29 March 2011
From his very first days as a cheeky, trigger-happy, precocious young talent, it was clear Ricky Ponting was very different to his predecessors. Over battle-wearied years the man has matured into an intensely stubborn and focused leader, seemingly more Waugh-ish than Warne.
But, his decision to stand down as leader of the Australian cricket team and not from the game itself shows the notion of convention will never be Ponting's style. More disturbing for the game's future is that his departure fails to end a mini-era of dysfunction.
The acceptance of the captain's request exemplifies the fact that the Australian selection hierarchy has no sense of where the team is heading. It has been a long time since a wounded leader was given so much latitude in his final hours and it is a sign of weakness and uncertainty from Andrew Hildtich and co amidst loud warnings that the ship is heading under.
Three Ashes series losses and a premature World Cup departure and still we're not taking bold steps towards tomorrow.
There will be a lingering hope that Ponting can replicate the incredible deeds of India's Sachin Tendulkar - a former skipper who has played like a malnourished prisoner suddenly unshackled and given a booster of Bollywood-juice.
Now, Ponting is a very special player, but Tendulkar has defied age and the requirements of the fast modern game to steer a flourishing young Indian side into another decade.
In comparison, Ponting is the symbol of Australia's decaying empire. He was a wonderful ruler, but the times are calling for revolution. One must have doubts that the Tasmanian can rekindle his batting like the Little Master has.
In the end it should not be Ponting's burden, despite his clear desire to carry on. Our selectors have rarely been patrons of sentiment, and in the not-too-distant past, Australian cricket has treated its very best very badly.
Line up Ian Healy, Mark Waugh and Damien Martyn - and to a degree Steve Waugh and Mark Taylor - in the moments they departed the game, and you'd have yourself a collection of very disgruntled looking mug shots.
The harsh calls were made, but the game progressed and youthful exuberance swept the side continually towards higher success.
This time it appears the air may well remain stale.
It's true that Shane Warne, Glenn McGrath and Justin Langer were given honourable send-offs. But they were exceptions - truly magnificent cricketers diving gracefully into retirement from cricket's highest echelon. As Ponting knows all too well with willow in hand, timing is everything.
Ponting must be craving something similar too - but a combination of factors means he's already squandered more chances than most players would ever know.
He will be selected to play in Bangladesh; serving under Michael Clarke, yet one must wonder how long the charade will continue. It should be based on Ponting's performance, but say he fails in that series, will the selectors leave him in the dust of the sub-continent? By all accounts it would be undignified and undeserved to do so, though sadly the moment a sporting career ends is rarely one cherished.
A punter indeed, but never a mug - one of the most successful batsmen and captains in the sport's history must have some feeling of assurance that his career won't be tarnished in such a way. Whether it's an assurance the ACB can provide, given their shocking recent inconsistencies, remains to be seen.
What happened behind the scenes in the negotiation of his announcement may never be uncovered, who knows what has been promised in order for this 'smooth' transition.
Although he says he's been given no guarantees of future selection in any forms of the game, having had a guiding hand in selection for so long, he certainly must have a feel for how he sits in the team's pecking order.
For him to continue playing in the hope of winning back the Ashes in England is folly. To hang around for a shot at the next World Cup even more ludicrous. Yet, the hardest thing for an athlete to do is to cut his own rope; the spoils of victory are sport's opiate and like a heroin addict, Ponting is chasing an ultimate high that will never come again.
Now is the time for cricket's own cold turkey.
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The Colonel, Bathurst (31 March 2011 3:44PM) wrote:
Great read !!! keep up the good work.
Scribe, Hobart (30 March 2011 2:23PM) wrote:
Pretty obvious he is not your favourite cricketer. How about conceding HIS magnificent success and the fact that he is arguably Australia's best batsman behind Bradman? Why shouldn't he see whether he can continue to contribute after such an admirable record as a batsman and after relinquishing the onerous shackles of the captaincy role. Yours is a one-sided argument indeed! And just for the record he has not been promised anything after the fact. Shame you can't accept his comments from yesterday's media announcement at absolute face value and the words of a man who realised that his time as captain was nigh. No pushing or shoving needed. Just the decision of a mature young man who understood that the time was right.
Matt, Canberra (29 March 2011 10:28PM) wrote:
As always Jack, good perspective on it all. I just feel sad for Ponting that he was able to find one last great innings in the QF against India, yet the rest of his team (Especially a certain rubbish fast bowler) couldn't lift to the occasion and win the match. It is time for him to bow out however, that is for certain. With his selection now solely made on form, its going to be exceedingly difficult to keep picking him unless he makes runs. I'd love to see a Tendulkar-like renaissance from him, but in a team that is struggling especially in the test arena to be competitive, let alone win matches or series, it is going to be very hard for him to be achieve that. What makes the situation even worse is that his replacement in Clarke as captain is hardly proven to be a good leader, and has not been in the best of batting form either. It is going to be a massive step up for him, and he will need to find an extra level if he is to truly achieve his potential and lead the team on the long road towards recovery. We better find a good young spinnner as well- if only we could clone Warney!