RICKY Ponting is one of the best cricketers in the world to watch when he is on song. The man has played 145 Tests, captained Australia since 2004 and is a pugnacious fighter all the way.
Despite all this experience and these attributes, Ponting does not deserve to captain the country any more. Not after he decided to bat in the second Test against Pakistan in Headingley last night and saw the team blown away for 88.
With all his experience of having played in England, why did Ponting take such a decision? It is being put down to a Test in England in 2005 when he put the home team in – without Glenn McGrath in his ranks – and ended up losing the Test and the Ashes.
He is not the only captain to be haunted by a decision made in the past, one which cost him dearly. Steve Waugh was similarly loath to enforce the follow-on after he did so in India in 2001 and lost the Test and finally the series.
But a captain is expected to have some intelligence and also to use it. The conditions in Headingley were treacherous – exactly the kind of weather that would help bowlers like Mohammed Asif and Umar Gul who pitch it up and can move the ball either way. And what transpired was a slaughter of a very good Australian team.
One just has to see the way Michael Clarke was dismissed to understand what Australia was up against. The ball from Umar Gul swerved at the last minute and uprooted Clarke’s middle stump – and he is a man with very good technique, one who generally plays down the right line.
It’s not so long ago that Pakistan had Australia on the ropes – in Sydney last year. That time Asif was the wrecker-in-chief but Australia managed to escape. Asif was much more difficult to play in Headingley and that should give an indication of exactly how bad the conditions were.
But would Australia have had Pakistan in as bad a position if they had sent them in? Given the way that the Australian bowlers performed when Pakistan batted – in similar conditions to which Australia had been knocked over – they could do little. Pakistan got away to an excellent start and had practically overtaken their rivals before a wicket had fallen.
A captain should have the maturity to think a decision through, not react in a standard way that is pre-determined. Each Test is different and one can impose oneself on the opposition by bowling first just as well as one can by batting first. Ponting, great cricketer that he is, lacks that maturity even today. Either that, or he has no faith in his bowlers – and given the way they performed, one could not fault him for that.
I doubt that Shane Warne, the greatest captain Australia never had, would never have made such a decision. Ponting did and that shows the difference in reading the game between him and the leggie.
Even if Australia does escape from the hole that it has dug itself into due to Ponting’s muleheadedness, it would not justify his decision. Captains must think and then act. Not the other way round.