x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

A man on a final mission

Ricky Ponting is determined to add the one thing missing from his glittering CV - an away Ashes victory.

Ricky Ponting is a man who has won all there is all to win in cricket - yet the holy grail of Ashes glory on English turf remains the one gaping hole in his CV. At 34, the Australia captain has already lifted World Cups, been named International Cricket Council's (ICC) Player of the Year twice, won the award for Test player of the year three times and the one-day player of the year once.

He has also presided over one of the most successful Test sides in the history of the game. However, for Ponting, there is still unfinished business and that indelible mark which has blotted his otherwise flawless career, remains a source of great pain. Not even the merciless 5-0 thrashing of England in 2006/07 can erase the flashbacks of Michael Vaughan lifting the famous old urn amid scenes of jubilation at the Oval in 2005.

For Ponting this is his last chance to grasp the prize which has eluded him so far and with a new-look Australia beginning to take shape, he remains as confident as ever of finally achieving his life-long ambition. "It would be nice to have won an Ashes series in England before I retire," said Ponting. "If you look at my resume as a player and a captain, the only thing which is missing is an Ashes victory in England. That would be great to achieve.

"Even though we lost four years ago, it was probably the greatest Test series I've played in. "I don't think there'll be any hangover from 2005. "In 2005 we got off to a great start and then things slipped away from us from there. "A lot of us have been there, and learned from our mistakes of last time and we're keen to rectify that. "But I don't want to finish my career without having won in England. We know it will be a tough series but we're very confident.

"I'm very happy with the preparation that we've had and we're all ready for the action to start. "We've had a very long run-in to the series because we went out of the World Twenty20 too early and it seems like we've been waiting for an eternity." When Australia touched down in 2005 they arrived as a super power, boasting world-class talent in the form of Shane Warne, Glenn McGrath and Adam Gilchrist.

With those three men having retired along with opening batsmen Matthew Hayden and Justin Langer and middle-order linchpin Damien Martyn, the aura surrounding a once seemingly invincible team has subsided. The fear-factor which used to leave opponents shaking on their way to the pavilion has disappeared and Ponting's men appear mere mortals once again. A home series defeat by South Africa last January raised question marks over Ponting's captaincy and the ability of his players to raise their game ahead of the Ashes.

Jeff Thomson, the former fast-bowler, remains an outspoken critic of the current Australian captain, insisting Ponting is too negative in his approach on the field and needs to change his tactics if he is to triumph in England. However, Ponting says he has already taken on board the lessons of four years ago, though he maintains there have been no radical changes in the intervening period. "I don't think I've changed that much since 2005," he said.

"Everyday you play you grow older and wiser and learn more about your teammates. "The team has changed quite dramatically over the past 12 to 18 months which is really exciting for me. "I've really enjoyed seeing the changing face of the team and when we won in South Africa this year was really enjoyable. "It's easy to make judgements on captains when you don't really know what's going on. "You will only ever be as good a captain as the way the players make you look.

"You can come up with the best plans and ideas but if your bowling can't be executed correctly then you'll be made to look pretty silly. "At the same time, if they do everything right then you'll look really good. That's the fine line on being perceived a very good captain." Special plans have already been made for one of England's stars, with Ponting keen to keep Kevin Pietersen quiet this summer.

The batsman played a role in 2005, scoring a magical 158 at the Oval to wrestle the Ashes back and end his adopted country's 16-year wait for glory. He will be Australia's chief target. Kevin is one of the best players in the world and there's a few of us who think that," said Ponting. "I think he is the sort of player who is always taking the game forward. I'm not sure of his strike rate in Test cricket but it's got to be pretty impressive.

"He is always putting pressure on the bowler by moving across his stumps and does things to continually challenge the bowler and that in itself says a lot about him. "You have to have a great deal of confidence in your own game to do that because if you get out doing it then you can quite often get out doing it. "He has a very good Test record and is a top, top player. But we have plans for him and the guys have already talked about how we can get about him so we'll have to wait and see."

This is Ponting's final chance to grasp the prize he desires more than any other. Michael Clarke is already being tipped as his successor with Cricket Australia having one eye on the future. Yet Ponting insists he is not even thinking about walking to the pavilion for the final time. "I've not even thought about retiring. I feel good and I'll keep playing until I decide otherwise. I don't want to retire knowing I never won in England and hopefully I can make sure that won't be the case this summer," he said.