Ponting in search of missing Ashes triumph

03 July 2009

London: Australia captain Ricky Ponting heads into the upcoming Ashes series against England looking to erase the one blot on a CV filled with outstanding achievements.

Ponting, one of the most talented batsmen of his and many another generation, has yet to captain his country to Ashes glory in England.

He was in charge when Australia lost their first Ashes series in nearly 20 years when England won 2-1 on home soil four years ago.

"I was disappointed to lose the Ashes in 2005 as the entire touring group were," said Ponting. "I've been lucky to play in an era of Australian cricket that's been very dominant.

"One thing I haven't been able to achieve as captain is to win an Ashes series in England and I'll make sure that I get that point across to the rest of the guys."

Will he ever.

The fact the Tasmanian was in charge when Australia regained the Ashes 5-0 'Down Under' in 2006/07 won't lessen his determination to do well now.

His captaincy skills have been repeatedly 'bagged' with former Australia fast bowler Jeff Thomson stinging in his criticisms again this week.

But Thomson also said Australia had the better line-up and that may yet prove to be true even though they are now without retired stars Shane Warne, Glenn McGrath, Justin Langer, Matthew Hayden and Adam Gilchrist.

The loss of leg-spin great Warne and accurate paceman McGrath, who between them took 49 wickets in the last Ashes series, has made life harder for Ponting in the field, as it would for any captain.

Even so he still led Australia to a Test series win in South Africa after the Proteas had had to perform brilliantly to win the preceding series in Australia.

They don't have those legends they had but the guys that have come in have done a good job and they will be determined to make their own mark in Australian cricket," said England captain Andrew Strauss.

In left-arm quick Mitchell Johnson and the emerging Peter Siddle, Australia have a lively pair of fast bowlers.

Meanwhile the way veteran quick Brett Lee reverse-swung the ball to take five wickets against England Lions at Worcester on Thursday suggested a skill that proved their undoing in 2005 has been mastered by at least one Australian.

But the question is have Australia's batsmen got better at playing it? Left-hander Gilchrist was driven to distraction by Andrew Flintoff's bowling in 2005 and Australia's top order contains several of his fellow southpaws.

However, taking 20 wickets in a Test has proved a problem for England in recent times.

Flintoff, England's hero four years ago, is coming back from a knee injury while star batsman Kevin Pietersen heads into the Ashes under the cloud of an Achilles problem.

England do at least appear to have more and better spin options than Australia although it will be up to the home side's batsmen to give the likes of Graeme Swann and Monty Panesar something to bowl at, even on a Cardiff pitch for next week's Ashes opener which has a reputation for taking turn.

Off-spinner Nathan Hauritz, an unusually conservative selection by Australian standards, has rarely looked like taking a wicket so far on tour, a vindication of the damning assessment of former Australia captain Ian Chappell that containers should remain the preserve of the shipping industry.

"One of the great strengths of Australian cricket has been how adaptable we've been over a long period of time," said Ponting.

"Yes Swann has done a good job in the games he's played but I see him as being fairly similar to Nathan Hauritz. They are not overly big spinners."

If Australia do leave Hauritz out, it will mean Ponting having to fiddle overs from the likes of Michael Clarke and Marcus North if his quicks are not to run the risk of burnout.

Australia opener Phillip Hughes burst on the scene in South Africa with back-to-back hundreds in only his second Test but the unorthodox left-hander was roughed up by fast bowler Stephen Harmison against the Lions.

Having said that Harmison, equally capable of sending the ball to second slip as he is of sending down a blistering bouncer, is currently out of the England side and may not feature in the Ashes at all.

In Strauss, England have a captain who helped unify the side after the fall-out from Pietersen's enforced resignation from the post.

A sound opener it will be up to him and fellow left-hander Alastair Cook to give England a solid platform at the top of the order.

New England No 3 Ravi Bopara looked good against a lacklustre West Indies but how he goes during the Ashes remains to be seen - as indeed does the latest chapter in cricket's oldest international rivalry.