End of an Era: Ponting’s Demise and England’s Rise…
Whilst England captain Andrew Strauss has deservedly earned the countless plaudits that have come his way since the Ashes-retaining victory in Melbourne earlier his week, it is his opposite number Ricky Ponting who has (just about) drawn more attention in the fall-out from Australia’s disappointing attempt to reclaim the famous Urn.
His once feared team in free-fall, his finger fractured, and his form with the bat non-existent, Ponting’s place in the side as captain and #3 bat have been called into question vociferously and with an unerring ruthlessness. The little finger break that has ruled him out of the fifth test in Sydney might just have saved his bacon, for now at least.
Much was made pre-tour about Australia’s plans to target the tourists’ skipper, Strauss, yet the Middlesex man has remained unperturbed and steadfastly calm throughout. A ton and two fifties to his name with the bat, several clever wicket-taking field placings in the field, and the successful orchestration of his bowling unit to dismiss Australia fully on seven occasions, has seen Strauss earn widespread praise from pundits and peers alike for his and his team’s performances. Challenge met.
Meanwhile, Ponting has failed and failed and failed. Eight innings have returned just one (irrelevant) fifty when it did not matter, but more importantly, seven failures when it did. The greatest Australian batsman of his generation (Test career average 53.51) – indeed, the man who Justin Langer calls ‘our best batsman since Sir Donald Bradman’ – averages just 16.14 in the most important of series. His has remained the prized wicket for England to take (alongside in-form batting lynchpin Mike Hussey’s) but ultimately has not proved all that hard to take. As Ponting himself remarked, ‘I just haven’t performed the way I needed to perform if Australia was going to win.’ What Australia set out to do to Strauss, England have successfully done to Ricky Ponting.
Crooked bat angles and an increasing susceptibility outside his off stump have rendered him a shadow of the feared batter he once was. His ICC Test Championship batting ranking is now a lowly 29. It is a sad truth to admit, but the one perhaps pre-eminent on show in this series is clearly nearing the end of his international days. And that is the real shame.
In the field, captain Ponting has not fared much better. Unable to muster his troops into a consistently cohesive and threatening unit, he appeared clueless and without ideas whilst Alastair Cook, Jonathan Trott and Kevin Pietersen went about compiling their sizeable Ashes-retaining centuries. [In fairness to the Tasmanian however, skippering the erratic Mitchell Johnson (although dear Mitch is loved by the Barmy Army) and his all-too-frequently ineffective amigos is a damn sight harder than chucking the ball to Glenn McGrath and Shane Warne before sitting back and watching them do the business.]
Finally, in one ugly scene at the MCG, Ponting’s frustration spilled over, wrongly losing his rag with umpire Aleem Dar and persisting with an ill-advised and wholly deplorable finger-wagging tirade. The damage to his bank account from the ICC’s (albeit lenient) fine is manageable; the damage to his reputation, perhaps not. It is not the first time ‘Punter’ has lost his cool either.
Ponting will want to retire on a high [who wouldn’t?] like McGrath, Warne and his predecessor Steve Waugh were able to. Regaining the Ashes would have been an ideal swansong. Instead, after an abysmal series both personally and for his team, a finger injury and a paucity of suitable replacements (just 15% of those polled back Michael Clarke’s appointment) appears to have spared this undeniably great cricketer not only the dilemma of facing the immediate sack but the immediate drop as well. The up-and-coming ICC World Cup – Australia are still ranked #1 in One Day cricket after all – might still offer him that chance to leave on a high, for it would be a shame if this was the last we were to see of Ricky Ponting.
For now though, we wait. And in the meantime, praise should go to his opposite number Andrew Strauss and the fine job that he has done this series. Strauss’s England appear in the ascendancy just as much as Ponting and Australia appear in decline – and that is no mean statement…