Ponting key factor in battle for the Ashes

FOR the first time in a generation, Australia's captain will head into a home Ashes series with the greatest weight of pressure on his shoulders.

Ricky Ponting has far more to lose than England counterpart Andrew Strauss when cricket's most intense rivalry begins in Brisbane this week.

The Tasmanian is one of the best batsman to grace the game – 12,250 Test runs make him the second most prolific in history – but his captaincy is tainted by a statistic which lurks as a damning blight on a proud career.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

Launch our Ashes web-mag

Click here to listen to our CricketTalk Ashes special podcast >>

Ponting has lost two Ashes series, something that no Australian had done since Billy Murdoch in 1890. No Australian captain has lost three Ashes series.

When former England captain Michael Vaughan predicted an Ashes loss would end Ponting's tenure earlier this month, the Australian captain said nothing. Not only did it represent a rare England win in the pre-Ashes war of words, but they had done so by targeting the opposition's captain – a hallmark of Australia's swagger in their now fading glory years.

Criticism of Ponting's leadership is not new following the 2005 Ashes loss, Australia's first in 18 years.

A home series defeat against South Africa two years ago added fuel to the fire that has intensified over the past 12 months with losses against England and, most recently, India.

But England should be wary of the competitive fire that has inspired Ponting to greatness in the past.

If England allow him to lead from the front and get the Australian media on board, it could galvanise his indomitable spirit and that of his side.

But, if the tourists can successfully target the captain, they may just make it a winter to remember for all English fans.