Ponting raring to go again
Ricky Ponting is feeling mentally and physically stronger than ever as he prepares to don the baggy green for a summer of Test cricket.
Ponting enjoyed a rarity in his extended, illustrious career this year - time off.
The former Test skipper had close to four months away from cricket after he was frozen out of Australia's one-day international squad earlier in the year.
After 375 appearances and a record 13,704 runs, Ponting reluctantly called stumps on his glittering 50-over career on February 21.
He had been axed from the team two days earlier following a return of just 18 runs in five innings in the tri-series against India and Sri Lanka.
The 37-year-old chose to focus on his Test career as he sharpened his batting with Tasmania in the Ryobi Cup and Sheffield Shield formats late in the summer before re-joining his national team-mates for the three-Test series against West Indies in April.
The classy right-hander struggled in Australia's 2-0 series victory over their Caribbean opponents, managing just 146 runs at an average of 24.33.
However, Ponting put the disappointing tour behind him knowing he had the unique opportunity - no longer having one-day and Twenty20 international duties - to refresh and replenish.
Australia's record Test and one-day run-scorer admitted it was strange having time on his hands, but knew what an extensive break could mean for his career.
"It was weird but at the same time, I knew what I had to do not being in the one-day set-up and obviously with the Twenty20 World Cup on (in Sri Lanka)...I had a good long break," Ponting said.
"I made the most of the break for the first couple of months to give my mind and body a bit of a rest because I bashed myself up pretty much all throughout the summer last year.
"After the West Indies, I had a couple of months off with nothing and then about 12 weeks where I trained myself into the ground really."
With an emphasis on mental recuperation, part of that break involved not even picking up a bat.
The 165-Test veteran believes time away from the nets would be beneficial and not hinder preparation for the upcoming three-Test series against South Africa in November followed by Sri Lanka's visit in December.
"I did a little bit of exercise but didn't touch a bat for a couple of months," Ponting said.
"I needed to freshen up, get my mind right, and more importantly get fit, but just get my mind right around what I've got for the remainder of my career.
"Probably about 10 weeks without any batting still gave me another three months to get my game right so I knew I would have plenty of batting up my belt by the time the first Shield game came around.
"Even with that I still have two and half more Shield games and three one-dayers (with Tasmania) before the first Test (for Australia against South Africa), so I've still got plenty of cricket."
First up on the agenda for Ponting and Australia this summer is the world's number one Test side, South Africa.
South Africa claimed the coveted Test crown after dethroning England in August with a 2-0 series win.
Ponting had high praise for the Proteas who he has faced in several memorable battles over the years, but felt on home turf Australia could upset the world's best.
"They're the number one team in the world and they're there for a reason," Ponting said. "They are an exceptionally well balanced side.
"With (Hashim) Amla playing the best he's ever played, (Jacques) Kallis still doing what he does best, Graeme Smith opening with an average of 50, and (Vernon) Philander and (Dale) Steyn on the bowling front, they are a very good team.
"They've probably got the best fast bowling attack going around at the moment.
"With (AB) de Villiers now being the wicketkeeper they bat really low also and have got a specialist batsman coming in at seven.
"In saying that, we've had some great contests against them since I've ever played for Australia and they've never really dominated us.
"I think we know if we can do everything as well as we can in Australia this year they'll find it hard to beat us."