RICKY Ponting faces five very difficult days ahead. Days when he will be torn between wanting Australia to do well in the final Ashes Test and also fully aware that any improvement will be put down to the stand-in captain Michael Clarke.
And any improvement will also decrease even the smallest chance he has of regaining the captaincy when Australia next plays Test cricket in August. Thus in a perverse way, Ponting will probably be happy if Australia suffers another defeat.
Would Ponting play under someone else as captain? He really wouldn’t have a choice – if the selection panel decides that a new captain must take over, then he will have no choice. And the new captain wouldn’t have much choice to having Ponting in his team if he merits a place on form.
Ponting is anxious about the captaincy and also highly insecure. This is evident from the fact that he wants to be in the dressing room for the fifth Test even though he is not playing. He wants to be around so that he can claim some credit in the event that the team fares better than it did in Melbourne.
Clarke must be feeling as though he has a millstone around his neck. It is highly unusual for a situation like this to develop but both the selectors and Clarke are being diplomatic about it. Nobody wants to make it appear as though Ponting has played his last Test as captain.
But that is what is very likely to happen. Ponting has some years left as a batsman but the team needs some rejuvenation and the long gap between Tests is exactly what is needed to blood new players.
The selectors have to look seriously at trying to regain the country’s ranking in Test cricket – it now stands fourth, thanks the weather in Sri Lanka that caused both Tests in the two-Test series between the West Indies and Sri Lanka to end in draws. Lanka thus slipped back from fourth to fifth and Australia moved up a notch.
It is always a touch tragic to see a good batsman come to a fork in the road as Ponting has. He is desperate to hang on to the captaincy and does not see that his time as captain is up. If he were to step down voluntarily it would be good for him. He could then continue as a player as long as his form warrants.