Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Vale' Punter

The Australian cricket team has been in slow and steady decline since the champion seamer Glen McGrath stood on a Duke ball at training the morning before the second test at Edgbaston on the 2005 Ashes tour. He took no further part in the series and the Ashes were lost to England for the first time in many years.

We all know the story, the English were jubilant, the Queen forgave them their outstanding parking fines and MBEs were flung around like free passes to a night club in Byron Bay.

Since then three greats of the modern era and many lesser champions have retired from the Australian team leaving us with the honest but ordinary outfit that lost to England yesterday.

It has been said that a monkey could have captained the Australian cricket team at the height of its powers and I suspect this was probably the case under Ricky Ponting's leadership.

With Warne, McGrath, Gilchrist and co at his disposal, winning came easily (except in India) and with the victories came all the good things in life including runs for the skipper. His captaincy as such was never summonsed for questioning as he was, by no fault of his own simply a figure head surrounded by self governing icons whose very existence in the team imbued it with divine inertia.

Not withstanding generous contributions with the bat and the occasional piece of fielding brilliance R Ponting's captaincy had no bearing on the outcome of most games the Aussies played during the McGrath - Warne era. None what so ever.

Ponting's tactical deficiencies as an Australian captain were illustrated in vivid hues during the the first test of the last Ashes series played in Cardiff, Wales in 2009. Panesar and Anderson the 8 and 9 for England managed to eke out the most unlikely of draws after Australia had made 674 in their first innings batting second. Instead of swarming the tail enders with close in fielders and deploying the appropriate resources such as Nathan Hauritz and anyone else other than the horrendously out of form Mitchell Johnson, Ponting opted for a more novel approach using part timer Marcus North and...Johnson. The afternoon took on an almost surreal slow motion car accident feel as the two English tail enders prodded and poked their way past the hapless Australian attack. Ponting for his part seemed beset by a sort of paralysis rendering him incapable of any definite action and certainly any action leading to victory. This sad result was complimented by his boorish remonstrations with both umpires and opposition over perceived time wasting.

Recent history is littered with similar accounts to that of the Cardiff test but it is Ponting's conduct under duress that shows him as being a deficient Australian captain. During Australia's most recent home series against India Ponting led his side on a campaign of excessive appealing and umpire harassment and subsequent ungracious triumphalism after winning the last test in Sydney. I believe that the result of that series would have been very different had it not been for the coercive behavior of the Australians possibly influencing umpire decisions.

Representations made following the ugly display at the SCG defending Australia's bad manners were equally as hard to swallow. The then Australian opener and self appointed enforcer Matthew Hayden trotted out the clich├ęd lines of how Australia plays hard and the team wont take any prisoners. I still cannot fathom how we arrived at a point where such attitudes and attendant hyperbole are necessary. To the public this came across as defensive drivel emanating from a team lacking proper supervision and guidance from its governing body. I felt sorry for both Ponting and Hayden during this PR mess as they both came across as silly boys.

His recent conduct during England's first innings at the MCG where Kevin Peterson was given not out caught behind was frankly difficult to watch. He looked like a child desperate to be allowed to keep batting. The sad thing was his obvious lack of insight into Australia's dire position and that this minor battle had no bearing on the outcome of the Ashes. The decision had been made and by all the evidence it was the right decision.

Ultimately this very gifted sportsman will be remembered for all the wrong reasons, his record number of Ashes losses, tantrums and ungracious outbursts. He will not be remembered for his fearless stroke play or his deadly fielding.

Like a Prime Minister on the nose. It is time for Ricky Ponting to go.