Ricky Ponting believes signs are positive for Marnus Labuschagne and the Australia batting line-up as they chase a first Ashes series triumph abroad since 2001, as the former skipper revealed a brief interaction with the generational No.3 talent.
The signs were ominous when England won the toss and put Australia in to bat on a Lord's greentop in the second Ashes Test, but a mix of patient and powerful batting has the visitors in command with a 221-run lead and eight wickets in hand heading into day four.
Steve Smith led the charge in the first innings with a 32nd Test hundred alongside strong contributions from Travis Head (77), David Warner (66) and Marnus Labuschagne (47), while the top order have each made at least a good start in the second innings.
Labuschagne cut a frustrated figure when he failed to cash in after riding his luck on day three as a soft slice to backward point ended his innings on 30, but looked to be much more at home at Lord’s in comparison to the first Test at Edgbaston.
Speaking to Sanjana Ganesan on The ICC Review, Ponting says there were positive signs in both of Labuschagne's knocks at Lord's, hinting that bigger scores should be just around the corner for the No.3.
“He played and missed a few times, but he scored more freely which is the biggest concern I had with him. It looked like he was losing a lot of his scoring options," Ponting said.
“The fact that he was able to tweak things a little bit and change things a little bit between games is a great sign for him."
When asked if he had passed on any advice to the Australian batter, Ponting reiterated that he kept things short after watching the team in the nets in the build-up to the second Test.
“I had a really brief chat (with Marnus)," Ponting said.
“I actually took my son Fletcher to training for two days in a row to watch the Aussies here at Lord’s and we sat behind the nets, and I got a chance to watch Marnus and what he was working on.
“I actually just mentioned a few words to him through the net about a few things, but he's a very fast learner as well.
“He wouldn't have been happy with the way that he played in the first few innings here in the UK and he makes small adjustments all the time. I think what he did from Edgbaston to here worked for him as well."
Trying to keep his distance and allowing those in the coaching and leadership groups to formulate their own plans, Ponting instead passed on his wisdom and bigger discussion points of Marnus and Australia’s batting to the man currently leading the side, Pat Cummins.
“I'm not one that likes to impose on any of the players," Ponting said.
“Obviously, I sit back and I analyse and critique players and what they're doing and the small changes that they're making.
“But I spoke to Pat Cummins about some of the things that I could sort of see and identify with Marnus, and hoped that Pat would maybe mention a few of those things as his own observations rather than being mine.”
A number of batters in the Australia top order have made significant contributions across the series thus far, with Warner bettering his efforts of Edgbaston in his 88-ball 66 in the first innings at Lord's, then digging in to play the game on its merits with 25 from 76 balls in the second innings.
Much of the lead-in to the 2023 series focused on the opener’s lean run of form, doing little to silence the doubters after an indifferent World Test Championship Final (43 and 1) against India.
Having already made more runs in the 2023 Ashes than the series four years prior (95 at 9.5), Ponting is glad to see Warner return with an aggressive intent that has brought success elsewhere across the world.
“One thing with Davey, his approach never changes, and when it has changed, which was probably in 2019, where he got a little bit more defensively minded, that's when he had his big issues,” Ponting said.
“I love seeing some of the stuff he did (in the first innings at Lord’s). He tried a lap shot early on against Stuart Broad. He actually played a sort of a slog sweep against Ollie Robinson early in the innings. Scored quite freely again. And I think the way that he's been starting his innings has been the most impressive thing to me.
“His defensive game technically looks really good. The technical changes he's made from 2019 to 2023 are definitely working for him. And he's making runs reasonably consistently.
“The only knock on that and, not even a knock from me, he'd probably be disappointed that he hasn't been able to cash in to make a couple of really big scores.”
Ponting stated in a March edition of The ICC Review that Warner may have missed the “absolute best time” to retire on strong terms, though now, after technical tinkers and an attitude shift in his batting, the Australia great suggests the 36-year-old has more to give.
“If he turns one or two of those (starts) into hundreds, then there's no discussion at all about him playing for the remainder of the series,” Ponting added on the latest episode of The ICC Review.
“In fact, if he makes a couple of hundreds, then we're actually talking about leaving it up to him to retire whenever he wants to."
Ponting meanwhile lauded the work of Smith after he notched his 32nd Test ton, going past 9000 Test runs in the process as the second-fastest to reach the mark by innings batted, behind Sri Lanka legend Kumar Sangakkara.
Only Ponting himself (41) has more Test hundreds for Australia, and is arguably in a better position than anyone to gauge Smith's success.
"As far as I'm concerned, he's ranking up there with the absolute all-time greats," Ponting said.
"He's now just brought up his 12th Ashes hundred, he's got eight Ashes hundreds in England.
"Not many other people can say that when you think about English batting conditions. They're as difficult as anywhere in the world and he's found a way to master that.
"He's going to go down as one of the all-time greats, that's for sure."