The former Australia captain Ricky Ponting has signed a short-term deal to play for Surrey in a significant coup for the county.
The deal means the man who led his country on their last two Ashes tours in 2005 and 2009 but retired from the international game in December will be in England during this summer’s Ashes series.
He will play for Surrey during June and July report The Evening Standard. Graeme Smith, the county’s new skipper and other high-profile signing, is due to represent South Africa in the ICC Champions Trophy during that period.
Ponting has appeared in county cricket before, during a short spell for Somerset in 2004. He is one of the most accomplished batsmen of the last 20 years and is best-known to English followers for his exploits in the Ashes, during which he was on the winning side for five series but lost three of his four as skipper.
Ponting’s spell at Surrey coincides with this year’s battle for the urn, which starts at Trent Bridge on July 10. The batsman said: “It will be very strange to know that a few hours away there will be an Ashes Test going on and I won’t be part of it.
“But I’ve had a chance to think about all that over the last three or four months and just to be in the country while a series like that is happening will be a lot of fun.
“I thought my days of playing in England might have been over after I knew I wasn’t going to be on the Ashes tour this year. I’ve probably got a few too many bad memories from the Oval because of Ashes series gone by (Australia lost the last two campaigns in England on this ground) so I hope I can walk away with some better ones this time.”
Even though Ponting appears to have given up on the Ashes, consider the following scenario: two Australian batsmen suffer injuries during the early part of the series.
At the same time, Ponting is scoring dozens of runs in county cricket right under the noses of some of his former team-mates. It is easy to see Michael Clarke and Mickey Arthur, Australia’s captain and coach respectively, deciding to send for the Tasmanian – and equally straightforward to imagine what his response would be.
Yet when Ponting arrives in England this summer, his priority will be Surrey alone. It was already an impressive effort for the county to secure the signing of Smith, generally regarded as the finest Test captain in the modern international game, and this is another eye-catching deal.
Smith and Ponting are two of the most successful international players of recent times. The salary cap for counties’ playing staff is £1.9million but Surrey say they can accommodate the wages of both men within that structure.
The pair could even play in the same side during the domestic Twenty20 competition in July, but not in the Championship, where only one overseas player per team is permitted. Surrey hope that, like Smith, Ponting’s presence will not only improve results, but guide promising young batsmen like Rory Burns, Jason Roy and Zafar Ansari.
It is not yet decided whether Ponting will lead the side in Smith’s absence, with the final call on that left to the South African.
“Working with young players is one of the exciting things about this,” Ponting told Surrey TV. “For an experienced international player, it’s fun to play alongside young guys, learn about them and try to impart some knowledge, whether that be technical or tactical.
“Graeme Smith will start the season there, we’ve played a lot against each other and we’re pretty similar in how we play and see the game. There are lots of exciting times ahead for the young Surrey players, and hopefully some of the experienced ones will be able to learn a bit from Graeme and me as well.
“I’m exceptionally excited to be back in England. I’ve only had one chance to play in county cricket before now, and I’ve always said I wanted to come back. I’m thankful that I’ll get that chance with Surrey.”