Wednesday, December 29, 2010


An innings and 157 runs... that's a crushing margin! And it sounds worse when it is the margin of victory for a visiting team in an Ashes Test match!

England have retained the Ashes and will look to win this series against Australia when they travel to Sydney for the New Year Test. With this loss, we know for sure that there might be massive changes to the Australian set up post Sydney Test... maybe even before it. Ricky Ponting is almost certainly playing his last Test series as an Australian captain.

When Ponting took over the full time Australian captaincy from Steve Waugh after the Sydney Test of 2004 against India, he must have hoped that he too would one day get the sort of farewell that was given to his former captain. Ponting may still take a lap of honour on someone's shoulders after his final Test... but when he does bid adieu, it will be as a member of an Australian side that are no longer the world beaters and champions that Steve Waugh had led till his final Test.

I have always looked at Ponting with two different views... one is the batsman and the other is the captain.

As a batsman, Ricky Ponting is par excellence. He is one of the best in the era he played in... and at the time of his peak, he was probably the best in the world at that time. He's played at that crucial No. 3 position... and done complete justice to it. Yes, there are criticisms and weaknesses. The weakness at the start of his innings when he is fidgety and tends to feel for the ball outside his off stump by planting his front foot forward, the weakness against quality spin bowling, the recently discovered weakness against the short-pitches bowling... but then, they all have their weaknesses.

The criticisms have also been there... that he cannot adapt his game to suit the declining standards of the rest of his team, that he is very rigid and does not want to change his game, that he was a great batsman only when he had other great cricketers in the team with him...

As a captain, Ricky Ponting, in my opinion, has been overrated a lot of times. The outstanding statistics that he possesses as the captain of Australia would have been possessed by any other captain had he gotten the two resources called Shane Warne and Glenn McGrath for the majority of his captaincy career... not to forget the great compliments called Justin Langer, Matthew Hayden and Adam Gilchrist.

He has not been inspirational enough to turn an ordinary side into a strong and forceful unit. Yes, the team under him has always fought tooth and nail... but fighting is just a part of the story... delivering the results is what matters more. Ponting is on the verge of becoming just the second Australian skipper to lose three Ashes series, first to lose one at home in almost two and a half decades... he does not have a series win as a captain in England and he does not have a single Test win as a captain in India. One may say that he almost managed one at Mohali earlier this year, but even if he had, 1 Test win in India as a captain of the Australian side in 7 attempts would not have been too flattering either.

I, for one, have criticised him at every available opportunity... and I guess, I will always have some criticisms about him. But right now, I am not going to dwell further on those.

It is sad to see Ponting in the state he is in currently. The team under him is not good enough to challenge a strong side... even at home. His batting is going nowhere under the pressures of leading a mediocre side. For a man who is so used to winning (he has played 99 Tests in which his side has won... that's one world record that will be hard to break!), it is a sorry figure that he cuts out in the field these days.

Yes, that sadness disappears and contempt returns when I see Ponting arguing with the umpire over a decision that is not going to be overturned no matter what he says. The old feeling of frustration returns when I read his 'apology' over the incident where he still maintains that he was right in thinking the batsman was out. That feeling of pity erodes when I still see that cockiness in him on the field as if he is still the leader of a champion side that can win from any situation.

But it is short lived... because now even I am coming to the realisation that Ricky Ponting, like all the other players, comes as a package. The great batting, the outstanding fielding, that cocky attitude, that appetite for a fight, those hollow words when he talks about the 'spirit of cricket'... all that and more.

He is coming to the end of his career, and whenever I may think back about him, I will have confused feelings. He has never been amongst my favourite cricketers... but I still don't want to see him go out of the game when he is down. He has been a champion player, and champions shouldn't go out this way!

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