Johannesburg: The key to Australia defeating South Africa will be team skipper Ricky Ponting, who averages more than 50 per innings in Tests.
If the captain grabs the Proteas by the scruff of the neck and overshadows rival skipper Graeme Smith to make the series his own, not only will Australia's chances of retaining the world No.1 ranking go through the roof, but Ponting will go close to overtaking Steve Waugh in fourth place on the list of Test run-scorers," says in an article for the Sydney Morning Herald.
In each of Australia''s series losses under Ponting - the 2005 Ashes heart-breaker and defeats in the past six months to India and New Zealand - the skipper has been below his best. None of those defeats can be blamed solely on Ponting''s batting, but a common denominator was the Test captain''s decent, but not dominant, contribution.
Ponting''s career average is 56.87.
He fell below 50 against England, India and South Africa. Even more significantly, against India and South Africa, he was out-gunned with the bat by the opposition skipper.
In any Test series, if the captain fires, the team goes with him. If he struggles, the psychological effect can be ruinous.
Now more than ever, Australia needs Ponting to lead by example.
Ponting has played 128 Tests, scored more centuries than any player other than Sachin Tendulkar and has been batting with the enthusiasm of a rookie.
There''s been a no-nonsense determination at every Australian net session, even the day all 14 members of the squad were nearly decapitated on an atrociously under-prepared practice wicket.
His 93 against a South African Board President''s XI at Senwes Park on Saturday amounted to a master-class. With Simon Katich (124), two of Australia''s elder statesmen racked up a 185-run partnership. Katich batted especially well; Ponting, eerily so.
Asked if the Proteas were better than he thought they would be, Ponting replied: "I''m not sure they''ve exceeded my expectations. We were aware they''re a very good cricket team. They''ve got everything covered with their batting depth, and their fast-bowling depth. But if we can maintain a level of consistency that reflects the skill and talent we have in this team, I''ll be happy."
Ponting is only 247 runs behind Waugh''s career tally of 10,927 Test runs. The real measure of Ponting''s standing is that he''s played 40 fewer Tests than the man he received the captaincy from. Waugh had a reputation for coming good when he was needed. Now it''s Ponting''s turn.