Monday, August 24, 2009

It's Time To Go, Ricky Ponting

With the cricketing world appearing more like Big Brother, and less like a professional sporting environment, there could not have been another title for this piece. Ricky Ponting has lost The Ashes (for the second time) and must now make good all his and Cricket Australia's claims of professionalism and accountability by falling on his sword. Period.

Ponting's on-field tactical deficiencies, lack of selectorial vision and penchant for acting in a manner unbecoming of the office of Australian captain should have been grounds enough for his removal many moons ago. Just how long can Cricket Australia afford to support a compromised captain?

Playing a clearly out of form Mitchell Johnson after the first three tests was inexplicable, especially when one considers that Johnson has never consistently exhibited the one trait that is necessary to take wickets in England: movement in the air or off the wicket. Not playing the redoubtable Stuart Clark until the fourth Test was simply baffling. Using part-timers when pressing for victory in Cardiff would be considered unforgivable in a schoolboys match. Omitting Nathan Hauritz for the fifth Test even after the home team was considering playing a second spinner should have indicated the nature of the surface and has proven an inexcusable error. Setting defensive fields during the English second innings of the fifth Test when the clear mandate was for aggressive cricket and quick wickets was the sign of a confused and incompetent captain. These are merely five seminal moments that could have produced a different result against an opponent that, unlike 2005, can only politely be described as mediocre.

One of the pitfalls of Cricket Australia's strategy of anointing captaincy successors very early in players' careers is that significant pressure is placed on the incumbent after a string of failures. And what a string of failures it has proven to be - started by India during the second half 2008, continued by South Africa down under and topped off by lowly-placed England in the just concluded Ashes series! For how much longer can Australian cricket risk its next generation in the hands of a severely flawed leader while there is a well-groomed and more able replacement ready and waiting to assume the mantle?

Ian Chappell and even James Sutherland, Cricket Australia's CEO, have offered that Ponting may quit cricket altogether if he is relieved of the captaincy. This appears a sorry and irrelevant excuse for an absence of gumption to take decisions that will benefit Australian cricket in the long term, for the presence, or lack thereof, of an individual should never overshadow the interests of the team. If Ponting does consider retirement upon being sacked then Cricket Australia must ensure that he is appropriately counselled.

However, Ponting is a proud and patriotic Australian and has the best interests of his nation at the core of whatever he does, even if some his means are abhorrently misguided. For this reason and given all that he can still contribute to the team through his batting, I don't buy into the conclusion that Ponting would retire immediately if demoted.

Australia is known for backing out-of-form greats, but a realistic and objective post-series review must only come to one conclusion: that Ponting's days at the helm are well and truly numbered. This exit may not require Gretel Killeen's dramatics, but the writing has now been engraved on the wall - it's time to leave, Ricky Ponting.

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