Archive for the ‘ricky ponting’ Category

A sentimental century

Thursday, January 5th, 2012

There is no sport in which sentimentality coexists with commercialism so closely, and at times so uneasily, as cricket. A Test match can play to near empty stands, and still have a large contingent of purists fretting over its continued existence; T20 is seen as its uncultured, uncouth offspring, the kid who threw away a university scholarship to go on the X Factor and is knee-deep in money, cheerleaders and rock and roll.

Success in sport means moving with the times. It is why Test cricket now uncomfortably straddles the line between traditionalism and an uncertain future, not knowing whether it wants to go forward or back, and why in building a successful cricket team pragmatism must take precedence when it comes to retiring the old guard and making way for new blood.

It is mission accomplished as far as England and Andy Flower are concerned: England sit at the top of the Test tree through the fortuitous butterfly effect of KP’s bust-up with Peter Moores, and a perfect synergy between Flower and captain Andrew Strauss. Both Australia and India are fighting their way through a period of transition, with both facing accusations of sentimentality for not putting their old warhorses out to pasture.

One warhorse who, in the view of many, should have had his passage booked to the knacker’s yard months ago is Ricky Ponting. The first suspicion of reverent sentimentality on the part of Cricket Australia came when he did not retire immediately after losing the captaincy, but was pushed down to number four in hopes he would rediscover his form. Two schools of thought can be ascribed to this: the first being that any possibility at all of a return to his imperious best was worth persevering for, and the second, and most likely, that no one wanted to be the one to swing the axe on a great career, and that if the failures persisted for long enough, Ponting would do the decent thing and retire himself.

You make a rod for your own back when you have achieved as much as Ricky Ponting has. Anything less than excellence means failure. The fact you scored your last hundred back in January 2010 – never mind that you have scored ten half-centuries since then – is failure. Your 78 against New Zealand at Brisbane this year still won’t be enough to silence the critics. The skill in being a success at parties is knowing when to leave. People are saying you are finished. You need to bow out gracefully, to make way.

Or, you could say screw all that, smile and nod and grit your teeth and keep your head down and do it the hard way, throwing yourself through the dirt in one of the most desperate singles you’ve ever taken, and, spitting out bits of the SCG wicket and with mud on your shirt, raise your bat to the pavilion in cricket’s version of the one-fingered salute to celebrate your 40th Test hundred.

This was more than just a fuck-you hundred to the critics calling for Ponting to be dropped. Comebacks like this are the culmination of the moment you realise that, when you get to this stage in your career, your biggest opponent is yourself. The engine of your talent is still what drives you; but the workings need a bit more TLC than they used to. Like a vintage Patek chronograph, the hallmark and craftsmanship remain unmistakable, but the timekeeping might no longer be as precise; the inner workings will need cleaning, dismantling and, in some cases, replacing.

Ponting, interviewed after a roll-back-the-years 134 – in which the swivel-pull made a triumphant return with all the fanfare of  a conqueror marching into a city – acknowledged that he has had to return to basics: “There were a few technical aspects of my game which I have been doing and which have now paid dividends. It’s all starting to come back. There’s rhythm about my batting again.”

Presumably – hopefully – now that the mechanism has been given a good old winding in that Sydney innings, he can continue keeping good time now for another year, another eighteen months, even. He will wind down eventually, to the extent where nothing will restart him, but that day is not yet.

Today, all the talk was of captain Michael Clarke’s historic triple-century. Tomorrow, all the talk will be about Sachin Tendulkar’s success or failure in chasing down that still-elusive hundredth hundred.

That all of this should, to a certain extent, overshadow the achievement of Australia’s ex-captain is understandable.

But that new shirt Ponting changed into after raising his bat was probably more symbolic than the dive through the dirt: clean shirt, clean sheet, renewed confidence, clean start.

Thank god for sentimentality.

Ponting loses rag, captaincy may follow

Monday, December 27th, 2010

If ever there was a clear indication that the criticisms of his captaincy are getting to Ricky Ponting, today provided stark and ugly evidence of it.

On a day on which England ended 5 wickets down but with a 346-run advantage and a 150-plus partnership between redoubtable number 3 Jonathan Trott and resurgent keeper Matt Prior, Ricky Ponting let his frustrations boil over on the field when a caught-behind appeal after lunch for the wicket of Kevin Pietersen was turned down and upheld on review.

Hotspot showed no edge and so it was difficult to see exactly why the Australian captain was so livid, but livid he was, exchanging angry words with wicketkeeper Brad Haddin and then assailing umpires Aleem Dar and Tony Hill with an extended rant which continued even as he stalked off towards his fielding position as the match continued.

Not Ricky Ponting's finest moment

Not Ricky Ponting's finest moment

Ponting has a history of questioning umpires’ calls, and of trying to influence decision-making on the field, most notably in 2008 during the series against India in which his gamesmanship and utter lack of respect left such a bad taste in the mouth that even Australian fans and media turned against him; indeed, journalist Peter Roebuck even called for Ponting to be sacked.

That was pure ugliness from the captain of a national cricket team; today, Ponting’s rantings and ravings smacked only of sad and naked desperation, of a man who has not only found himself in the Last Chance Saloon, but has ignored the dress code, cannot pay his bar tab, and is watching as the bouncers move towards him through the crowd to evict him forcibly from the premises.

That bum’s rush will most likely come at the end of this series, if Ponting cannot pull off something spectacular.

His captaincy is most under threat; his place in the Australian side is under scrutiny too.

Not only has he seen his team demolished first innings for 98 runs, but he himself could only contribute 10 of those runs, and so far his record in this series has amounted to only 93 at a dismal 15.5.

That he is in the twilight of his career is undeniable; that he can muster one last hurrah as arguably Australia’s finest batsman since Bradman is now looking ever more remote.

There have been suggestions that his eyesight is going, his reflexes too; that he has problems picking up short-pitched deliveries he would once have pulled with glorious and virtuoso abandon, and that he broke his little finger attempting a catch in the slips simply because he did not see the ball.

Ponting’s abdication of the captaincy, voluntary or otherwise, will cause problems for an Australia no longer certain of its place in world cricket’s hierarchy – or even of its ability to vanquish its old enemy, England, who once were Australia’s whipping boys but who provide easy pickings no longer.

Michael Clarke, once considered a shoo-in as next Australian captain, is in similarly abysmal form, and others talked of as future leaders, Wayne White and Callum Ferguson, are not even in this Test side. Tim Paine, impressive while filling in for an injured Brad Haddin, looks to be a safe pair of hands, both keeper and captaincy-wise, and is no slouch with the bat, but that is a couple of years down the line still, and Australia need a saviour now.

Whatever the reason for Ricky Ponting’s stark decline, it is a sad end to the career of a great player.

What is even more sad is that, on the evidence of what we saw today, he seems unable to end it with dignity.

Ghosts of Adelaide haunt England no more

Tuesday, December 7th, 2010

England have won their first Test in this Ashes series. It is only one win with three more Tests to go, but it feels like the Ashes are England’s.

After the horrible trauma of the last time England played Australia on their home turf, I can only begin to describe how weird this feels.

It’s like breaking out of the basement dungeon Australia have kept us prisoner in, and watching while they get run over by a train.

It feels like freedom, and it smells like victory.

England needed just over an hour to dispose of the six remaining Australian wickets to win by an innings and 71 runs. Graeme Swann got a five-for with support from Jimmy Anderson, Steven Finn, and the golden arm of Kevin P. Pietersen.

Two hours after the match ended, the rain came down like Armageddon.

I still think it was a gamble for Strauss to declare. He got lucky. If the rain had arrived any earlier, with Australia, say, 8 wickets down, he would have been ruing that 40 minutes spent adding runs he didn’t need. If Michael Clarke had hung around, and Hussey and Haddin had reprised their Gabba heroics, England could easily have run out of time, ending up with a draw when they deserved better.

But, after this stunning victory, that is really just cavilling on my part.

Because Australia are now in the position we became so used to seeing England in – captain without a clue, revolving-door approach to picking a bowling attack, and batsmen who, in the words of Michael Vaughan circa 2008 are “hitting it really well in the nets” but not quite so well out in the middle.

And fuck me, but that feels good. Weird, but good.

Ironically, despite each side’s exchange of fortune, there has been some synchrony in that both teams have suffered casualties.

Stuart Broad is out for the remainder of the tour due to a torn abdominal muscle, and likewise Simon Katich, who admirably made do without the use of a runner, is out for the rest of the series with a ruptured Achilles.

Broad is more easily replaceable than Katich, with Chris Tremlett being the most obvious choice for the next Test at Perth, where the fast, bouncy WACA wicket will be tailor-made for him.

Philip Hughes will most likely step in for Katich. Hughes is in good form at the moment in domestic cricket, and clearly the Australian management are keen to give him another opportunity in the Test arena, though Andrew Strauss maintains his technique remains flawed and can be exploited.

If this Test does prove Simon Katich’s swan song, I will miss him. Nice bloke, good batsman (if ugly as hell), once tried to strangle Michael Clarke.

I will also be surprised if Marcus North hasn’t finally worn out the patience of Australia’s selectors, but as replacements Usman Khawaja and Callum Ferguson were less than convincing in the Australia A game in Hobart.

Xavier Doherty will almost certainly not play in Perth, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see Nathan Hauritz back. I thought they were a tad hasty in dumping Hauritz in the first place; he doesn’t have all that bad a record against England. They also need to stop summarily picking and discarding bowlers because they’re not the next Warne, and give one bloke a decent go.

Doherty got a lot of stick in this match, but he should not bear the brunt of criticism; the batsmen gave him little to defend in the way of runs. Michael Clarke’s form remains bingled since his break-up with Lara, and Ricky Ponting needs to drop down the order.

Watching the reaction of the Australian press over the next few days will be revealing as well as entertaining.


Saturday, November 13th, 2010

England’s plan to fly out early to Australia and get in some match practice ahead of the Ashes is a great idea.

Folks such as Pietersen, Cook and Collingwood have been spending time in the middle batting themselves back into form, shaking off the rust and honing themselves – more or less – into smoothly running cogs in England’s well-oiled machine.

A handy six-wicket win against Western Australia; a comfortable draw against some hit-me bowling at the Adelaide Oval, with a match against an Australia A side at Hobart still to come: so far, so good for the tourists.

For the England fan though, it is just one big, long cock-tease.

Australia are on the ropes after their hammering at the hands of Sri Lanka and look to be a side in disarray.

Hysteria is sweeping the rank and file of the Aussie press and if you don’t believe me, one newspaper had Marcus North down as future captain. Where the fuck do you even start with that one: a player who, while not quite the duffer many people view him as, is not even inked in to the side as a batsman.

Pressure is piling on Ponting – with some saying this series might be his last if he doesn’t perform, both as captain and player – and the search for a spinner who won’t get his arse handed to him on a plate continues.

While Andrew Strauss is far too sensible to underestimate the enemy on their own turf, one could be forgiven for giving vent to some guarded optimism (or in my case, the wildly unrealistic fantasy – read “delusion of grandeur”, if you will – of seeing the phrase “ENGLAND JUGGERNAUT” appearing in headlines come Melbourne, and if that is not tempting fate, I don’t know what the heck is).

This series of tour matches, while proving good preparation, is like waiting for the main course in a Michelin-starred restaurant while chewing like a rabid dog on breadsticks. They are quite nice breadsticks, and are keeping the worst of your hunger at bay, but your premium steak is taking its time, you are getting impatient, and you want something’s flesh.

Practice matches are all very well. But I want to be hallucinating with tiredness from sitting in my own filth for eight hours; to be knee-deep in two weeks’ worth of newspapers; I want four different windows open on my computer screen and three different audio commentary streams; to yell like a deranged motherfucker every time a wicket falls, wake everyone within a fifty-yard radius and be the first recipient of a cricket-related ASBO; I want every poor unwitting bastard who asks me how I think the cricket’s going to wish THEY’D NEVER FUCKING ASKED.


Come back and face me, you coward

Thursday, October 28th, 2010

So far, the trash-talking and shit-stirring ahead of the upcoming Ashes has been a bit disappointing.

Let’s just say the “war of words” has had a few false starts in the last couple of months, with England not really “putting their hand up” and coming to this particular party when it comes to dishing out and returning the verbals.

Back in June, Andrew Flintoff made a game attempt to kick things off. After observing the Aussies’ defeat by 3 wickets in their second Test against Pakistan, he opined that “Australia are not the force they used to be,” and that “England are now favourites” for the Ashes series which begins in November.

“Last time we lost 5-0 but this time it will be very different.”

And the response from down under? Nada. Nothing. A brave opening sally, but one that fell on stony ground.

Then Ricky Ponting woke up, remembered he was now the proud bearer of Steve Waugh’s banner of Mental Disintegration, and, deciding on no half measures, warned England that it was “entirely possible” that Australia would win 5-0… “They’ve got no one there who’s going to surprise us at all.”

While most of us laughed (a couple of us with nervous bravado while harbouring the nagging thought that shit, it is completely possible that England could indeed be on the receiving end of a 5-0 hammering), Jonathan Trott thoughtfully scratched his chin and offered the sage observation that perhaps it was a bit silly of Punter to be putting so much pressure on himself and his team.

For christ’s sake, Jonathan. Where is the bombast, the rage, the slighted pride, the “come and have a go if you think you’re hard enough” appetite for a bit of the old “you and me: outside”? Even Imran Farhat seemed to be entering into the spirit of the thing with more enthusiasm, levelling his own relish-laden chirp at Australia: “Personally I think they are going DOWN!” And he’s not even playing in this bloody competition.

Then fast bowling legend Dennis Lillee decided to give it a go in stirring up English ire by criticizing England’s bowlers, saying that even without Warne and McGrath, Australia has the better bowling attack. The only person who could be arsed to rise to this bait was Allan Lamb, and he and Lillee are mates so that doesn’t even really count.

So far, so underwhelming. Not even renowned spouter of gnomic bullshit John Buchanan could light a match under England’s bollocks with his targeting of Kevin Pietersen as England’s “weak link”, referring to KP’s recent slump in form.

KP disdainfully treated the comment with the little consideration it deserved, calling Buchanan “a nobody”.

“All he’s ever done is coach the best team in the history of cricket. Anyone could have done that.”

This is hardly trash-talking so much as an eminently reasonable observation. Like I’ve said before, Warne and McGrath’s Australia was one team that pretty much coached and captained itself.

Finally last night, in desperation, Cricket Australia beamed a giant image of Ponting and Michael Clarke onto the side of Big Ben as if to say, “Ha! Ignore this, you bastards!” The image was accompanied by the reminder: “Don’t forget to pack the urn”. Despite the fact the urn is, and always will be, housed in a case at Lord’s, is not an actual trophy, etc etc.

Andrew Strauss, in his last press conference prior to flying off to Perth tomorrow, declared himself amused at these latest shenanigans and – looking every inch the elder statesman except when questioned about Graeme Swann’s mention on Twitter of being unable to locate his passport, upon which he sounded instead like your granddad struggling to switch on a computer – said:

“I think you can spend hours trying to think up witty retorts to comments or you can spend hours trying to get your game in order. We have an excellent chance of winning over there, we are a good tight unit, we know what to expect and can’t wait to get over there.”

Jesus. It’s almost like England want to let their cricket do the talking or something.

Australia lose, and Warne weighs in

Wednesday, October 13th, 2010

There were only ever going to be two ways this Test would end.

Wickets would either fall today like corn before the scythe, or the Indian team would bowl out Australia’s tail early and then chase down the runs needed to win with relentless superiority.

Today at Bangalore it was the latter. Bowled out for 223, Australia presented India with a target of 207 to win and this they did, without undue incident, for the loss of only 3 wickets. Bit of a stark contrast to the oxygen-starved tension of Mohali, but I did say yesterday that the unknowables are what make Test cricket great.

In this case, one of those unknowables, or unknowns, more precisely, was Indian debutant Cheteshwar Pujara. The 22 year old came in at 3 after the loss of Sehwag and proceeded to bat with a combination of freedom and maturity that bodes well for the future when India find themselves in the same situation Australian cricket did three years ago when Warne, McGrath and Gilchrist retired.

He went for 72 and it was left to those two redoubtable old stagers, Tendulkar and Dravid, to bring it home. In this match Sachin has made history – again – and so it was fitting that he scored the winning runs, giving India victory at a ground they last won on in 1995, and solidifying India’s lead at the top of the Test rankings.

If your name was Nathan Hauritz, you probably found you were in a nightmare from which you couldn’t wake up. I will be surprised if the selectors keep him after this, and I too was one of many who held their head in their hands every time he came on and an Indian batsman’s eyes lit up.

It was like watching a game of buzkashi, where the batsmen were the horsemen and Hauritz was the headless goat corpse being torn apart between them in the battle for possession.

His figures were grim – 3-229 for christ’s sake, but in the cold light (or warm glow, depending on who you were supporting) of an Australian defeat, let’s look at things a tad more sensibly. Firstly, the conditions are always tough in India. Hell, even Warne’s record there is average: only 34 out of his total of 708 wickets were taken in Tests in that country, and the only time he took more than 4 wickets in an innings it cost him 125 runs.

Secondly, Ricky Ponting’s captaincy betrayed an utter lack of faith in Hauritz. Fielders were scattered in the deep, moved into positions only after that area had been targeted. It was passive and defensive captaincy with fields set for bad bowling: not the best way to give your bowler confidence.

One man especially riled by this cruelty to his spinning brethren was Shane Warne – currently between poker tournaments and no doubt on a plane somewhere – who let rip on Twitter with:

It’s tough to disagree with this sentiment. Ponting’s captaincy has received much scrutiny since the days when, due to having Warne and McGrath at his disposal, the team pretty much captained itself. At best, some of his decisions have looked random; at worst, downright fucking stupid.

One can argue till the cows come home about the merits of Nathan Hauritz as a Test spinner. His favourite line seems to be wide of off-stump while hoping the ball will turn; a lot of the time it doesn’t. He is ironically more effective when he bowls a tighter line; Ponting seems to want an Australian version of Harbhajan, but this may be a step too far.

Hauritz has, however, put in some decent Test performances when his side have needed them, and Steve Smith, the man many think he should make way for, is arguably more effective with the bat at the moment. Smith still averages about 50 as a bowler, and is very much a work in progress still. Replacing Hauritz with Smith in the Ashes may be too early. Plus, it is very unlikely Hauritz will be quite this shit on his home turf.

Nathan Hauritz must now try and pick himself up in the upcoming ODIs followed by a couple of Sheffield Shield matches for New South Wales, and put forward a convincing case for Ashes retention. No doubt everyone and his dog will have an opinion on whether he should be part of the Australian line-up at Brisbane.

The selectors certainly have a lot of thinking to do.