Clarke backs Ponting over SCG fiasco

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Perth, Jan 13 (UNI) Skipper Ricky Ponting may have come under scanner following the Sydney Test fiasco, but his heir apparent Michael Clarke has backed him to the hilt calling him a ''great leader''.

Ponting has come under scathing attack after the host's 122-run victory in the second Test, which gave them a unassailable 2-0 lead and making sure on the way that they retained the Border-Gavaskar Trophy.

Giving full credit to his skipper for his handling of the saga, Clarke appreciated the leadership duties shown by Ponting.

''It's full credit to our captain, our leader, that he's stood tall and been the front man of Australian cricket and faced the media when he's had to,'' he said.

''One of Ricky's greatest strengths is that he always seems to bring things to the forefront, and he always seems to address the team when it needs to be addressed,'' he said.

''On big occasions, before the recent Ashes, after 2005, before the World Cup, he always seems to address us at the right time.'' Clarke said the week since the Sydney Test had been a shock for the Australians.

''It's been a hell of a ride,'' he said. ''I don't think many players have experienced what we've all experienced over the last five days, so it's opened everybody's eyes to how big this game of cricket is.'' ''It's opened everyone's eyes to the amount of work that needs to go in on and off the field,'' he said.

He also said the experience would make them a much wiser team and expected the recent controversies to be addressed at a team meeting.

''I think it will be a general chat about what we live by, what we stand by ... and a general reminder of what we do to be the best team in the world and things we can continue to improve on,'' he said.

Australia last week came under fire from the public and cricket and sporting figures for not playing the game in the right spirit.

Catching controversies, sledging and the way the team celebrated its stunning win provoked criticism.

Ponting even endured a call for his sacking, such was the ill-feeling.

It prompted the Australian skipper to call for a review of the pact it signed in 2003 under Steve Waugh's leadership after an ugly incident between Glenn McGrath and West Indian Ramnaresh Sarwan in Antigua.

Australia's seven-point pact has the wide-ranging listings of: on-field behaviour, off-field behaviour, overall team pride, opponents, our supporters, our family and respect.

While they have listened to public opinion, it's understood the players agreed to maintain their aggressive style in the third Test at Perth from Wednesday.

Ponting hopes his team's image improves further when he and Indian counterpart Anil Kumble smoke the peace-pipe this week. This meeting, with ICC match referee Ranjan Madugalle mediating, could happen as early as today.

According to media reports, captain Ricky Ponting and his men held the two-hour meeting before morning training at the WACA Ground, but waited until later to discuss the fallout of their behaviour during a heated second Test against India at the SCG.

Leadership guru Ray McLean, who played a key role for AFL premiership sides Geelong and Sydney, also attended the meeting.

The talk involved members of the Australian team along with Tim Nielsen, the coach and manager Steve Bernard, besides Cricket Australia chief executive James Sutherland and operations manager Michael Brown.

The focus was on the messages and criticism directed at the team after the Sydney Test, with all involved invited to trace their feelings on the match and the 'Spirit of Cricket' pledge that was devised during Steve Waugh's captaincy in 2003.

''I think it will be a general chat about what we live by, what we stand for, the spirit of cricket that the Australian cricketers sat down and wrote down,'' Michael Clarke said before the meeting.

''I think it will be a general reminder of what we do to be the best team in the world and the things we can continue to improve on.

It's probably why Australia have been so successful, because we never say we can't improve.'' UNI XC TB SSC1040

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