Punter's biggest Test
Ricky Ponting is not given to hyperbole, so when he declares this week's Ashes finale the most important match of his 135-Test career, it is worth taking note. In a revealing column in the Daily Telegraph, the Australian captain predicted the pain of England's 2005 Ashes victory would prove a motivating factor for his side entering The Oval Test, and hinted reverse swing could play a role in determining the outcome of the match.
But by far Ponting's most eye-catching statement was that regarding the personal significance the fifth and final Ashes Test holds for him. In a career that has spanned 14 years, four continents and every major trophy, Ponting insisted his 136th Test would be the pre-eminent match of his career.
"I have played in 135 Test matches but never played in a match as big as this one," Ponting wrote. "There is nothing bigger than playing a deciding Test in an Ashes series, and you have to grab these moments when they present themselves because you may never experience such a match ever again.
"That kind of excitement adds a bit of zip to your training and when that starts happening it generally spills over into the week of the game. There has been a very positive feel about our training during the last couple of days. We enjoyed a few days of rest in Leeds but since arriving in Canterbury we have trained very hard and I'm happy with where we are at the moment."
Ponting has previously denied any lingering disappointment from the 2005 Ashes defeat but, since Australia's series-levelling triumph at Headingley last week, has been more forthcoming in discussing the topic. Immediately after the fourth Test, Ponting conceded redemption in England was "a chance I've been waiting this whole tour for", and has since gone on to discuss the pain of watching Michael Vaughan hold aloft the urn at The Oval.
"The only motivation I need this week is the memory of having to search out Michael Vaughan, congratulate him and shake hands at the end of the Ashes series of four years ago," he wrote. "We were off the field when we lost the match due to bad light and the fact that we never had a chance to have a crack at chasing down our target left a bitter taste in the mouth.
"I also remember we made sure we stood outside and watched the ticker tape, the popping of champagne corks and the fireworks. We made sure we took it all in to make us better and stronger for the next time we played in 2006-07. But heading to The Oval this week it is clear that roles have been reversed completely since 2005.
"Then we were the team facing questions over selection. They had a settled line-up and just come off a victory in the fourth Test at Trent Bridge. Now it is us who have the momentum gained from comprehensively winning at Headingley. We are comfortable with what we have achieved in the last Test-and-a-half."
Most pundits have given Brett Lee little chance of breaking into the Australian XI at The Oval, but Ponting has kept the door ajar for his most senior paceman to make an improbable comeback. The Australian captain suggested reverse swing could play a role in deciding the outcome of the final Test; an art at which Lee has proven particularly adept in recent years, never more so than when he claimed 6 for 76 against England Lions at Worcester six weeks ago.
"Brett Lee is jumping out of his skin to get involved," he wrote. "It was very exciting watching him bowl with reverse swing in the match at Worcester, and if he had not been injured he would have played in the first Test.
"In 2005 reverse swing dominated the series. This year it has probably been a damper summer and we have only seen conventional swing. The Oval is the one ground where that may change, especially if we have a dry, hot week."