Ricky Ponting won’t be remembered as one of Australia’s great captains. He has always lacked the tactical flair of a Mark Taylor or Richie Benaud and has been unable to help deliver the killer blow that was the hallmark for the most part of Steve Waugh’s reign. As a leader, he also falls into the category of a streetfighter that was Allan Border, rather than the elder statesman that Waugh and Taylor became.
However, he remains the right man to lead Australia into battle against England this summer, for, let’s face it, there are few options.
If Australia fails to regain the Ashes, then it will be time to look elsewhere, for the need will be strong to rebuild in time for the 2013 Ashes tour.
But calls for Ponting’s immediate scalp from former Test quick Geoff Lawson were, like several of Mitchell Johnson’s deliveries in the second innings in Bangalore, way off the mark.
Lawson should know better. His playing career corresponded with calls, even from the likes of former Test spinner and then respected Fairfax columnist, the late Bill O’Reilly, for Border to be sacked circa 1985. In somewhat of a farce, NSW captain Dirk Wellham, who could barely get a game at a time Australian cricket, still reeling from the retirements of Greg Chappell, Dennis Lillee and Rod Marsh and defections to the rebel tour of South Africa, had support to take over.
Lawson said today on ABC radio: “I mean he’s now lost five series, it may be time to say ‘look mate, we’ve got Michael Clarke ready to go with a nice fresh young mind, he can be the captain and you focus on your batting and try to restore yourself to the level we know you’re capable’.”
The one problem with that argument is Clarke managed just 35 runs at 8.75 in the Indian series. He remains flaky with the bat. Ponting, at least, passed 50 three times, finishing with 224 runs at 56.
He even blamed himself for the defeat after failing to convert his good start into a double ton in Bangalore, just as Sachin Tendulkar had done in his match-winning knock.
Indeed, that comment was something of a sobering reminder of the early days of the Border years when, if he failed with the bat, all hope was lost.
That’s how far the Australian side has dropped since the golden era of the early 2000s.
If Lawson wants a replacement, he may need to start searching under a rock.
Clarke, despite being Twenty20 captain, isn’t ready. He needs a year of sustained, high-class batting, just as Ponting had in 2002-03, before being considered.
The Cricket Australia board hopes Ponting can hang for two more years, perhaps hoping Clarke can finally emerge.
Simon Katich and Mike Hussey aren’t the answer while Marcus North always seems to be a Test away from being axed. Shane Watson, according to good judges, would make a fine vice-captain – provided he can remain injury free.
Victorian skipper Cameron White may never play another Test, so suggestions he is the right man are fanciful. Anyone remember the disaster that was the brief reign of England’s Chris Cowdrey in 1988?
Ponting’s ability to juggle his batting and captaincy commitments aren’t the issue. Two months shy of his 36th birthday, he is on the wane as a batsman, but that’s to do with age – not leadership.
It’s his lack of flair, that instrinic quality of an outstanding leader, that remains a worry. It’s something that’s hard to put a finger on but all great captains boast – the ability to bring out the best in teammates, or make the right bowling change at a crucial time.
Shane Warne made a good point when he questioned on Twitter the field spinner Nathan Hauritz was asked to bowl to in the second innings in Bangalore.
Hauritz went around the wicket and was given a heavily laden leg-side field for his opening two overs. They cost 22 runs and he, again, was banished from the attack. When he finally returned, the off-spinner was given more of a regulation field, and he claimed a wicket with a clever arm-ball.
What was disturbing to hear, however, in the post-match press conference was Ponting seemingly heaping the blame on Hauritz, claiming he had been given the field he had asked for.
No bowler should be given that right. It must be the captain’s call. Warne would often try and coerce Taylor into giving him what he wanted. “Shut up and just worry about bowling,” was what Taylor generally responded with.
If Ponting had allowed Hauritz to take charge, that must change.
Warne has since tried to make peace with the man he nicknamed “Punter” when they first met at what was then the Australian Cricket Academy. Ponting has since hit back, which was fair enough, but he must know deep down Warne has never truly endorsed his leadership for it was a role Warne had desperately wanted but never had because of his off-field troubles.
Remember, it was Warne who called on Ponting to show more leadership during the losing 2005 Ashes series, which, from several acounts, included a spat between the pair on the morning of the Edgbaston Test when Ponting, despite losing Glenn McGrath to injury, still opted to bowl.
England would post 400 on that opening day and the series, seemingly dead after the Lord’s Test, was suddenly in the home team’s favour.
Ponting was also criticised for his defensive declaration during the WACA Ground Test against South Africa five years ago that eventually ended in a draw. It’s a match remembered locally for Brad Hodge’s double ton.
Ponting also blundered in the fourth Test against India in Nagpur in 2008 when he let the hosts off the hook. Ponting did not use his frontline bowlers as Australia pushed for victory for fear a slow over rate would have seen him suspended for the impending opening Test against New Zealand.
Indeed, India hasn’t been kind to Ponting the captain. In seven Tests, he has lost five and drawn two. He missed the opening three Tests of the breakthrough 2004 tour because of a thumb injury. Adam Gilchrist took charge and secured victory before Ponting returned for fourth and final match – a loss.
Ponting has also twice overseen losing campaigns in England. Admittedly, McGrath’s injury derailed the ’05 campaign but that’s quickly forgotten in a sport based largely on cold, hard statistics.
Ponting knows this summer is make or break. As a legendary batsman and solid captain, he deserves the chance to fail.