'You don’t lose your skills overnight'
There is a hint of laughter as he answers a question, a self-deprecating smile as he takes on the next, suddenly though, there is a glimpse again of that famed self-assurance that borders on the arrogance, a hint of irritation, before it is masked again by a smile and another straight answer that has the questioner nodding in agreement. Ricky Ponting walks into a room rather casually, but there is no way you cannot know that he is there. There is that indefinable aura of power around him, an authority he has grown into, a far cry from the bratty playboy wannabe of some years ago who tended to get into trouble every now and then.
The Ponting we see now is a man on the cusp of writing every cricketing record as captain and probably, most of them as a batsman. He drives a team of intensely driven professional sportsmen with single-minded focus, expecting from them the same intensity day after day, game after game. And happily for him, he gets it. Would Ponting have been Ponting if he had had a team of men who did not grow up in a system that demanded excellence? No one can possibly know the answer to that one, but watching Ponting work his way through stuff on the field and off, it is difficult to believe his ultra-competitive nature would be satisfied with anything less than being No. 1.
Watching Ponting in action is fascinating, even when he's answering more or less the same questions at a generic media conference. Everything is planned to a T and executed in the same way, constantly.
On Tuesday, on the eve of the second Test here, he took some time out to let everyone know that he thought Anil Kumble's reference to India's lack of acclimatisation ahead of the Melbourne Test was a load of, well, very heavy droppings. “I think way too much is being made of the lack of practice (to blame for India's performance),” said Ponting, wearing his briefly irate face. “After all, they played three Tests before coming into this series and then, the MCG wicket was more suited to them in many ways than us.”
And then, in case no one had understood, he reiterated his point. “When a foreign team goes somewhere and they don't play that well in the first game, it's always because their preparation wasn't long enough. I think there's way too much made of that… But every country's schedule is decided well in advance. The boards sit down, every country decides, sometimes two years in advance these days, on schedules,” said Ponting.
He continued the theme when asked to elaborate. “Your skills don't go anywhere. You certainly don't lose your skills overnight. Obviously different things work for different people, but I think there is always too much made of not getting enough preparation time.” That done and demolished, Ponting turned to his own merry band. He has apparently told his teammates to tone down on the chatter about the upcoming milestone of 16 Test wins in a row in the dressing room. Asked why, he replied: “I think it takes away the focus and can cloud your thinking.” He added that he had no problem with a bit of chatter about it. “But if it gets too much, I will step in and put a stop to it. The milestones can happen only when you win 600 contests in a day and win the day and then do that over five days before you win a Test…. I'm no great thinker (about milestones and such). For me, what matters is the day-to-day work ethic and management of the team.” That work ethic shows, especially in the way the younger players have stepped in and plugged the vacuum that had been created by the exit in quick succession, of people like McGrath, Warne, Langer and Martyn. He agreed Australia were going through a phase of “transition”. “Last summer, a lot was said about how we would regroup with so many changes. How would the bowlers manage? But they have managed very well. I think the younger guys are constantly trying to improve themselves and that's showing.” Yes, it is and if it wasn't, it soon would be.