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Ponting: a great batsman, a poor captain

Ricky Ponting set to continue domination over India at Adelaide Oval. (AAP Image/Ben Macmahon).
Expert
29th November, 2012
32
2104 Reads

Ricky Ponting will retire as one of the giants of his era. The stats say it all, an average of 52.21, 41 centuries and 62 half centuries.

As a teenager Ponting was identified by Rodney Marsh, the then-head of Australia’s storied cricket academy, as the best prospect with a willow in hand he had seen.

In retirement, Ponting will go down Australia’s leading run scorer and arguably our best batsman since the Don. From his era, only Lara and Tendulkar can be mentioned in the same breath.

He has some chinks in his defensive armor and is a nervous starter. These two demons have ultimately ended his career. Although, once settled in, there has not been a more awesome sight in modern Test cricket.

His straight-on-drive and pull-shot are stolen from the text book. Along with Matty Hayden and Justin Langer, he was part of a top order that changed how the ancient, long from of the game is played.

As he was at pains to point out in countless interviews over the years, team success was more important than any of these individual achievements. In that light, he will be remembered as a key part of the most dominant Test XI the game has known. Stories of Warne the bowler and Ponting the batsman are what my generation will regale our grandchildren with.

However, it was not all plundering and plaudits for the diminutive Tasmanian over that journey. It is somewhat surprising that a cricketer of his stature was not an effective tactician.

The raw results were very good including 48 Test wins as captain (yet another record). But in the series that really counted, in the moments that mattered, his lack of poise and tactical nous were painfully palpable.

One moment sticks out more than any other, the first morning of the second Test of the 2005 Ashes at Edgbaston.

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We had held the urn since 1989 and had won the first Test convincingly. Ponting decided to put England in to bat, despite Australia having lost Glenn McGrath, its bowling talisman, only minutes earlier. We lost the Test (by two runs), the series, and our air of invincibility.

While we regained the Ashes and won plenty more Tests under his stewardship, history will judge him as a poor captain.

Perhaps we would have been more forgiving of his fumbling captaincy if Ponting was more likeable as a leader. His explanations after defeat lacked self-awareness and the teams he led, at times, lacked humility.

The best of the man and the character has emerged since he handed the ‘c’ to Michael Clarke. Paradoxically, the real leader has emerged when the formal leadership duties ended.

He has provided the bridge from the former era to the current and has stayed with this team as it regenerated. As Adam Gilchrist pointed out in a television interview last night, the little scrapper from Tassie has never run away from a fight.

Rather than sulking about his demotion, Ponting has mentored his replacement and set an example for the new generation. The confused frown has been replaced with a content smile. How fitting it would be then, if this his final Test in Perth sees this new generation regain the number one Test ranking.

Even if they do, it is unlikely in our life time we will see a team as good as the ones that ruled the world in the Taylor/Waugh/Ponting era.