Just over two years ago, Australian cricket was desperate for a captain of Ricky Ponting’s stature.

With the respect of the team’s two most experienced leaders in tatters, another Tasmanian was thrown in the deep end and named Test skipper.

Tim Paine has proven himself more than worthy of the honour, but earlier this year, Ponting asserted the cause of the infamous ball-tampering scandal was a lack of leadership within the squad.

Although the disgraced trio were being relentlessly castigated by the sporting world, Cricket Australia left a door cracked open for Steve Smith. While CA slapped Warner with a lifelong ban from all captaincy roles, Smith was told he’d have to wait 24 months.

In Ponting’s eyes, this suggested CA were keen for the New South Welshman to eventually reclaim the title of Australian Test captain.

“If Cricket Australia had thought he would have never done it again, they would have put a black line through his name right from the start, but they’ve left that option open,” Ponting told news.com.au.

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The long-awaited return of Steve Smith at Edgbaston last year was unforgettable — even as boos continued to roar throughout the Ashes series, the blonde phenom had won back the respect of his country, for the most part.

Ponting has no doubt Smith is capable of serving as Paine’s successor when the wicketkeeper decides to step away from the game — potentially after the 2021/22 Ashes series — but warns of a pending “disaster” if fans are not on board.

Ricky Ponting presents Tim Paine his Baggy Green Cap, with fellow debutant Steve Smith watching on.
media_cameraRicky Ponting presents Tim Paine his Baggy Green Cap, with fellow debutant Steve Smith watching on.

“The public sentiment certainly has changed, and that’ll be the interesting thing to see,” Ponting said.

“It’ll be if the Australian public are willing to allow him to come back and be captain again, because if Cricket Australia made that announcement that he’s going to be captain and it didn’t sit well with the public, then it’ll be an absolute disaster.”

No Australian has won more Test matches as captain than Ricky Ponting — without even mentioning his batting accolades, he is remembered one of the country’s most distinguished sporting leaders.

The Tasmanian maestro exemplifies the resilience and grit required to be successful in the game’s longest format. As Twenty20 cricket continues to grow in prevalence, his tally of 13,378 Test runs is unlikely to ever be surpassed by another Australian.

The coronavirus outbreak made a disturbing resurgence in Victoria, throwing the state’s sporting calendar into chaos. After the AFL’s players frantically flocked into other states, questions were asked whether the MCG could still host the Boxing Day Test match against India.

Although Adelaide Oval has emerged as a favourite to assume the Boxing Day duties, Ponting is hopeful the COVID-19 situation will be resolved in time for Melbourne to host the sport’s premier event. Still, you won’t need two chances to guess which venue the Tasmanian wants as the understudy.

“I’d like to see it in Hobart,” Ponting said with a giggle.

“But I’d love to see Cricket Australia do everything in their powers to try and ensure that the Boxing Day Test does stay in Melbourne.

“All the venues around Australia are brilliant, and they’re all unique in their own different way. Adelaide is one of the best places that I’ve been to to watch or play cricket, certainly over the last 4-5 years since they’ve renovated the stadium. I’m sure they’ll have their hand up, as will Perth and Brisbane. Everyone will be throwing their hat in the ring.

“I just hope that things have improved enough in Victoria that it doesn’t move.”

Ricky Ponting during the Bushfire Bash charity match.
media_cameraRicky Ponting during the Bushfire Bash charity match.

Next summer also features a mammoth Big Bash League, the longest in the competition’s history. After commencing in early December, the tournament will run for more than two months before a grand final in February.

Considering several cricketers were publicly sceptical about the BBL’s duration last summer — most notably Chris Lynn — extending the competition came as a surprise to many.

“There will be reasons why the schedule will be longer. There was some negativity last year — certainly from the players — that they found last season a little bit too long,” Ponting conceded.

“In an ideal world, Cricket Australia and the broadcasters would like to compress it down, but I just think with the unique situation that we find ourselves in this year, I just don’t think anything’s going to be perfect, like we’ve seen with the AFL season.”

With the ongoing travel restrictions and condensed international schedule, Ponting warned the upcoming Big Bash might not feature many high-profile names.

“Who knows if they’ll even have internationals playing in it this year,” Ponting said.

“The standard of the cricket might not be what it was the past couple of years.”

Ponting is currently preparing to travel to the United Arab Emirates for the postponed 2020 Indian Premier League — the 45-year-old coaches the Delhi Capitals, which boasts a squad featuring the likes of Ishant Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan and Marcus Stoinis.

But throughout the chaotic COVID-19 lockdown, Ponting has been working on a cherished side project, launching a wine label with his wife, aptly named Ponting Wines.

“It was something we had never thought about. We’re both very passionate wine drinkers and have learnt a lot about wine over the last 10-15 years, but we’d never thought about having our own label until it was presented to us,” Ponting said.

“We thought, ‘Why not? Let’s have a crack at this.’

“When I get involved in something, I want to be fully involved and it’s not just something Rianna and I have have just stuck our name on. It’s our business and it’s something we’re proud of, and we think it could be something that could hopefully last with our family name on it for years.”

The process of establishing a wine label started 18 months ago and officially launched during the pandemic in May. With the help of South Australian winemaker Ben Riggs, Ponting Wines has proven a success with its consumers.

Ricky Ponting and South Australian winemaker Ben Riggs.
media_cameraRicky Ponting and South Australian winemaker Ben Riggs.

“Through the last 5-6 months of COVID, it’s been something that we’ve been able to look forward to working on together every day,” Ponting said.

“You won’t go far wrong with the Shiraz. The sales of the Shiraz have been extraordinarily strong. The other one that we’ve had some great feedback on was the pinot noir out of northern Tasmania.

“I wanted to tie a bit of my background and my upbringing into this range, so we’ve got two wines out of northern Tasmania.”

Last week, CA announced a 21-man squad for September’s short-format tour of England. Along with the usual suspects, a trio of uncapped young guns — Riley Meredith, Daniel Sams and Josh Phillipe — were named in the squad.

“We’ve got some of our all-time best white-ball players playing right now, and I think it’s a great time for those young guys to be learning from them,” Ponting said.

“Even someone like Daniel Sams — he’s not young, but he’s not played international cricket, and I think he’s got a lot to offer. No better tool for a young bloke than to go to the UK and play against a really good England team, and I’m sure those young guys will learn a lot.

“Both Meredith and Phillipe look like they’re outstanding talents, and the sooner we get to see them represent Australia, the better.”

Former Australian captain George Bailey was partly responsible for the bold selection — Ponting’s ex-teammate played his final professional cricket match in January and has served as a national selector since.

“It was a terrific appointment — George is just a great bloke, as simple as that,” Ponting said.

“He’s a very good communicator, which I think is crucial in that selection role. If there’s been any negativity through the history of cricket selection in Australia, it’s been that the communication between selectors and players hasn’t been as good as it could be, and George is certainly going to make that a focus of his.

“I’m sure he’ll nail it.”

The other notable retirement of 2020 was more recent — last week, Indian cricket icon MS Dhoni stepped away from the game after attaining 17,266 runs, 359 sixes, 16 centuries and 634 catches in international cricket.

Dhoni is expected to still feature in the upcoming IPL, and Ponting looks forward to seeing the modern great work his magic once more — but hopefully not against Delhi.

“I spend a lot of time in India now, so I know how revered he is in that part of the world. Even when you travel around the world and you listen to cricket fans, they talk about Dhoni and his leadership and how calm he seems to be under pressure on the field,” Ponting said.

“He never seems to let his emotions get the better of him, which is a really good trait in a leader — as hard as I tried when I was on the field, I could never quite stay in complete control of my emotions.

“Indian teams always seemed to lift when he was captain. He always seemed to have this knack to be able to get the best out of his players. You knew that he had things under control, and his teammates loved that about him.

“Chennai have been one of the most consistently strong and competitive teams in the IPL, and a lot of that’s got to come down to his leadership as well.

“I’m looking forward to coaching against him now and making sure he doesn’t win any game off his own bat when Chennai play the Delhi Capitals.”

The 2020 IPL tournament is scheduled to commence on September 19th before a grand final on November 8th.

Ricky's fastest ever opponent

Cricket: Ricky Ponting recently named this 1999 spell from Pakistan’s Shoaib Akhtar as the fastest he ever faced in his career.

Originally published as ‘Absolute disaster’: Legend’s dire warning