The frontman: Ricky Ponting captained Australia in 229 ODIs
The frontman: Ricky Ponting captained Australia in 229 ODIs
Ricky Ponting talks World Cups, 438, the rise of India, and the future of ODIs
It's Christmas Eve. Ricky Ponting has turned up in flip-flops to a yacht club in Melbourne. The club still lets him in. Our chat is to be about one-day batting. Ricky seems quite happy with that. There is a generation of cricketers who see ODIs much like older cricketers now see T20: irrelevant, pointless and for entertainment only. Ponting was born just before the first World Cup. One-day cricket is cricket to him.
His batting style was largely influenced by the one-day game and its evolution. His natural game was to show his authority over the opposition. Even early in his career, you knew this was not just another batsman. It wasn't just about skill. It wasn't just about hunger. Ricky Ponting batted in a certain way. Put a bag over his head, and as he comes down to flick a bowler over the leg side, fans instantly know who is batting. For over two decades he was the poster boy for the Australian way of batting. Hit the ball over the infielders' heads. Run harder than others. Controlled aggression. He spoke about all that. And Supersubs.
Jarrod Kimber: When you were growing up who were the ideal ODI batsmen?
Ricky Ponting: The second part of my development and love for the game was probably [because of] someone like Dean Jones, who was a real standout one-day player for me. I think he played almost a whole generation ahead of his time. You had a majority of fielders in the circle. Back then, 220 was a good score in one-day games, and someone like Dean Jones came out and revolutionised one-day cricket with his strokeplay. It's amazing how you look at someone early on and end up sort of moulding [your game] in the way that they played.
I was never a power player as such. I was into [hitting through] the gap, over the fielders, running hard, and at the end of the innings I could clear the boundary if I really needed to. It is more a power-based game these days, with more T20 cricket being played and guys having no fear and standing up, trying to hit the ball over the fence or even hitting the ball out of the circle. That was a big deal, when I was a young guy anyway, coming into the Australian team and having enough courage to try and hit over the 30-yard circle. Young guys these days come in and have no fear of hitting it over the boundary line. I was somewhere in the middle of an in-the-gap-and-run sort of player and a boundary hitter, I guess.
"We talked about bowlers from the opposition, and Hayden and Gilchrist would put their hands up and say, 'Don't worry about them, boys. We've got them covered'"
Kimber: Michael Bevan became the first sort of finisher in one-day cricket. You would have played a lot with him at the same age, so what did he have that other players didn't have when it came to finishing?
Ponting: He had a very specific role in the team. He batted down the order, batted there for most of his career as well, batted five and six and was known as a finisher. Like Deano, Bevo wasn't a power player either. What he used to do really well was if cover was in the circle and midwicket was in the circle, he would hit it over their heads because that's where the biggest gaps were, and obviously he was very good between the wickets. [He was] one of those guys who had the knack of hitting a boundary when his team needed it. So as far as being an all-round thinker of the game and being able to analyse the situation and then play accordingly, he was the best that I played with. Whenever Australia were chasing runs and Michael Bevan was at the crease, you always felt that you're going to get across the line.
Kimber: Now that one-day cricket has changed, a lot of people have specific roles. You batted at first drop, for instance. Did you have a role other than to go out there and be Ricky Ponting?
Ponting: Not really. Around the 2003 World Cup we started to be a lot more specific about what we expected from our players. When I first came into the side, if you're a batter your job was to get runs and there wasn't too much other planning involved. Being a young bloke, I was out there trying to get runs and not really thinking about the best way for me to do it. I was always a top-order batsman and you always had the game sort of mapped out for you. Most of the situations you played were the same. You would go out early with the field in and try and maximise the first 15 overs, or you would go in in the middle overs, when the field was back and the spinners were on, and my role didn't change. I was lucky over the years that I got to bat behind some very good players. [Mark] Waugh and [Adam] Gilchrist was a reasonable opening combination and [Matthew] Hayden and Gilchrist was reasonable as well, so I got to come in at some pretty good times.
Michael Bevan: "best all-round thinker" on cricket Ponting played with
© Getty Images
Michael Bevan: "best all-round thinker" on cricket Ponting played with © Getty Images
Kimber: In the 1996 World Cup, what happened to all the teams around the world when they suddenly saw Jayasuriya and Kaluwitharana go crazy in the first 15 overs?
Ponting: When we saw Sri Lanka play the way they played in the '96 World Cup and beat us in the final, we had to have a look at the way they played their cricket. Because they revolutionised the way one-day cricket was played - like I said about Dean Jones and, to a certain degree, about Michael Bevan. So what that meant for us is Gilchrist was the opening batsman.
Mark Taylor had opened for us right through that '96 World Cup with Mark Waugh. [In 1998] Gilly came up to the top of the order, which was a move that Steve Waugh brought on. It was a masterstroke as Gilly turned out to be one of the all-time great opening batsmen in the short form. Every team started looking at their wicketkeeper in a different sort of way. The wicketkeeper had to bat and be dangerous with the bat. Then [Kumar] Sangakkara came along and it was amazing how many teams had a quality batsman who took the gloves as well.
Kimber: Even seven years later, in 2003, you're still saying to the two openers, the first 15 overs is for you guys to maximise the runs…
Ponting: We had to. The other thing you thought about was the state of the ball. Teams were working out that trying to hit a soft ball at the end was a lot harder than hitting a hard one. So [fielding] teams were trying to get the ball old quickly, they were trying to rough it up, trying to get some reverse swing. [As a batsman] you had to maximise when the fielders were in the circle but you also had to maximise when the ball was nice and hard. Luckily we had a couple of guys at the top of the order who were pretty handy at doing that in Hayden and Gilchrist. I remember team meetings even in the World Cup in the West Indies in 2007. We sat down to talk about bowlers from opposition teams, and they would put their hands up and say, "Don't worry about them, boys. We've got them covered." They were confident in the way they played. It was no fluke, I guess, to win a couple of World Cups with those guys at the top of the order.
"The new breed of Indian player has a whole lot less fear than the generation before. They're brought up on one-day cricket, the IPL"
Kimber: Then yourself and Damien Martyn would come in at Nos. 3 and 4. So at this stage did you have roles at Nos. 3 and 4?
Ponting: Everyone had specific roles in 2003. That carried over to 2007, when conditions changed in the Caribbean. I guess the roles would change depending on what start you got as well. If you look back to the 2003 World Cup final, we were off to a flyer, we were 90 or 100 off 14 overs or so, and that gave me the opportunity to play myself in and not take too many risks for the first 20 or 30 balls I faced. Whereas if you're behind the eight-ball early on, you've got to get in and get the scoring rate up a little more. In that innings I got my first 50-odd in about 70 balls and then it got to a stage where, because we had so many wickets in hand and so little time left, I had an opportunity to free up and see if I could clear the boundary a few times. And thankfully it came off. It looks like Marto played an anchor role in that partnership. He was 88 not out at the other end and no one really noticed what he was doing. He was one of those players who managed to score quite easily without really looking like he was scoring, and that partnership is one of the fondest memories I have of the game.
Kimber: You had Darren Lehmann, Andrew Symonds and Bevan to come. We know Bevan's role, but what's Lehmann's role? What were you telling him?
Ponting: Lehmann was a middle-order batsman, slightly more unorthodox than most. Great player of spin, had the ability to hit the ball in different areas, walk across and hit into the leg side really well. But because he was brought up in Adelaide, he could hit the ball square of the wicket really well; Symonds, Lehmann in the middle were good players of spin bowling and we knew where the majority of overs are bowled in ODIs and that was the role they were given: to manipulate the ball into gaps and score at a strike rate of a hundred, which back then was good. If Symonds and Bevan were there at the end then we could score whatever we wanted off the last ten overs, so that was the way we tried to structure things.
"The evolution of one-day batting is incredible. The biggest change is obviously the power"
© Getty Images
"The evolution of one-day batting is incredible. The biggest change is obviously the power" © Getty Images
Kimber: In 2006, you had the 438 game in Johannesburg. When you were playing that game, did you think this was what the one-day game would become? Or did you think it was a fluke?
Ponting: Well, it's really interesting because we had our coach, John Buchanan, telling us at the time that our team was going to score 400 in a one-day game. And every time he brought it up in a meeting we would look around at each and think, "Is this bloke for real or what?" Because 300 was a big score even then. If you got 300 you didn't lose too many.
Anyway, it was just one of those days where everything fell into place, every batter hit everything in the middle and the boundaries are small and you're at an altitude, and yeah, I ended up 160-odd and Huss [Michael Hussey] was 80-odd. When we walked off, we were obviously happy with ourselves for having batted first and made that sort of a score. And the South Africans dragged their tails off to the dressing room. And Jacques Kallis, with the rest of the boys with their heads in their hands, said, "I think they're about ten runs short, boys. I think we can get these." And I think everyone erupted into laughter and sure enough they went out there and peeled them off.
I think it was the most angry I've ever been walking off the field at the end of the day and I let everyone know when we got into the change rooms - coaching staff, management, everyone -how I was feeling about what just happened. Because it wasn't just the fact that we lost the game, that game decided the whole series. We played so well for the first half [of the game] and embarrassed ourselves in the second half. But if you look back now you have fond memories of games like that. You watch the highlights and it's just remarkable how both teams could strike the ball so well and so cleanly for so long. It was a great game.
"Everyone keeps talking about boundaries getting smaller. It doesn't matter because the ball is going 50 metres over the fence"
Kimber: That game came before T20s had taken over, especially in South Africa and Australia. But since then, with T20s taking over, India have evolved batting to where they seem to score at a higher rate than anyone else. What are the Indian batsmen doing that batsmen from the rest of the world haven't quite caught up with?
Ponting: They just back themselves more. If they see the ball, they hit the ball, and they think they're never gonna get out. I spent a bit of time there in the last few years with IPLs. They have got an incredible amount of talent throughout that country, especially with the bat. Some of these guys - Rohit Sharma, [Virat] Kohli, [Ajinkya] Rahane and [Shikhar] Dhawan - all serious players. To think that someone can get 264 in a one-day game is just outrageous. Is it four double-hundreds now in one-day internationals? And India have got all four - [Sachin] Tendulkar, [Virender] Sehwag and Rohit Sharma twice.
So they're fearless. I think the new breed of Indian player has a whole lot less fear than the generation before. They are brought up on one-day cricket, they're brought up on IPL. The bats these days are arguably a little better and allow you to hit over the top and, more importantly, hit over the top with confidence. But these guys are super-talented and they are setting the benchmark. I'm actually really excited to see how they play in Australia during the World Cup because if they get going on wickets like the Gabba and Perth, they can make huge scores.
"Getting Gilchrist to the top of the order [in 1998] was a masterstroke"
"Getting Gilchrist to the top of the order [in 1998] was a masterstroke" © AFP
Kimber: What about [MS] Dhoni? You can't beat India if Dhoni is not out in a one-day game. Can you take us through the skills that set him apart from the earlier generation?
Ponting: He just has unbelievable power. He has the ability to hit what the bowler would think is a good ball for a six. And we've seen some of his helicopter shots - balls that are inches away from being perfect yorkers sail back 50 metres into the top tiers of the grandstand. That's the power-based game it is now. Look at Kieron Pollard, Chris Gayle and Dwayne Smith, and even someone like Brendon McCullum, or these guys, David Warner, Aaron Finch, they're all big, powerful hitters.
And the bowlers know that if they are just a little bit off, they're going to go. He's second-guessing where he bowls, he's not quite confident of the ball he wants to bowl, and it has an effect on the whole team. Dhoni is never going to make those really big scores - he did that early in his career, I think he made 180-odd at the top of the order [183 not out batting at No. 3 against Sri Lanka in 2005], but he's not going to do that now. He is the designated finisher for India, a Bevan sort of role with a bit more power. Dhoni just takes it upon himself. If a game is there to be won at eight or ten an over, he thinks he can get 'em all. And he'll face the majority of the balls, whether he is with a batter or a tailender, he just wants to be the man to get the job done. I've seen him do it for India and I've seen him do it for Chennai [Super Kings] in the IPL. I think he's a pretty cool character and he tends to get the job done more often than not.
"When I first started I was almost scared to be different, to try things differently than what everyone else was doing"
Kimber: This is such a wide-ranging question, but how much has one-day batting changed since you started watching ODIs to now?
Ponting: Since I started watching, the evolution of one-day batting is incredible. The biggest change is obviously the power. Everyone keeps talking about boundaries getting smaller. I don't think they're getting much smaller, and it doesn't matter because the ball is going 50 metres over the fence. It's not that it's just dropping over the line. The bats are probably a little bit better, but the ability of a modern player to score 360 degrees around the ground is what makes it so hard to set fields for. You see these guys come in and reverse-sweep and switch-hit and it really does make it difficult to get the fielders in the close areas that you want to protect. You know the laps and the Dilscoops - batters are scoring everywhere.
When I first started, everyone knew your strengths and weaknesses and they plugged those gaps up and no one had enough courage to come out and play the kind of shots that they're playing these days. Alex Hales is a really good example. Look at his stats a couple of years ago, when he was just starting out in T20s. He was predominantly a leg-side player, and 12 months later he developed his game to score all around the ground, and as a result he is the No. 1-ranked T20 player in the world. If you can score through 360 degrees, you're obviously causing the fielding captain a whole lot of grief. And you're causing the bowlers even more grief.
Kimber: Imagine you've got McGrath bowling for you at one end and you've got Dhoni and Tillakaratne Dilshan batting. McGrath is trying to bowl yorkers. Dilshan is slipping them over the keeper's head for four, Dhoni is mishitting them over long-on for six. What do you do as a fielding captain?
Ponting: The thing that bowlers are catching on to is, you can't bowl yorkers at the stumps anymore. You have to bowl a yorker wide outside off stump, and that's what we have done very well with Dhoni in the past. Dhoni hits really straight or to mid-on, midwicket. He never scores any boundaries through point, third man, extra cover sort of areas. So you've got to challenge him to hit shots that he doesn't want to hit, so it comes by changing the line. And for bowlers to do that, you've got to take your ego out of it. Bowlers always used to think, "If I hit my yorker well and if the batsman misses, I'm gonna get a wicket." But now you've got to be completely defensive-minded and try and bowl a dot ball. That's the best way to get run rates up, that's the best way to win games.
"I think the 438 game was the most angry I've ever been walking off the field at the end of the day"
© Getty Images
"I think the 438 game was the most angry I've ever been walking off the field at the end of the day" © Getty Images
Kimber: If you were 20 today, what shots would you have that you never really played throughout your career?
Ponting: I would have looked to develop some more sweep-type shots. I think being brought up in Australia in my era, you never had to play sweeps. If you were good enough you would use your feet well. We were always taught to use our feet well, to get down and hit the ball on the full or hit it back down the ground against the spinners. By doing that it limits where you can actually score, whereas the modern players, they use their feet and sweep both ways. So you've got to have fielders behind the bat and that opens up your areas in front of the bat. You've got your gaps down the ground and bigger gaps over cover and midwicket. Your technique evolves because you have someone to look at and study and ask questions of and learn from.
I guess the era that I played in, no one was playing like that. There were a few guys in England who were doing it - Mike Gatting did it in the '87 World Cup and that cost them the whole tournament. But now guys are doing it easily and they're doing it well. Dave Warner turns around and hits a 110-metres six right-handed - I'm not sure if I would be able to do that. It's not even that they can do it, it's the fact that the bowler thinks that they might do it, so that puts him under pressure from the word go. I mean now, for instance, if you have a right-hander on strike with a legspinner bowling, you have to have two guys behind point on the off side because more often than not they are going to attempt a reverse sweep. And if you don't have two behind point, the deep cover guy has to go all the way back behind there, so it opens up a gap at cover. So trying to fill all the gaps in a cricket field is pretty hard work.
"That partnership with Damien Martyn in the 2003 World Cup final is one of the fondest memories I have of the game"
Kimber: I want to talk about how the playing conditions have changed in one-day cricket. You've been through so many till the end of your career, even from the start of your captaincy till the end. Was there ever a time when you went out in an international game and just didn't know how a rule worked?
Ponting: If you've had a long break and maybe a week's training camp with no practice games and head straight into a tournament, you would have to think, "When do I take this Powerplay?" or "When can I use a Supersub?" There's all these things that changed through my time but I had a pretty good grasp and I don't think I made too many errors there - I didn't have too many catchers or too many outside the circle.
They've tried lots of things to try reinvigorating the 50-over game. Some have worked, some haven't worked very well, but I think the end product is still… it's a great game. The negativity about one-day cricket came about because of how almost predictable the game was becoming, but I actually think it's the other way - with T20 skills being imported into the 50-over game a team might be 5 for 50 chasing 300 but they can still win with a Pollard or Dhoni to come in. A good, tight, close one-day game is still a great spectacle.
Kimber: I assume Tests are your favourite, but did you enjoy one-dayers more than T20s?
Ponting: I did. That's the way I was brought up, I guess. I also played the game better. I started playing T20s at the end of my career and never really played T20 cricket very well. Some of my fondest memories have been in one-day cricket because of the World Cup success we had and Champions Trophies that we won. Look, I was a traditionalist. I grew up on Test cricket, I grew up on 50-over cricket and they would be my two favourite formats.
"If a game is there to be won at eight or ten an over, Dhoni thinks he can get 'em all"
"If a game is there to be won at eight or ten an over, Dhoni thinks he can get 'em all" © AFP
Kimber: Batting Powerplays?
Ponting: I actually think it's the most overrated thing in the game. I don't think it has any impact or effect on the game at all. All it does is meddle with the batsmen's minds. If you actually looked at how many more runs you scored in a Powerplay compared to outside a Powerplay, it might be five or ten runs. And there is usually a wicket or two. So all this talk about the Powerplay… it's very rare that it comes off and it's very rare that it has an impact.
That's why I think teams should just sit down at the start of a tournament and say, "We're going to take it here every game", and play their innings accordingly. There's been other times when teams have said, "Let's just leave it up to the two batsmen out there, they can make their minds up." What tends to happen is when teams are off to a flyer and they're 0 for 80 after ten overs, the batsmen are going to say, "Let's take it now." But you're already scoring eight an over, you're not going to score much quicker than that anyway, so why should you take it then? You can look at the Powerplay in a lot of different ways but I don't think there were too many games I was involved in where it had an impact on the game at all.
Kimber: Supersub - was that the worst change?
Ponting: Yeah, that was a bit more confusing than most, when to use him, or if to use him, or-
Kimber: What player to pick!
Ponting: What player to pick. I remember one really funny incident when we played Sri Lanka under the roof in Etihad Stadium [in Melbourne], and they had a guy called Michael Vandort who batted at No. 3 to come in as their Supersub. And we always had this vision that a Supersub is this big power-hitter who was going to come in and take the game away. So Vandort came in at No. 3 and made close to a fifty but got them off about 120 balls [48 off 117]. It wasn't the Supersub idea that we thought it was going to be, and it got to a stage where we didn't want to get him out. We just wanted to leave him out there. That was an interesting one.
Even in domestic cricket here in Australia we had guys coming on tour for a one-day game and bowlers wouldn't even bring their cricket kit, they'll just bring their bowling boots. They didn't need their bat and pads because they would just bowl their overs and they were done for the game. They would bowl an over, sit at the boundary, and come and bowl the next over. It probably didn't have the desired effect that everyone thought it must have.
But those things are worth a go. If the fans are telling the hierarchy and the administrators that there is something wrong with the game then I've got no problem trialling these things. But I don't think they need to trial this at the highest level. I think they can trial it somewhere else first before the international stage.
"Now you've got to be completely defensive-minded and try and bowl a dot ball. That's the best way to get run rates up"
Kimber: From a batting perspective, what's the difference in mindset between scoring at five an over and scoring at seven an over?
Ponting: I think that's one thing that has changed in the game - the ability for teams to chase runs. I don't think run rates worry teams now till they get up to 12 an over in the last ten overs. Now you get 100 off the last ten easily. For the majority of my career, when we chased runs we would set ourselves to try and get 60 off the last ten. When the run rate would get up over six, you started to think, "You've got to get some boundaries, you've got to try and get it back to a run a ball." Run a ball - we used to hear a lot, and think, "It's going to be a hard chase where you need a run a ball."
It's almost two runs a ball these days. The change from five an over to seven an over meant you had to look for a boundary more regularly. Six singles in one over wasn't enough, and if you got six singles your [required] run rate still went up and before you knew it, it would be up to eight. You just had to be conscious of looking for a boundary in the over and talking about batting and how to put pressure on bowlers.
These days what the batters do is, they target a bowler and hit a boundary off the first ball of an over. Whereas the old way was to try and get three or four singles and if you needed a boundary you would try and hit a boundary at the end of the over. It's almost gone the other way now: hit the boundary early, put the bowler under pressure, spread the field around a little bit, and control the game from there.
Kimber: It also used to be that if you scored a boundary early in the over, you would make sure that you consolidated for the rest of it.
Ponting: Not lose a wicket, yeah exactly.
What teams do now is that they target certain bowlers. We see that happen more and more in T20 games. For instance there might be a slight weakness in the attack and there might be a sixth bowler that they are going to use. And the batsmen make sure that when that guy comes on they are going to maximise and attack in that over. And that bowler is different for everybody. It might have been a left-arm orthodox spinner for me, or I will put my money for a quick to come back and target that over.
I guess that's part of the preparation that goes into the modern game now, and it's something that should be spoken about a lot more, I reckon. Teams are not going to tell me their tactics but I think [we need to talk about it] in the commentary side of things. And that's what I have enjoyed with the Big Bash, to try and actually let the viewers know what the batsmen might be thinking. You can generally tell from their body language what they're thinking, what they're gonna do. The average viewer who sits back and just watches a one-day game probably doesn't understand how much preparation goes into it.
"Trying to fill all the gaps in a cricket field is pretty hard work"
© Associated Press
"Trying to fill all the gaps in a cricket field is pretty hard work" © Associated Press
Kimber: Right towards the end of your career what was the team meeting like for batsmen? What were you told? Were you showed more analysis or was it more, "This bowler tries to land in this area?" What did they go through before you went out to play?
Ponting: The thing with team meetings when I finished was that if you wanted to go over the analysis, you would be going through every opposition player and all their variations and what they did and their strengths and weakness… you just can't do that. So what I said was, "We all have laptops and iPads on tours and the guys would be given a disc or USB stick, which they can then take back to the room and sit and watch." We had a computer set up in the team room and the guys were expected to go down and go through all their own stuff. And to the guys' credit, they did it. They had to do it. You have to find a 1% edge and 1% advantage. Because as an international player you just have nowhere to hide. If you have got any weakness at all or if you have got a particular strength, teams will know about it pretty much as it is happening, even though they are on the other side of the world. So you have to try and stay a step ahead of what the rest of the world is doing.
Kimber: So if you are facing a bowler, you're told where they are trying to stop runs, where they are trying to take wickets and what happens when you start attacking them?
Ponting: You can see the bowler's entire history. You can see what he will do under pressure, where he will bowl under pressure. What fields he will bowl to, what he is going to do with the new ball, what he might do with the old ball, how he might bowl to you at the start of the innings. You can process all that and have a store in your own memory bank.
We all go back to what has worked for us in the past. If I were analysing bowlers, I would see how they have bowled to me in the past at the start of the innings, how they bowled to me with the new ball, how they bowled to me with an old ball, and then I would formulate a plan so that I can be successful against them.
"If I had had the foresight I would have started hitting these reverse sweeps when I was 15. Even now I can't hit a proper sweep shot. And I am 40"
Kimber: So you were more worried about what they had done to you, not so much what they did in general?
Ponting: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I can sit there and watch ten years' worth of footage of what these guys have bowled and what they have tried to do. I would generally watch what they did with me, because what they did to me would be completely different from what they did to Andrew Symonds. So there's no use in me watching what they had bowled to Andrew Symonds or the way they bowled to Matthew Hayden. It's about making sure that I can formulate my own game plan, to give myself the best chance to have success the next day.
Kimber: When did this level of analysis come in?
Ponting: Probably around the Buchanan era; midway to sort of the end of the Buchanan era. John was right into that sort of stuff and looking at things in different ways than probably cricket had ever been looked at before. That was really the start of keeping all the data and having computer systems in place, allowing us to keep data of what opposition players and opposition teams were doing. That's probably where it started. I had never been using computers before Buck came along. But it's gone to a level now where everyone has got a laptop with them and that's what they are doing most nights before they go to sleep.
"Being brought up in Australia in my era, you never had to play sweeps. If you were good enough, you would use your feet well"
© Getty Images
"Being brought up in Australia in my era, you never had to play sweeps. If you were good enough, you would use your feet well" © Getty Images
Kimber: What about fielding changes? Does that change anything, or from a batting point of view, do you just have to block out those on the off side?
Ponting: Yeah! It does absolutely change the way you bat. On a recent talk about the good South African teams that we played against - with fielders like [Jonty] Rhodes, [Herschelle] Gibbs and [AB] de Villiers at cover, point, and backward point - we used to have a rule that said, drop it close to the wicket and run, but you had to make sure that the ball passed them before you took them on. Because those guys moved incredibly well laterally and if there was a chance to get you out they would be onto it in a couple of steps and run you out pretty easily. I think the Australian team was at their best when we had guys like Symonds, myself, Michael Clarke, Mark Waugh - those guys were really good ground fielders and I am sure opposition teams would have said the same thing about us.
[As a batsman] it was all about trying to manipulate the ball better. So if the bowling was normally nice and tight, we would just drop the ball on the wicket rather than hit it to point or cover. We would open the face of the bat and run it down fine, down to third man, so there was always that gap there, and with those great fielders there were never many gaps at cover and backward point because they closed the gaps down so well.
[As a fielder] I wanted batsmen to actually hit the ball past me because the harder you have to hit the shot, the more the chance of the ball going up in the air or getting an edge. So I would try to get close and I would try to cut down angles and then I would try to anticipate which way they were going, you know, by looking at the face of the bat and the batsman, and actually stay a step ahead. I was, of course, cheating a little bit but sometimes you anticipate it right and sometimes you get it wrong. But often if you get it right you can pull off a run-out pretty easily.
"It's almost as if modern batsmen are practising the short-form technique first and then trying to build a Test match technique on the back of it"
Kimber: What about range hitting? When was the first time you started thinking about big hitting on its own?
Ponting: I reckon the first time I saw it was from Lance Klusener; might have been in the 1999 World Cup. We hadn't done any of it, to be honest. We saw Klusener and that was pretty amazing hitting actually. Just standing in the middle of the ground - standing on a wicket next to the one that was going to be used for the game - and hitting the ball into the top of the stand. And you know you can hit the same shot when in the nets but you don't get the confidence unless you see where the ball is going. I thought that was a great way to train. It's like the difference between Tiger Woods practising in the nets and then going and hitting in the open lawns and seeing where the ball is going. It's just the confidence. Yeah, that has evolved.
I first saw it in 1999 and then I remember it in South Africa in 2003, and we took it to another level in the Caribbean in 2007. We took our own bowling machines with us, a bunch of yellow machine balls, and Matthew Hayden made sure he lost most of them pretty early in the tournament. We had our own machines set up in the middle of the training grounds. And after our training sessions we did a bit of range hitting. With bowling machines you could adjust the lengths. One day we would have set it for [Lasith] Malinga bowling nice and straight and another day we would set it for big tall guys bowling to us. It's a really good and specific way to practise.
Just standing there, hitting the ball easy, getting the ball in the middle and watching it go for six made you trust yourself. You didn't have to lose your shape. You just had to trust your bat swing and your timing to hit it 20 to 30 metres over the fence. So I think the confidence that you get from seeing the ball go and the feeling of actually hitting a six - that was the big thing we got out of it.
Ricky Ponting enjoyed three consecutive World Cup wins, captaining Australia in two
© Getty Images
Ricky Ponting enjoyed three consecutive World Cup wins, captaining Australia in two © Getty Images
Kimber: What else now exists in batting coaching?
Ponting: I reckon guys do a lot of drill-type things now…
Kimber: They like pulling into the nets now.
Ponting: And back-foot drives and cut shots and those types of things. I have seen an ex team-mate of mine, Ed Cowan, use a normal-length handle and a blade that was about half the length to practise his driving. He had to get right forward and right over the ball and get his weight right into it or he couldn't hit the ball properly. So guys see things in such different ways now to make themselves a little bit better. And they are courageous enough to do it.
When I first started I was almost scared to be different, you know, to try things differently than what everyone else was doing. All the fielding drills that I did were different from most of the guys, but when it was batting time in the nets I was trying to hit good cover drives, trying to hit good pull shots, to rotate the strike against spinners, use my feet well… But if I had had the foresight I would have started hitting these reverse sweeps when I was 15 and also hitting proper sweep shots, because even now I can't hit a proper sweep shot. And I am 40!
Because there is so much more short-form cricket, it's almost as if modern batsmen are practising the short-form technique first and then trying to build a Test match technique on the back of it. I was always brought up the other way around, you know. It was all about technique and batting for long periods of time and not getting out, and then trying to find ways to score. Now you look at Warner and Steve Smith and it's all the other way. A lot of Indian players, Test match players, are finding ways to find the technique to stand up in Test cricket because they have been brought up on the shorter forms.
"In the Caribbean in 2007, we took our own bowling machines with us, a bunch of yellow machine balls, and Matthew Hayden made sure he lost most of them"
Kimber: When did you notice that T20 has started affecting one-day cricket? Was it straightaway or did it take a little while?
Ponting: I think it took a little while, certainly in our country. And we didn't play enough T20 cricket since its inception. We only played a couple of games a year, and that would generally be an exhibition kind of a game. But suddenly it was this big beast that kept growing and growing and growing. Money was coming from everywhere and players from all around the world wanted to play in these tournaments.
The scoring rates [in ODIs] have gone up slightly but it hasn't gone to the level that I thought it would have gone to. I thought 400 was gonna be made quite regularly, particularly in the subcontinent with smaller grounds, and in South Africa at the Wanderers probably every other weekend. But it hasn't happened. And they have brought changes - like a couple of new balls and Powerplays - that have probably hindered the batsmen a little at the start but made it easier at the end of the innings where you have got two harder balls which you can hit freely. But it has had an effect on the bowling skills as well. As I said, wide yorkers, slower-ball bouncers and all different variations like that didn't exist when I started playing.
"The Powerplay is the most overrated thing in the game. I don't think it has any impact or effect at all. It just meddles with the batsmen's minds"
"The Powerplay is the most overrated thing in the game. I don't think it has any impact or effect at all. It just meddles with the batsmen's minds" © AFP
Kimber: What about the IPL? Do you think we have many players, like Shane Watson, who get great practice and legendary stature when they dominate the slightly lower-level league?
Ponting: It's interesting, because I think the competition is a bit better than that in the IPL. It's a pretty high standard. You don't get too many freebies. You are up against all the best international players to start with.
I think the T20 game is like that. When you get on a roll you think you are invincible. If you are always in control of your game as a batsman - seeing the ball clearly, hitting the ball well, especially in India on nice flat wickets and small grounds - then you can do some pretty amazing things. But the flip side is that when you get into a rut, it's pretty hard to get out of it in the T20 game. When you know you are not striking the ball well, it's a pretty hard game to go and play with freedom.
[Glenn] Maxwell is a big example. He had that unbelievable season last year for the first three quarters of the IPL and then sort of faded away towards the end. It's a long tournament and it's hard to dominate something for that long. It does give you a false sense of security. But I have seen Shane Watson do [what he does in the IPL] at international level as well.
Kimber: What's next? What are the new coaching techniques? What shots?
Ponting: In the last couple of years, it's interesting how often third man is up in the circle in ODIs and T20s because of bowlers' changes in pace, in particular. It's really hard to get the ball down to third man, and if there is no pace on the ball, why would you have him all the way back there? What else can they do? If the bowler is bowling yorkers - especially yorkers that are wide of the stumps - a batsman could open the face of the bat, like a golf club, so when you hit straight it slides off the face and goes over backward point, where there are usually no fielders. It's not really hard to get it there if the face of your bat is square. So, you know, things like that, which you can tinker with - play a reverse sweep and let it just hit the back of the bat, because it's hard to judge where the ball is going to go then. Little things like that might be the next stage.
Jarrod Kimber is a writer for ESPNcricinfo. @ajarrodkimber
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