This could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship…
Look who’s making runs again. His name’s Ricky Ponting, and you might remember him from such failed captaincy campaigns as the 2005 Ashes, the 2009 Ashes and the 2010/11 Ashes.
OK, so the guy wasn’t all bad news as skipper. There was, after all, that 2006/07 Ashes whitewash, and those unbeaten 2007 and 2003 World Cup campaigns.
But captaincy undoubtedly took its toll on Ponting. First came the spats and hissy fits, as his mental state clearly disintegrated. Then he lost the ability to hit the ball. As the ship skippered by Captain Ricky sank, his batting average went with it. Australian cricket couldn’t afford either of those things.
So here we are in Sri Lanka, on a tour half of Australia doesn’t even know is happening, and guess what? The new regime is working.
Forget the losses in the two T20 games because Clarke and Ponting didn’t play those. In the first two matches of a five game ODI series, Ricky Ponting and Michael Clarke are both on fire, with two half centuries apiece.
This is good news on two fronts. Firstly, it shows that the two of them can perform well together, despite the recent power shift. If there’s any animosity between the two, or jealously, or resentment, they’re both being big boys and covering it up beautifully.
More importantly, their changed roles appears to be motivating both players to play at their absolute best.
Ponting has been ice cool since his reappearance in the team. Those famously steely eyes appear to have narrowed yet further. With his newfound focus, he has rediscovered his timing.
No joviality or high-fiving for this former great. Ponting wears his game face every ball, determined, it seems, to tell his team-mates, and Sri Lanka, and the entire cricketing world, that he is once more an international cricketer of true substance.
The pull shot is back, after a summer where he was so often caught in the infield off miscues. The effortless clips off the pads and the crisp straight drives have returned too. Ponting was brutal in the way he drew Australia to victory with 11 overs to spare. Bet you an even fifty he even enjoyed himself.
Clarke, meanwhile, is also batting better than he has for two seasons. We all know he can nudge and nurdle his way to 50 in one day cricket. But last night, he was adventurous. How long since we’ve seen him hit inside-out sixes over mid off?
The last guy to play that particular shot so well was Damien Martyn, and the innings in which he played it best was the 2003 World Cup final – with Ricky Ponting bludgeoning a huge score at the other end.
When Ponting is at his best, he has a way of freeing up the classical right handers in the team to play their most fluent game. It worked with Marto, and it seems to be rubbing off on Clarke too.
Economists will tell you that you need two or more businesses in cut-throat competition to generate the best outcome for consumers. The same applies in sport.
Of course, Punter and Pup will tell you that they’re team-mates, not competitors. Phooey to that. The old dog is clearly desperate to remind the new pup just what made once made him so great. Just as surely, the Pup doesn’t want to be upstaged and has found his best game.
The reshaping of cricket’s power balance has done wonders for our batting top order. Now, if only we could fix the rest of the team up…
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