Righto then. Let’s hear it from all you Michael Clarke haters out there.
Go on, give it your best shot. Let’s hear it from you cricket geniuses who said a bloke who exfoliates could never be relied upon to make runs in a tight scrape.
Let’s hear it from you big, tough know-it-alls who said a namby-pamby bloke called “Pup” wasn’t fit to carry the kit bags of blokes with rugged nicknames like Punter, Tugga and Tubby, let alone carry their proud captaincy legacy.
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Winemakers will tell you that the key to getting a really good harvest of prime grapes is to trick the vines into thinking they’re dying. Give them just enough water, but only just enough, and the vines will divert every last precious drop of moisture into the fruit and produce a bumper crop.
Overnight, the Test careers of several leading Australian players were in danger of withering, as runs and wickets had dried up. But like the vines, the likes of Mitchell Johnson, Brad Haddin, Mike Hussey and Ricky Ponting extracted just enough to help their team deliver the sweetest of victories.
Last night’s thrilling two wicket win over South Africa was rightly hailed as a victory for the future of Australian cricket, as 18 year old tyro Patrick Cummins backed up his six wicket second innings haul with a nerveless knock which included his hitting the winning runs.
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So Ricky Ponting has quit as Australian cricket captain. About time. And Ricky Ponting will still be available for selection as a regular member of the team. As he should be.
Months and even years of speculation were laid to rest at the SCG today, when Ponting announced his seven year reign was over. “I’ve still got a lot to offer as player,” he told a hefty media contingent. “Younger players can learn from me and the way I play, and there’s no better place for them to learn than in the heat of the battle.”
Before the announcement, a few wise-cracking journalists were framing the odds of Ponting breaking into tears. Didn’t happen. Ponting only made his decision last night, and called Michael Clarke first thing this morning to tell him. But he kept his emotions in check, even if his crumpled notes suggested he’d rehearsed his lines long into the night to keep the waterworks at bay.
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Fair’s fair. We’ve dished it out to Ricky Ponting on several occasions over the summer, but it’s now time for a backflip. Because love him or hate him, Ponting is responsible for arguably the most incredible winning streak in the history of Australian sport. And for the next 24 hours at least, that streak is still alive.
As of last weekend, Australia has gone 31 World Cup matches without defeat. The closest we’ve come to a loss since we came good halfway through the 1999 World Cup was that famous tied semi final against South Africa. The chaos. The confusion. The sheer joy of seeing South African nerves turn to mush.
Ponting is the one man has been there through all 31 matches. In fact, he was there long before then, making a respectable 45 in the 1996 final loss to Sri Lanka. And here he is 15 years later, much-maligned and in decline, but still, for now, the man with a record the envy of every World Cup captain.
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If surveys are to be believed, the vast majority of Australians believe that new Australian captain Michael Clarke is an incurable wanker. On the evidence of the last couple of years, it’s hard to argue. Yet beneath the Sunday social pages facade, I’m convinced there’s a good guy waiting to bust out. And an even better captain waiting to take over.
About a year ago, I interviewed Clarke at a photo shoot for Alpha magazine. In a down moment between shots, two Alpha staff members swear they heard him say under his breath “what am I doing here?”
Understandably, my colleagues were pretty taken aback by that unexpected comment.
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When Ricky Ponting returned from the disastrous tour of India in October, a small scrum of media cornered him outside the international airport, asked a brace of tough questions, recorded a brace of defiant answers, then scurried off to file for deadline.
Hanging back behind it all was Ponting’s wife Rianna and his two year old daughter Emmy, who must have been busting to hug her Dad. When the last reporter disappeared, Ponting picked up Emmy in one hand, and manfully pushed his overburdened trolley through the car park with the other. He then packed his large, shiny SUV and drove off to his spacious, waterfront home in the Sutherland Shire.
In those brief, private moments, the Pontings looked like any other happily reunited family at the airport. Ricky was a dad and husband, not a cricketer and captain. It kind of made you feel all warm and gooey inside. But there’s nothing warm and gooey about the way this summer of cricket is panning out. And that same media scrum, quite rightly, is interrogating Ponting with increasing ferocity.
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