Ponting opens up on coaching set-up

Legendary former skipper reveals post-Cape Town shake-up and his ambitions with regards to mentoring roles in Australian cricket in coming years

Andrew Ramsey

13 December 2018, 10:22 PM AEST

Ricky Ponting has cited the dearth of former top-level Australia players involved in coaching as a key factor in the ongoing struggles of the national men's team, but has revealed his plans to take charge of the T20 line-up were scuttled by fall-out from the ball-tampering scandal.

While wholeheartedly endorsing his former teammate and regular confidante Justin Langer as the best-qualified coach to lead Australia through its challenging re-invention, Ponting believes the lack of internationally competitive coaching opportunities in Australia cricket is affecting on-field performance.

The 43-year-old, who is among a swag of former internationals coaching in the lucrative Indian Premier League, indicated he is keen to continue his consultant role with Australia teams when needs arise but sees Langer as the man needed to oversee the men's outfit in all formats for the foreseeable future.

Langer – who played 105 Test matches and became Australia's all-time leading first-class runs scorer – is one of the few long-serving former internationals to have pursued a coaching career in Australia post-playing days.

Former fast bowler Jason Gillespie has built a hugely successful coaching career that began in Zimbabwe, but has achieved much of his success in the UK as well as with the Adelaide Strikers BBL club.

Many others from a golden era of Australia cricket (including Ponting) have accepted media roles while a number, such as Shane Warne, Mike Hussey and Simon Katich, have also taken on high-profile off-field positions with franchises in the annual IPL competition.

In recent years, ex-Test regulars such as Ryan Harris, Chris Rogers and Adam Voges have taken up coaching positions with Cricket Australia's high performance program and state associations, but Ponting claims that coaching stocks remain a contentious issue across all levels of the game.

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"It's been a topic of conversation for 20 years, about having the right people at the right places at the right times," Ponting told cricket.com.au.

"Whether that's the cricket academy (now absorbed into the Bupa National Cricket Centre in Brisbane) or the states, or the (under) 19s or 17s around the state set-up, I'm just not sure enough attention is being paid to coaching around Australia.

"I think it might be the reason why we're struggling to find those (top-level) players now.

"If you wind the clock back 20 years when some of these guys that are (now) playing international cricket or senior players in (Sheffield) Shield cricket, have a look who the coaches might have been around them at that stage and you'll start to understand some of the reasons."

The recently completed review into Australia cricket culture conducted by The Ethics Centre noted that a number of ex-players, coaches and administrators felt emerging players were having too many decisions made on their behalf by well-meaning mentors and were therefore "less worldly" upon reaching senior levels.

In addition, it is widely accepted that prospects for former players looking to remain involved in the game through coaching can be more enticing overseas, where the growth in T20 franchise competitions offer greater financial rewards for significantly shorter time investments.

When Ponting was enrolled at the national cricket academy, then based in Adelaide, in the early 1990s it was overseen by former Australia Test keeper Rod Marsh who routinely called upon ex-teammates including Ian Chappell and Dennis Lillee to conduct 'guest' coaching sessions.

Belinda Clark, the former Australia women's team captain who is Cricket Australia's interim Executive General Manager Team Performance said approaches have been made to Ponting and other former players to secure their involvement in CA coaching programs.

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"We would love to have Ricky involved more and will keep working with him to be involved as often as he can," Clark told cricket.com.au.

"We are absolutely committed to coaching and recognise the importance of good coaching throughout the system.

"The investment in coaching following the (2011) Argus Review has been significantly increased at elite and talent/development pathway level across Australia.

"It will take time to continue to build depth and quality in Australian coaching stocks, but we are committed to this."

Ponting also confirmed it was circumstances rather than economics that short-circuited plans for him to take over as specialist national T20 coach in the lead-up to the men's T20 World Cup, to be held in Australia in 2020.

Ponting revealed he had agreed to assume the role from then men's team coach Darren Lehmann (who was contracted until mid-2019), but that strategy was ditched in the wake of the ball-tampering scandal in South Africa that saw Lehmann resign early, and Langer installed as his replacement.

"The plan was he (Lehmann) was going to continue on as Test and one-day coach, and I'd take over the entire T20 stuff," Ponting said.

"When he resigned, I just said to Justin straight away, 'Mate, you have to take over all of these teams right now – you need to be the consistent person around the three formats with these players (and) if I can come in and help, then I'll help where I can'."

"Whether he (Langer) wanted it to be that way or not, that's the way it had to be, but when I spoke to him straightaway, he didn't want to upset me and feel like he was taking a job away.

"At the same time, I knew he had to have those three jobs and those three roles."

Ponting had twice previously lent his expertise to the men's national T20 team and then joined Langer's coaching staff for this year's Qantas ODI Tour of the UK, an experience that the ex-Test captain described as "a couple of the best weeks I've had since I've retired".

Unfortunately, an achilles tendon tear he sustained while filming a recent television commercial prevented him from reprising that role during last month's Gillette Series against South Africa and India, for which he would have offered his services if fitness had allowed.

Ponting admits that it's the T20 game where he feels he has most to offer, given his IPL experience with the Mumbai Indians and now Delhi Daredevils as well as through his work in past summers as a commentator on the KFC Big Bash League.

"I'm probably more tactically up to date with the trend in that game that any of the others," he said.

"It fits into what I want to do – it's not as a big a time commitment as it is with the other formats.

"Like I've said to Justin all the way through – Justin will have me (around the team) one day out of every month just to be around – but if I'm going to do it, I want to be able to commit and not just look like I'm coming in and out.

"I want to commit to the players more than anything else, I want to be a consistent person, a consistent voice around for the players.

"If I don't think I can fully commit to doing it for doing most of the time, then I won't do it."

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When he was initially in the frame to take on the national T20 coaching role, Ponting had sought assurances from CA that the best players would be made available for all T20 internationals through until the next World Cup in October and November 2020.

But inevitable conflicts including injury rehabilitation programs and the need to prepare players for red-ball commitments amid a cramped international playing schedule made that problematic.

Which, in turn, led Ponting to concede the position of specialist T20 coach could be "very frustrating and pretty hard to manage".

On reflection, Ponting acknowledges that those competing pressures means it is unrealistic to expect Australia's foremost men's players to be available for every match of all three formats, and managing that reality looms as one of Langer's greatest challenges.

That has not swayed his belief, however, that Langer is the best qualified candidate to lead Australia's men's team as it looks to re-establish trust and empathy among its fan base as well as the competitive edge that has dulled in the aftermath of the cheating scandal in South Africa.

"For the next few years, Justin is absolutely the man to lead all three Australian teams," Ponting said of his former teammate and close confidante.

"I speak to him more than anybody, I speak to him a few times a week on everything that's going on around Australian cricket just because we're mates.

"I'm looking out for him, and trying to help out where I can.

"You will not find a better guy to have in that position than Justin Langer.

"He's as straight as an arrow, he's disciplined, he's hard working, he's setting standards that the Australian team has probably never seen before with everything that he's doing – it's only a matter of time before the results start coming his way.

"The thing about him as well – he calls a spade a spade, but he's quite a level person.

"He'll have his moments where he'll take aim and let fly when he thinks it's appropriate but otherwise he's pretty level, he knows what he's trying to achieve and he knows what he's trying to get out of his group.

"When they start winning some games, I guarantee you he'll start sleeping a little better as well."

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As for his own coaching aspirations, Ponting has not given any consideration to pursuing the job of CA's Executive General Manager Team Performance currently held by Clark on an interim basis.

Given his new commentary commitments with the Channel Seven's cricket coverage, his regular analysis through cricket.com.au and his ongoing involvement in the IPL, Ponting feels he has achieved his optimum balance between work and family life.

"I must have got fifty messages that day once that (high performance) position became vacant, saying 'Oh, you're taking that job?', and I haven't even thought about taking that job," he said.

"My life at the moment is exactly where I want it to be.

"The high performance job would be a big job for anyone to take … no doubt (for) someone with a young family it'd be quite a big strain on them. 

"But I'd love to be involved and I love being involved with the Australian cricket team whenever I possibly can.

"I just love the game so much.

"I love Australian cricket, I love talking about the game, I love being around younger people that are trying to find their own way in the game, that's why coaching really appeals to me.

"So if I can strike up a very similar balance to what I've got going on now in five years' time, then I'll be very happy."