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Lawrence Booth: Ponting under pressure again as doubts mount

October 22nd, 2008 by Lawrence Booth in Australia in India, Test cricket and tagged , , , , ,

The thinking sports fan will always be stimulated by the thought of the end of an era. That moment – delicious for the usurper, devastating for the usurpee – is what, after all, defines top-level sport. And it is why there has been such a frisson surrounding the apparent decline and fall of Australia’s cricketers. I’ll keep my powder dry on this one for the time being (Australia have been written off before, most notably three years ago, and who in any case is the team to replace them?). But there is good reason to shoot from the hip on another matter. Stick ‘em up, Ricky Ponting.

Before Australia lost to India at Mohali by 320 runs, Ponting had suffered only four defeats in 46 games as captain: two against England in 2005, and two against India, neither of them when the series could be lost. It was a record for the ages and Ponting must be very grateful to have had three players – Shane Warne, Glenn McGrath and Adam Gilchrist – who would grace an all-time World XI. Well, they’re gone now, and Ponting’s leadership skills are being dissected with a microscope and a small scalpel as a result. Events at Mohali suggested he has some serious work to do.

First, a brief trip down memory lane. The last time Ponting was under sustained pressure as a captain was during the 2005 Ashes. One senior player on that trip recently confided that the mood on tour was a weird one: from the moment Geraint Jones caught Mike Kasprowicz at Edgbaston, said the player, the Australians seemed resigned to defeat. If this is true, it is hardly a ringing endorsement of Ponting’s ability to inspire, just as his tirade at Duncan Fletcher at Trent Bridge spoke volumes for his default position under stress.

If this sounds like the retrospective gloating of an English hack, then you only had to read the Australian media’s treatment of Ponting’s run-in with Brett Lee at Mohali to realise that there are genuine concerns over his man-management skills. For Jason Gillespie at Old Trafford (19 overs out of 113.2 overs in England’s first innings, four out of 61.5 in the second), read Lee at Mohali on the fourth morning, when he was ignored completely.

It would be utterly fanciful to suggest that Lee’s career will speed downhill as quickly as Gillespie’s did, but Ponting’s handling of a player who will be crucial to their chances of retaining the Ashes in 2009 was unsubtle at best and downright insulting at worst.

His lack of faith in Cameron White’s legspin was instructive too. White bowled 27 overs in the match out of 194 and in India’s second innings bowled as many (eight) as Mike Hussey, who was duly warned twice for running on the pitch. If Warne’s mentor Terry Jenner has been crying out until he’s blue in the face for more sympathetic treatment of the back-of-the-hand brethren, then Ponting may not have heard him.

A captain is only as good as the bowlers at his disposal, which is a truth Ponting may only just be discovering. But a good captain will also make the most of his resources and by gifting India’s openers singles all round the ground on the third evening – a policy that allowed Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir to put on 100 in 23 overs before stumps – Ponting got it badly wrong. With two days to go and facing a deficit of 201 before that innings even started, he was never going to be able to defend his way out of trouble.

There are two Tests in this series to go, which means Ponting could yet be celebrating a famous victory come November 10. But his struggles should at least cast those of England in Australia two years ago in a less critical light. Back then Fletcher was derided for pointing out that England were missing several key players. How would Australia cope without Warne and McGrath, he wondered. Unlikely though it seems after that Trent Bridge spat, but Ponting may now appreciate where he was coming from.

Lawrence Booth writes on cricket for the Guardian. His third book, Cricket, Lovely Cricket? An Addict’s Guide to the World’s Most Exasperating Game is out now published by Yellow Jersey

Posted in Australia in India, Test cricket |

7 Responses to “Lawrence Booth: Ponting under pressure again as doubts mount”

  1.   Hari says:

    Lawrence - A good piece on Ponting. In most of these 46 tests, he always had someone who would put up their hand and finish the job for australia. Mcgrath, Warne and Gilchrist are the names most often being mentioned. However I feel Langer, Martyn and Gillespie also should be mentioned as time and again they have saved australia.

    I foresee a mixture of youth (Marsh, Jacques, Hughes, Watson) and experience (Ponting, Clark, Hussey, Symonds) in the 2009 Ashes squad. And I feel it will be as close as the 2005 series.

  2.   tatu says:

    He He ……this is the problem with England.They jump the gun every time. When ever Australia struggles the POMS talk about the next ASHES being theirs,with out even considering the situation.Its India in India who beat them.So just sit their and watch englishmen. INDIA 9-10 AUS since 1995.Now that’s is some rivalry.Its
    Eng 8-21 Aus since 1995.Some difference?In this century it becomes INDIA 6-6 AUS.For POMS its
    ENG 4-14 AUS.Its close? :)
    So think before assuming yourselves as 2009 ASHES champions.When KP won an ODI series POMS started to think about a 5 test series a year ahead that too against AUS even after losing 0-5 last time around.

  3.   Lawrence Booth says:

    Tatu, where did I write that England would win the 2009 Ashes? With respect, I’m not sure you’ve read the blog properly.

  4.   Peter Redding says:

    I agree Lawrence. This is most pressure that Ponting has had to face as captain. People will say that you shouldn’t write Australia off; they recovered from the 2005 Ashes after people had done just that.

    It was different back then though, the two games they lost in that series could have gone either way and they still had Warne, McGrath, Gilchrist and Langer, who were not only great players but experienced players who knew what it was like to be at the top of the game and were determined to get back there.

    I just don’t see the current side being able to turn it around on this tour. I don’t see where they’re going to get 20 wickets from to win a match, unless the Indian batsmen get complacent.

    As for the 2009 Ashes, Shane Warne said that England would need to take some winning momentum into the series if they were going to be successful. I think the same goes for Australia. After this they play New Zealand, who I’d expect them to beat but back-to-back series against South Africa will be extremely tough and could really shape the team that arrives in England next year.

  5.   Avinash Subramaniam says:

    Lawrence, I’m pretty sure Tatu is responding Hari’s comment.

  6.   Sam says:

    Just a minor observation, but when Australia lost to India in 2003, they were down 1-9, and definitely could have lost the series. They had to come back to draw the series 1-1.

  7.   Kinshuk says:

    everytime an aussie side looks vulnerable, there’s talk of how they might no longer be no.1 in the world. and till now, they have managed to come back after each defeat to continue their reign as numero uno.

    while it’s been mostly on account of the wonderful talent that aussie captain’s have had at their disposal that has seen them stage some very brutal comebacks after each of these defeats the lack of quality competition has also been a major factor…

    apart from india (notoriously inconsistent)no other side has put up a sustained challenge. the one side that could have managed it was south africa way back at its peak under cronje, but their batting let them down.

    while this aussie side is not as strong as some of the earlier ones the competition still looks incapable of mounting a serious sustained challenge, which is why i dont see this aussie side relinquishing its status as the best test side in a hurry.

    ishant nd co. however can pose a threat if they continue to show improvement, and the indian fielders dont spill too many chances…

    nd their superb batting will continue to outbat the other sides across the world in the odi version……so, i think it’s a little too early to predict the demise of australia’s domination of world cricket.

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