There, I said it.
A major point is that many people claim Lara scored his runs against better bowling than Ponting. They say that he dominated in an era where Waqar, Wasim, Donald, McGrath, Ambrose and Walsh were bowling. Fair enough. He did indeed dominate in such an era. I've always felt that was an incredibly general statement though, and thought I'd investigate it further.
Ponting has scored centuries against attacks containing Wasim Akram:
and Waqar Younis:
Centuries by Lara against attacks containing both, or either of these bowlers? 0. His average comes to 30 in 7 Tests. Not terrible, but by absolutely on means 'dominant'. If we apply the same criteria to Ponting, we are left with an average of 73.11 from the same number of Tests as Lara.
Let's move on to Donald. Once again, Lara failed to ever score a Test century against an attack containing Donald. Ponting, however, did achieve such a feat (in his first Test against Donald mind you), and was the only Australian century maker in the relatively low scoring Test:
Ponting played 4 Tests against attacks containing Donald for an average of 50.40. He was not once dismissed by Donald. Lara on the other hand, played 11 Tests against attacks containing Donald and failed to score a single century. He was dismissed 6 times by Donald and averaged 35 against said attacks. Once again, not terribly poor by any means, however not as dominant as some make out. Thus far, you'd have to say Ponting has the wood over Lara when it comes to scoring against 'quality' opposition.
Next, McGrath. I had to break this up into 2 periods as it was easier to get the stats this way. The first period in question (1995 - 2003), in attacks containing McGrath, Lara played 18 tests for an average of 45.96. Lara did indeed do well against a attacks with McGrath in them, scoring 5 centuries against attacks containing him. However, during this period, he was also dismissed by McGrath a grand total of 13 times. Now to me, I hardly think Lara 'dominated' McGrath. As a contest, I'd say it was just about even, and I think most people would agree. The second period (2003 - 2006) saw McGrath and Lara go head to head in 6 Tests with Lara averaging 47. McGrath dismissed him twice in this period, and Lara's lone century in said period came from his record breaking innings at Adelaide. On the whole, I think McGrath and Lara broke even when you consider the dismissal rate yet also the amount of runs Lara scored against the attacks. You'd be stretching it to say Lara 'dominated' McGrath.
Now for obvious reasons, Ponting never faced McGrath in Test cricket. Which is a shame because Ponting without a doubt had the wood over McGrath in State cricket. In this match, very early on in Ponting's career, Ponting scored 125 & 69 against the attack featuring McGrath.
In this match he scored 58 & 134 against an attack featuring McGrath:
In being fair, Ponting didn't have such a magnificent outing on this occasion and scored 20 and 43, being dismissed by McGrath in the second innings.
And in the final match in which Ponting faced McGrath, the honours go to Ponting once again. Ponting scored 126 and 154 in this match.
That's an average of 91.13 against attacks containing McGrath for Ponting...and it's not like these attacks are terrible either...Look at some of the names who were with McGrath...Lee, MacGill, Clark, Matthews...Not cannon fodder, and I think it's fair to say that Ponting had the wood over McGrath (when you consider all those runs at that average for a mere 1 dismissal)...whereas Lara didn't. I'm aware that comparing State cricket to the Australian attack is kinda silly...but as I said...these weren't exactly No-Frills attacks surrounding McGrath. And I think it's a fair indicator of how Ponting plays McGrath.
Let's do the same for Lara when it comes to Walsh and Ambrose. Ponting played 9 Tests against attacks containing either/or for an average of 40. Not magnificent, but respectable, and there is indeed a century amongst it, so there is further evidence of performing against quality opposition. Walsh dismissed him 4 times in these 9 Tests, so it's probably fair to say he troubled Ponting. However, Lara seemed to struggle against attacks containing Ambrose as evidenced by him failing to reach triple figures once against Leeward Islands in 5 matches with Ambrose in them only averaging 26.3. Lara however did very well against attacks containing Walsh with Jamaica scoring runs at an average of 54 in 7 matches. I'd call this one even.
When it comes to Murali, Lara without a doubt handles him incredibly well and averages 75 against Sri Lanka containing Murali. He is a wonderful player of spin and has Ponting covered against this bowler. That said, Ponting's average against attacks containing Murali is 58, which certainly doesn't put him to shame. Interesting thing is though, that Lara has been dismissed by Murali 4 times in the 6 Tests they've played against each other, while Ponting has only been dismissed by the great spinner 3 times in 10 Tests...So something to ponder there.
So all in all, I think this certainly proves that the idea that Ponting hasn't done well against quality bowlers (in comparison to other 'modern greats') is entirely a myth. Let's not forget that many of these innings were when Ponting wasn't even half the player he is today...Imagine what he would be capable of if his current skills were on show back then. These statistics also indicate that Ponting has performed against the 'greats' to a higher level than Lara has (on the whole)....yet many state the opposite...It doesn't appear to be true here.