The new maturity of World Cup hero Ben Stokes poses the biggest threat to Australia's Ashes bid, said Ricky Ponting, who compared him to Andrew Flintoff as the "real heartbeat" of the England team.
Stokes played a crucial role in England's World Cup triumph, re-establishing himself as a key player after an off-field incident that had threatened his career.
The all-rounder was banned and fined by the England and Wales Cricket Board for bringing the game into disrepute following a street brawl during a night out in Bristol in 2017.
It saw him stripped of the Test vice-captaincy, and he missed the last Ashes tour to Australia before being cleared of criminal charges in a high-profile court case.
Ponting, who was Australian coach Justin Langer's assistant during the World Cup, has been impressed with how hard Stokes has worked to redeem himself.
"It seems like he's playing with a lot of maturity," former Australia captain Ponting told cricket.com.au late Wednesday. "He doesn't seem like he's in much of a rush now as he might have been.
"The thing about his personality as well, he's a big, strong, brash guy with a bit of an ego ... and I think as a younger person probably everything was flat out, one speed.
"To me, (during the World Cup) it seems like he (was) able to understand situations and play situations accordingly. That's a bit of maturity and understanding his own game and understanding what his team needs him to do."
That could spell trouble for Australia next month when they begin their quest to win their first Ashes series in England since 2001.
"He's a key man and more a key man because I think he's that real heartbeat for their team, a bit like 'Freddie' Flintoff in Ashes series gone by," said Ponting.
"Whenever they were in trouble and they needed something, they tend to go to those sort of guys.
"Australia need to keep him quiet if we're going to win the series."
Stokes has been rested for this week's one-off Test against minnows Ireland at Lord's where England seemed to be nursing a World Cup hangover as they collapsed to an embarrassing 85 all out in their first innings on Wednesday.
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