Ricky Ponting is 25 runs from becoming Australia’s leading scorer and the third most prolific in Tests, but he has greater team pursuits to achieve this week in Birmingham as his side attempts to level the Ashes series. Ponting starts the match sitting on 11,150 and while Allan Border’s 15-year-old national mark is the initial target, the current captain wants much more. “Twenty-five runs is not what I am after in this game,” he said. “I am after a big score.” Ponting opened the series with 150 in Cardiff but managed 2 and 38 at Lord’s when the record seemed set to fall. “I have known about it since the beginning of the series,” he said. “Things came up on the board during the first Test, given I went past 11,000 and all of that stuff. So I have had a rough idea, but I have not thought about it or focused on it at all. I have bigger fish to fry than that right at the moment.”
As captain, Ponting has become so important to his young team that he can act as a barometer for their success. When he scores heavily the side can breathe easily, but when he fails they are often left gasping. Only once since becoming the leader in 2004 has he registered a century and Australia have lost, with the blemish coming against South Africa in Melbourne late last year. Seventeen hundreds have resulted in wins or draws as captain and have boosted his run tally to the sort of numbers only the true greats can achieve. Sachin Tendulkar currently leads with 12,773 in 159 games while Lara reached 11,953 in 131 matches. Ponting, whose average of 56.31 beats all but Garry Sobers in the top 20, will play his 134th Test on Thursday, 22 fewer than Border managed during his 16-year career.
“Hopefully it comes,” Ponting said of the record. “It would be nice to get it out of the way in the first innings of this game and put that behind us.” Michael Clarke, the vice-captain, said Ponting was somebody everyone in the team looked up to. “If anyone deserves to overtake Allan Border, it’s Ricky Ponting,” he said. “He’s been an amazing player for such a long time in all forms of the game, in all conditions around the world, to me that’s a sign of great players. I see Ricky as one of the greatest players I’ve played with, and one of the greatest players to play the game.”
Ponting missed the tour match against Northamptonshire over the weekend and his time off included attending the first birthday of his daughter Emmy. “A couple of days away from cricket is always nice when we have been as busy as we have been,” he said. “It has normally worked pretty well for me when I have had a break, I have generally played okay. The break actually came at a good time for a lot of us.” Australia experienced similar stress during the 2005 tour, a series which started to turn when Ponting won the toss and bowled in the second Test at Edgbaston. England raced to 407 on the first day and eventually sealed a two-run win that grew into a 2-1 victory.
Ponting, who has lost both coin tosses in this series, said the decision of four years ago would not influence him on Thursday morning. “I will do what I think is right to do on the day,” he said. “There might be overhead conditions to tell us what I should do, which was what I did in 2005. No, it won’t have any bearing on it.” He said Australia relished the situation of being behind and would enjoy clawing their way back into the contest. “I think we all do,” he said. “Australian teams always do that and that was the pleasing thing that came out in the second half of the Lord’s Test. We had been comprehensively outplayed on the first two days but the way we fought out the last couple of days, it said a lot about the Australian spirit.” They feel they have something to prove over the next week.