Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Ricky Ponting

Ricky Ponting has today announced that he is stepping down as the Australian Cricket Captain for both OD and Test Internationals whilst remaining available for selection is the ACB should see fit. It is highly ironic that the most successful captain in test cricket history (measured in terms of wins, Steve Waugh had a superior record on a ratio basis) will not be remembered however as a particularly good captain. That being said, he should also be remembered as one of the truly great batsmen of his generation.

Ponting's career has never been entirely plain sailing with a stop/start beginning to his international career and brushes with controversy both on the field and off it. His supreme talent however was never in doubt.

It did however take Ponting some time to cement his place in the Australian team as he had come into a side already reigning supreme at the summit of world cricket. It was a team that would develop into possibly the greatest test team of all time. Many would argue the great West Indies' team of yesteryear or earlier incarnations of the Australian side were better but the phenomenal option of Shane Warne possibly gives this side the edge over all others.

Ponting was appointed as captain of the one day team only initially in 2002 with the venerable Steve Waugh no longer deemed worthy of a place. Australia's one day fortunes blossomed under Punter and his form in Tests started to flourish also. It was clear that the appointment was having a positive effect on all concerned.

Ponting went on to perform well in the 2002/03 Ashes series and then despite much upheaval in the Australian dressing room and bans to key players he led Australia to an eleven match unbeaten run in the 2003 World Cup. Ponting then went on to be named man of the series on their tour of the Caribbean in 2003 as well as being instated as vice captain. Things were on an upswing.

Ponting's inevitable appointment as test captain came in 2004 when Steve Waugh called time on his illustrious Australian career. They were big shoes to fill and Ponting looked more than capable of doing so. Success in terms of both results and runs continued for Ponting until the famous Ashes series of 2005.

In one of the highest quality and most competitive series in living memory, England came from behind to beat Australia 2-1, Ponting being the first Australian captain to lose the Ashes for nearly twenty years. Whilst much of the reason for this defeat could be placed at the feet of Glenn McGrath accidentally standing on a ball and injuring his ankle  - the inclusion of the world's best seam bowler would surely have tipped such a closely contested series in Australia's favour - there is little doubt that some of Ponting's captaincy was less than impressive when the team was under pressure. This was a team that could almost manage itself such was the array of talent and strength of character. The subsequent whitewash of England in the 2006/07 Ashes series back in Australia being a case in point.

With the end of that series came the break up of that fabulous side. Now captaining mere mortals, Ponting's captaincy would come under much closer scrutiny and whilst he cannot be blamed for the retirement of such incredible personnel, it has looked clear to most observers that when the pressure is on some of Ponting's captaincy can be found wanting. Back to back series defeats against England for the first time in an age - meaning Ponting has lost three Ashes series out of four as captain - are a case in point. One can only wonder how Australia would have fared in 2005 had Shane Warne been the captain. He has proved - to this blog at least - what a wonderful thinker and tactician of cricket he is with many of his enlightening observations in the commentary box since his retirement.

Ponting's worsening on field demeanour and bouts of petulance have belied a man struggling to cope with the pressures of managing a team that was no longer all conquering. As mentioned earlier it is not his fault that so many greats retired at once and that the Cricket Australia conveyor belt has dried up. Issues however such as the selection of their spin option for the recent Ashes series can to some degree be placed at the door of the captain and again it would appear that he has come up short (no pun intended).

Judging Ponting as a batsman however gives a very different summation of his talents. Of his generation, to this blogs' mind there were four truly outstanding top/middle order batsmen - we are not including Matthew Hayden as he was a pure opener and it's maybe a little tough on Jaques Kallis but nevertheless - which are Tendulkar, Lara, Dravid and Ponting.

All four were prolific run scorers, Tendulkar probably the greatest, Lara the most flamboyant and easiest on the eye, Dravid the most dogged, but with a test average of over fifty, Ponting stood shoulder to shoulder with these three. It's true that Tendulkar is probably a cut above but Ponting would rate higher than Lara as he has played with less selfishness and also above Dravid as he played so much less on entirely flat pitches. You can argue the toss of the order they should be rated but one cannot question the quality of the company Ponting keeps.

Ponting will hope to continue in the test team, possibly dropping down the order to No5 and it is true he probably still has much to offer, especially to an Australian team very much in transition (that's the polite term these days for sports teams who used to be very good but now aren't). Regardless of what happens next, Ponting should be remembered as unfortunately a pretty average captain but one hell of a No3 batsman, one of the best ever  - No Nonsense.