Ricky Ponting has a lot to bear ahead of the Ashes

2009-06-10 00:00

The ICC 20/20 World Cup has had us on the edge of our seats just days into the tournament. Even though surprise performances in this form of the game are expected, I’m still finding it hard to comprehend that, were it not for the imminent Ashes series, Australia would be winging their way home, after succumbing to Sri Lanka and the West Indies in the early stages of the tournament.

Of course, anything is possible in 20/20 cricket, the Netherlands and Ireland are testimony to that — but it will be of little comfort to Australia. Their early demise hints that they are struggling with a lack of depth and with confidence in their ability to win. This despite the fact that they still have some of the best cricketing infrastructure in world cricket.

Ricky Ponting finds himself in a position where he has to rely heavily on some delicate characters that have the habit of letting him down. The new brand of Australian cricketers seems to lack the hardened mental toughness of their predecessors.

Australian teams under Steve Waugh and Mark Taylor believed they could win under any circumstances; they appeared to hold the mental ascendancy even before they took to the field, and this filtered down to all le­vels of cricket. Ricky Ponting’s men, however, don’t appear to exude the same confidence.

I spent many seasons playing league cricket in England and even there Australian players were self-assured and had an intimidating air about them. We knew little about their credentials but considered them match-winners purely by virtue of the fact that they were Australian.

I’ve mentioned before that Steve Waugh, as captain of Australia, knew his team had the upper hand against South Africa. He believed South Africa simply did not have the belief in their own ability to beat his team and, in most cases, he was proved right.

Recently things have changed. The void that the retirement of many of their top class players has left behind, has been well documented, as has Cricket Australia’s inability to produce worthy replacements.

In contrast, South Africa have proved that Steve Waugh’s theory no lon­ger applies to them, with their le­vels of self-belief at an all time high. South Africa has learnt much from years of tough battles against Austra­lia over the years, and Australia’s current struggles provide an additional lesson on what not to do when your team is on top. It must be tempting for Cricket South Africa to want to bask in the glory of the Proteas recent performances, but resting on your laurels is dangerous, as Australia has shown. Cricket South Africa’s most urgent task will be to ensure that there are promising players waiting in the wings. To guarantee this, it’s vital that they improve the standard of franchise cricket. A high provincial standard ensures the step up to international level is not a great one.

Ricky Ponting has a heavy load on his slight shoulders, with the Ashes tour looming and challenges both on and off the field. The Australians have been hurt by Andrew Symond’s off-field antics, which deprived them of their 20/20 trump card.

England will be pleased that Australia begin the Ashes on the back foot, but Ricky Ponting will be wanting to boost his team’s spirits and use this unexpected time to full advantage.

• Neil Johnson is a former Natal, WP and Zimbabwe all-rounder who lives and coaches in Pietermaritzburg.

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