IT’S the fourth day of a Test match, the first of a series that is the most important of the year for your country. Your team is 202 runs ahead at the start of play; the opposition has knocked off 19 runs of a 221-run advantage that your boys gained in the first innings.
First thing out on the field, what would be your reaction as captain? To put as much pressure on your opponent by using the most threatening and intimidating fields possible or taking a milk-and-water approach that indicates an ambivalent attitude?
Do you show faith in your bowlers by packing the slips cordon and keeping two short-legs to occasionally get in the face of your opponents? Or do you use a standard field, an indication that you are basically a bob each way man even in a situation when your team is clearly in an advantageous position?
The Australian bowlers have copped a lot of flak for letting England nullify a 221-run first-innings deficit and allowing England to make a mammoth 1-517 in its second innings in the drawn first Test.
But the Australian captain Ricky Ponting has escaped scrutiny in toto though the tactics he employed on day four were those of a coward.
At the start of play on the fourth day, Ponting had two fielders on the boundary. For what? Was he trying to win or draw? He had 202 runs to play with, he had nothing to lose.
Remember, Australia is the team which has to win back the Ashes; for England a drawn series will suffice. One cannot blame England for looking for such a result as the whole point of playing five Tests in Australia is to retain the Ashes. That is the prize, nothing else matters.
This is not the first time that Ponting’s inability to captain the country properly has let the team down. It happened earlier this year in England. He is far too cautious and often looks to his own interests, rather than that of the team.
It is unlikely that any remarkable new talent is going to be unearthed in some part of Australia soon enough to make a difference to the Australian team in the remaining four Tests; any new blood brought in will be much like the old.
A trend of picking players based on reasons other than merit has been around for too long and mediocrity has crept in. Australia is fifth in the world Test cricket rankings and that is a good reflection of its strengths.
Ponting is favoured by the selectors because he has become an administration man. He knows when to speak and when to keep his mouth shut. Some months ago, people were theorising that if Australia failed to regain the Ashes, he would be stripped of the captaincy.
But that seems unlikely in the wake of reports that Michael Clarke, his deputy, is not exactly the flavour of choice with the rest of the team.
If Ponting regains the Ashes, he will stay as captain for the World Cup that begins in February next year. And it is also likely that he will continue to captain Australia until he chooses to retire – which may well be in 2013 after the tour of England. Ponting has said often that he wants another chance to win the Ashes in England, having lost two series in 2005 and 2009.
But if he fails to regain the Ashes over the next four Tests, then there will be plenty of pressure from people to play him as a batsman only. He still has some of the magical touch that he displayed in his early career and is easily the best batsman in the team once he gets going.