Ponting returns to where it all started
Ricky Ponting isn't interested in another send-off, but always in his next victory.
Twenty years ago, and two years before his Test debut, an 18-year-old Ponting played his first and only Prime Minister's XI match at Manuka Oval.
Against a Test-strength South African team, Ponting batted at No.3, behind Matthew Hayden and Justin Langer, who were yet to even stroll on to a Test arena in partnership.
Canberra will have the chance to farewell Ponting in his final international match. Photo: Getty Images
Asked for his recollection, Ponting, now 38, can't tell you what he scored. For the record it was 36, second only to Hayden (42) in the Australian innings that day.
But after 560 matches and 27,483 runs for Australia, Ponting can tell you the result. The Prime Minister's XI team won, bowling South Africa out for 152 in 42 overs to defend a meagre total of 156.
''As a young bloke it definitely makes an impact on you - even now that I'm not playing international cricket any more, this is as close as I'll get to an international game,'' Ponting says of Tuesday's Prime Minister's XI clash against the West Indies.
Ponting at the start of his illustrious career. Photo: Getty Images
''It's a really special game to be a part of. This is not about a send-off for me. It's got nothing to do with me, this game, it's about getting a group of players together and representing our country as well as we can. I want to win.''
Ponting might have retired from international cricket this summer, but don't confuse that with giving up.
In an interview with Fairfax Media, Ponting:
Said he was considering playing on in Twenty20 cricket via the Indian Premier league and Big Bash League;
Endorsed Canberra as a venue for more international cricket;
Admitted he had hoped his Test career was still going when he agreed to captain the Prime Minister's XI;
Said he was shocked Australian selectors had ended Mike Hussey's limited-overs career and;
Backed the ongoing Test futures of Brad Haddin and Nathan Lyon.
Ponting was asked to captain last year's Prime Minister's XI match but was forced to turn down the request because of a heavy playing schedule.
When he accepted the role this year, however, he did so before he'd even considered retirement.
''I was asked a long time ago about this [captaining the PM's XI] - I was still hoping to be in the Test team when this game came along.''
Describing his final Test as the toughest mentally of his career, he said retirement might hit him most when Australia play back-to-back Ashes series in the next 12 months.
''I haven't missed it as much as I thought I would - it's just like I've finished a book.
''Close the back cover of the book, move on and find something else to do.
''My international career's over. The more I wish I was out there, the harder it will be.''
While Tuesday's match at Manuka is Canberra's opportunity to farewell one of Australia's greats, Ponting said he was yet to decide when he would completely draw stumps on his career. Ponting was in the top 10 scorers in this summer's Big Bash League and said he had not ruled out returning for the Hobart Hurricanes next season - or even playing in the IPL, for the first time since 2008.
''I really enjoyed the Big Bash this year, it's the first time I've been able to get a bit of rhythm in Twenty20 cricket. How much more I play will depends how I feel at the end of this season. I certainly haven't dismissed the idea of playing in the Big Bash and IPL this year.''
The Prime Minister's XI match will be the first to be played under Manuka's new lights and Ponting said the development had given Canberra the facilities to hold regular international matches.
Manuka will host the Australian team for the first time in a one-day international, also against the West Indies, on February 6.
''The fact they've taken a game there this year is a good sign,'' Ponting said. ''It means Canberra is right at the forefront of Cricket Australia's minds in terms of trying to develop the game and spread international matches around more. If the game goes down well this week, there's no reason it won't get more games in the future.
''Canberra's a little bit like where I'm from, Hobart,'' Ponting said. ''They get an international one-dayer a year and a Test match every few years down at Bellerive. You can see what impact that has on Hobart and certainly to the state to a degree. So with some international cricket coming to Canberra it'll be great for the region and cricket in the ACT.''
Soon after the announcement Ponting would captain the Prime Minister's XI this year, former Australian teammate and Queanbeyan product Brad Haddin signalled his intention to be there with his good mate.
Haddin has been relegated to Australia's second-choice keeper behind Matthew Wade and Ponting said the news would have been tough for Haddin to accept.
Ponting said he'd been impressed by how Haddin had responded to the disappointment this summer, adding the 35-year-old's experience would be invaluable on the tours of India and England. ''The way he's conducted himself and the way he's played the last four or five months has been exceptional. I played my first Shield game against him this year at Bankstown Oval and he got a really good hundred and his keeping looked really sharp. Brad's a very proud bloke and a very competitive person and he'll make sure he gets everything out of himself for the rest of his career.
''The realisation has probably set in with Brad now that once they went with Wade, he might have thought he would never get the opportunity again. But he's done well enough domestically this year to make them pick him … he's still got a lot of cricket left to play yet.''
Former ACT Comets spinner Nathan Lyon could play a more influential role in the future of Australian cricket, Ponting said.
Lyon has inherited from Mike Hussey the role of leading Australia's victory song, a position usually reserved for an established member of the Test team.
''What 'Huss' has done by passing the song on to him shows great faith in Nathan's skill and ability. I think because that's always been passed on to someone you think is going to be around the team for a while and values everything about Australian cricket. That sums Nathan up pretty well. I think he's going to be around the Australian team for a long time.
''The depth we've got in Australian spin bowling is not great at the moment, there's no need trying to hide from that. We just don't have the depth of spinners we'd like. I think we have on the fast bowling side of things but not the spinners.''
Even as he announced his retirement, Ponting never saw Hussey's Test departure coming soon after. The other surprise to Ponting was selectors also chose to dump Hussey from limited-overs teams as well.
''I was surprised he retired from Test cricket to start with and then when he made it clear he wanted to play the one-day series in Australia, then I was surprised they didn't pick him and he wasn't given that chance to play when he wanted to,'' Ponting said. ''But you can understand the decisions selectors make to look towards the future.
''It's a big decision … to leave someone like that out. I couldn't see them going back on that now, unless there were six or seven injuries.''
Ponting said it left a lot of responsibility on captain Michael Clarke, who last year eclipsed Ponting's record for runs in a calendar year.
Asked to predict where Clarke would stand as a batsman and captain when his career ended, Ponting said: ''You never know, things can change so quickly in our game.
''He's elevated himself to a very high level now and the challenge is to stay there and find more ways to improve. Where that takes him no one will know. You'll only ever be judged on your captaincy by how many games you win and lose, simple as that. A lot of the other stuff to Joe Public doesn't matter, it's just the results column.''