Former Australia captain Ricky Ponting believes that Ben Stokes, the England all-rounder, could make a decisive impact on the five-Test Ashes series that begins on 1 August at Edgbaston.
Stokes has been one of England's most influential cricketers in recent times. One of the best all-rounders across formats in modern-day cricket, Stokes showed his class on the biggest stage, producing the defining innings of his career in the final of the ICC Men's Cricket World Cup 2019 as England lifted the trophy for the very first time.
Now, as the team gears up for its next challenge in the form of Australia in cricket's oldest rivalry, Ponting, one of the game's most successful captains, believes that Australia will need to restrict the all-rounder's impact if they are to improve their recent record on English soil.
"It seems like he's playing with a lot of maturity," Ponting told cricket.com.au. "He doesn't seem like he's in much of a rush now as he might have been. The thing about his personality as well: he's a big, strong, brash guy with a bit of an ego, and I think as a younger person, probably everything was flat out – one speed.
"To me, [during the World Cup] it seems like he [was] able to understand situations and play situations accordingly. That's a bit of maturity and understanding his own game and understanding what his team needs him to do."
Ponting particularly praised the the all-rounder's ball-striking abilities, which he said rank right up alongside those of the very best.
"He's a very, very good player," he said. "Some of the innings I've seen him play in Test cricket have been as good a ball-striking innings as we've seen from the best batsmen in the world. He can back it up with the ball, and if he's not one of the best fielders in the world at the moment, I'll be very surprised."
Ponting was Australia's captain when Michael Vaughan's England triumphed 2-1 in the historic series of 2005 - England's first Ashes win after nearly two decades. England's star performer then was Andrew Flintoff, who with his aggressive mindset and all-round abilities stood out at crunch moments. Ponting saw a similar X-factor element in Stokes, who he feels is "England's heartbeat".
He's a key man because I think he's that real heartbeat for their team, a bit like 'Freddie' Flintoff in Ashes series gone by.
"He's a key man and more a key man because I think he's that real heartbeat for their team, a bit like 'Freddie' Flintoff in Ashes series gone by – whenever they were in trouble and they needed something, they tend to go to those sort of guys, and Australia need to keep him quiet if we're going to win the series.
"I think it's important that the Australian players don't let him find [form] early in the series. There are certain players you know that you've just got to, hopefully, get on top early. Stokes is one that I think they need to make sure that he doesn't get away from [them] and he doesn't have much of an impact on the series.
"His Test record hasn't been great of late, he'll know that, he'll understand that, and it's up to the Aussie boys to make sure that they don't let him dominate the series."
Personalise your homepage with an ICC account
News, fixtures and updates tailored to your favourite team. Never miss a moment!