contest,” Ponting said.
There is no bulls***t about this Australian captain. He can’t be bothered much with sledging and prefers to ‘disintegrate’ his opposition with the power of his cricket.
Although I cannot for a second see either side embarking on a charm offensive or apologising for a lucky bounce or dodgy lbw decision, I can see the prospect of two teams playing the game as hard as the laws allow – and with a smile on their faces.
I could be horribly and embarrassingly wrong because there are volatile temperaments in both teams, but right now I just think we could see what the spirit of cricket is all about over the next five weeks.
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