The centurion who spanked his critics out of the park
Most people can’t resist taking a swing at Ricky Ponting’s captaincy. Ironically, despite my menacing pose in the image below, I am not one of them.
That the bloke can bat, nobody denies. But if you buy the negative hype, then every time an opponent strikes the ball through the covers, it’s Punter’s fault because he sets poor fields.
Every time a match peters out to a tame draw, it’s Punter’s conservative declaration that’s to blame.
Whenever 10 overs pass without a wicket, well, clearly that’s because of Ricky’s complete inability to rotate his bowlers intelligently.
As a deal-sealer, Ponting’s army of thoughtful critics like to point out that he is beady-eyed, and hails from the small island state of Tasmania.
Even brilliant scribes like Cricinfo’s expat Aussie deputy editor Alex Brown have set their autopilot to “bag Ricky” mode on a more or less permanent basis. Brown’s lead after day two of the current Test? Ponting’s Batting Makes up for Captaincy.
So, does anyone want to tell me just exactly what Ponting has done wrong captaincy-wise in the current Test?
If you ask me, he pulled off one of the greatest double-bluffs I’ve seen in a long, long time in the dismissal of Kevin Pietersen.
English and Australian commentators alike rubbished Ponting for leaving three fielders in the deep as spinner Nathan Hauritz bowled, arguing he was giving away too many easy singles.
But think about Kevin Pietersen for a moment. He is a man who likes to dominate. A fours and sixes guy. A guy who’d leave the video store empty-handed if the Arnie section was bare.
Captaincy 101 says leave a few fielders in close, and encourage batsmen like KP to hit over the top. If Ponting had done that, it’s a safe bet Pietersen would have smashed Hauritz into the River Taff.
So instead, Ricky teased him. He said, You want to hit fours? Then find a different way to hit ‘em!
And wouldn’t you know, that’s exactly what happened. Pietersen tried to innovate and got caught on an attempted sweep from a metre outside off stump. “Stupid Pietersen,” said the English media. “Brilliant Ricky,” say I.
Look, I’m willing to concede Punter has had his bad days. Like the shocker in India where he let Mike Hussey bowl, sacrificing an outside chance of victory at the altar of over rates.
But for the most part, Ponting’s critics are like music fans who draw a line in the sand when they reach their mid ’30s. The stuff of their youth was good. Everything now and ever after is crap.
If you look at Ponting objectively, he actually combines in one package many of the best attributes of his celebrated predecessors Border, Taylor and Waugh.
His ability to instil belief in fringe players is pure Waugh. Just look at his faith in Andy Symonds at the 2003 World Cup, or the young bowling attack which won this year’s Test series in South Africa.
For sheer hard-arsed bastardry in the Alan Border mould, look no further than Ponting’s scolding of Brett Lee’s casual crowd banter in last week’s Ashes lead-up match, when the England Lions were none-for-plenty.
And for tactical nous which rivals master-strategist Mark Taylor, marvel at Ponting’s decision to bring on part-time trundler Michael Clarke at the death of the infamous “Monkey Gate II” Test in Sydney – a move which snared an incredible victory.
It was after that match that Fairfax’s cricket blusterer-in-chief, Peter Roebuck, urged Ponting to resign.
Resign? I would have asked for more of the same. Ricky may not be perfect, but if I was a current Australia player, I know who I’d rather be Stuck in the Middle with.
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