Australian great Ricky Ponting lauds Black Caps

TON UP: Ricky Ponting enjoys the moment as he brings up a century for Surrey in his final first-class innings.
TON UP: Ricky Ponting enjoys the moment as he brings up a century for Surrey in his final first-class innings.

Off the back of that Ashes whitewash, an Englishman was phoning a no-nonsense, all-time Australian great, wanting to discuss, among other things, the rise of New Zealand cricket.

This one could get interesting.

It did, but not for the reasons I was expecting.

Over the next half-hour, Ricky Ponting graciously lauded the recent success of the Black Caps, encouraged Cricket Australia and New Zealand Cricket to "share" for the good of the game and tipped the Black Caps as one of the favourites for next year's Cricket World Cup.

While off-field controversies continue to plague New Zealand Cricket, recent performances inside the boundary rope are making the game's "Big Three" sit up and take notice.

Key to that success, including the milestone test win and an undefeated one-day series against the touring Indians, Ponting says, is New Zealand's ability with the ball.

"They've added a lot more depth around their cricket in New Zealand, particularly in the fast bowling side of things," Ponting told the Sunday Star-Times.

"The quicks they've got operating at the moment are all very good bowlers. [Neil] Wagner, [Trent] Boult, [Tim] Southee's been a good bowler for a long time, and they've got [Doug] Bracewell there as back-up. They seem like they've just got a bit more depth than they had before.

"At the end of the day, that's what good cricket nations are all about, especially in test match cricket.

"We know the Black Caps are a very competitive short form team, but with a bit more depth and quality on the fast-bowling side, they're starting to be a pretty formidable opponent there as well.

"They seem like everyone's on the same page and they're going in the right direction.

"The [test] win over India the other day was a very good game of cricket. As a nation, you're always judged on your test match performances so for New Zealand to keep on getting better, they've got to put in consistent performances in test cricket.

"If New Zealand can start winning test matches on the road in the next couple of years with this group of players, they can be pretty dangerous." Ponting says the Black Caps have become "extremely hard" to beat on their own soil.

And as co-hosts for the 2015 Cricket World Cup with Australia, Ponting expects New Zealand to challenge for the trophy - provided they don't panic.

"I think everyone takes New Zealand seriously because when the big tournaments come around you generally find them hanging around in the quarter or semifinals," he said. "They're very hard to beat at home, including test matches . . . they're extremely hard to beat at home.

"When I was playing we always enjoyed the opportunity to play New Zealand, and I'm sure they relish the chance to play Australia as well, in any format.

"Things are coming together pretty well there for New Zealand. They'll probably go into the next World Cup as one of the favoured, more talked about teams, which is a little unusual for them."

As the Black Caps put test success over India away last weekend, the International Cricket Council was casting votes, passing rudimentary changes to how the sport will be run and many, including Ponting, suspect India now have too much control.

"That's probably right, but that's the lay of the land," he said.

"They're the powerhouse nation of the game and being as powerful as they are, they probably to a certain degree deserve a say in what happens. It's a bit of a touchy subject to handle.

"It seems like Australia have a series against India every year. That's a great source of revenue, and why everyone wants tests against India, because of the TV revenue. Those tours are pretty important.

"But it's got to be a bit of a sharing-type thing. You can't just have a couple of nations that are really strong, powerful and wealthy while the others are struggling.

"It's a real balancing act for players and administrators at the moment with the popularity of the Twenty20 game."

Suggesting the global game is moving away from too many meaningless one-day fixtures, Ponting still suggests the demands on modern players are too high, forcing many to make career decisions based on money.

"I think a lot of it's in the right direction. The tests and one-day championships add context in every game, when I played I always felt there were too many meaningless games of one-day cricket. That's starting to look after itself a little bit now," he said.

"But I still think the playing schedule is too hard on the players. Yes they're paid a lot of money, but the international programmes now seem like they're getting more tightly packed and if you look at domestic tournaments as well, the Big Bash is growing over here, the IPL is getting bigger and bigger and is lucrative for the players, but some serious decisions have to be made by players.

"Do they keep playing all three forms of the game or do they opt and out and take some of the money that's being offered up by the big competitions?"

Sunday Star Times