The final innings in Bangalore was a farce. With Australia bowled for 223 the match lay in the balance, India requiring 207 runs for victory. Rather than exploit the situation with an unrelenting, aggressive bowling offensive, Australia put up a limp and ineffective defense. The hosts charged home with a controlled and splendid innings from the debutant Pujara. The blame for this comes back to the captain's door. Most heinous were the field settings given to the quicks. To forego slips in a run chase so as to pad the boundary is not merely short-sighted, it is cowardly. How on earth can one expect a bowler to do their job without the necessary tools? The only explanation is that Ponting was playing for a draw, a thoroughly unlikely outcome in the circumstances and a ploy that belies his competitive nature.
Much seems to have been made of Hauritz's bizarre treatment due to the comments of Warne. In a brief aside I must stress to the reader that Warne's twitter is, along with Chris Gayle, the only cricketer's worth time of day. It is such a joyous event to tramp through the gallant's misspelt and grammatically indifferent musings on this and whatnot. Even better are his tweets to other celebrities. Some are other B-graders and they carry on jolly old chats. Best though is when Warne assails true celebrity and meets with mute disdain. This ranges from creepily trying to curry favour with Lily Allen to telling Russell Crowe that his six year old daughter's production of Robin Hood gives stiff competition. This is almost always accompanied by an abundance of LOL's, something this blog sadly lacks.
Hauritz's field settings were ludicrous. Aggressive catchers in foolish proximity to capitalise on exemplary bowling with boundary dwelling fellows to cover bad balls, effectively anticipating them. In the twain was no-one to guard those areas which are the standard fare of any batsman facing spin. That, as has been revealed, Hauritz set his own field and not the captain would suggest that the fellow was of highly agitated and frustrated mind. The fact is every touring spinner has a rotten time in India. Hauritz has proven himself these past two years to be a fine bowler, economical, wicket-taking and every bit worthy of his place. I felt his first couple of spells in Mohali were quite decent and he was unlucky not to be rewarded with a scalp. As the game progressed he lost confidence and started to leak runs. In such circumstance the captain should be reassuring and encourage the man to play his natural game. Ponting, however, made Hauritz experiment with different lines, contributing to his demise. Then in the pivotal moments of the game where it was the spinner's very duty to bowl he was ignored dashing whatever remnants of self-worth remained.
WHAT SOLACE IS THIS?
This is not the first time that Ponting has mishandled his spinner, failing to give the man his due by offering mere titbits and leaving him open to exploitation. To mind comes Jason Krezja on debut in India two years ago. The off-spinner took eight wickets but bowled more than half the innings' overs going for close on 200 runs. Instead of being cradled and groomed for the role Krezja was turned into a donkey and wholly mistreated. This was not merely Ponting's fault but a miscarriage by the selection board who for some time there paid scant respect for spin to the nation's detriment. Krezja was ignored for selection over the next handful of tests only to return at the inhospitable WACA against an on-song South Africa. Along with many of the Australians, Krezja was unimpressive and has languished at Tasmania since. The error in attempting to use Cameron White and David Hussey as front-line spinners was the board's not Ponting's but certainly the captain blundered over Bryce McGain. After several seasons of exemplary domestic cricket the mature McGain received his call-up in Cape Town. Ponting did not give him a chance. At no stage was the spinner given a moment advantageous rather he fulfilled the workman's role to sucker the punches. Ponting instead fell upon Johnson's magical form to win the game. This tendency to rely upon a wildcard and not draw out the depth of his team is one of the man's clearest faults.Ponting is an incredibly committed cricketer. He cannot be faulted on his devotion to the game nor to his country, an attitude which is only to be commended. Further, his batting continues to be more or less impeccable with only a few dips in form and a tendency to get out playing the pull shot of late. This is a good indication of the man's stubborn nature in continuing to play a young man's stroke which is now beyond him. He should never have been made captain though for he has been a failure in the role. Captaincy requires three major attributes: to possess a keen mind and be a fine strategist; to be of outstanding character and an upstanding role model so as to add lustre to one's nation and the game; and to be a man to inspire the respect of his players and foster unity within the team.
As a tactician Ponting is unimaginative and reactionary. He rarely preempts and instead relies upon experience and proven methods. This tack has generally been successful for he commands the superior side. Now though it begins to wear thin. It is indeed Warne we rue in this knowing what a dynamic cricketing brain he possessed. Ponting has never done anything to publicly disgrace himself and his office as Warne would seem to have were he so promoted. However I would strongly contest that Ponting's character is suitable for that of his position. He was raised in the rough part of Launceston and developed a stubborn and boorish nature through his apprenticeship during the Waugh years. The gum chewing and spitting is abhorrent. The fact that the man is routinely booed by crowds around the world is proof of the contempt he inspires. The truth is I don't think he's an awful fellow. He interviews well and seems to be a genuinely decent chap. The manner in which he has been groomed is entirely unsuitable for that of a cricket captain though. To his credit he is generally quite gracious in defeat but certainly he is an ugly victor. The better option in this regard was Gilchrist, who though sometimes decried as a prig has magnificent public standing and is beloved throughout the cricketing world.
In the final regard, Ponting seems to be an excellent leader of men. Though I have spoken about his mishandling of players I have never heard any report from his own players of inadequacy. Perhaps it is just one of those time honoured rules of the game but even those individuals most unwieldy such as Warne and Symonds have never criticised him in this. Hauritz when venting his frustration never uttered even a breath that could be read as censure of his captain.
So what then is to be done? Ponting's captaincy in Bangalore was clearly lacking. This was a match Australia had the potential to win yet it never even seemed to be a possibility. Had Pakistan been involved there would have been accusations of match fixing. The poor performance also forces us to review the decisions made at Mohali. This was a superb test match with both tremendous bowling and batting performances and such a climactic finale. Ravi Shastri was quick to label it an all time classic, buoyant from such an impossible run chase. This is not true, certainly though it was a great victory for India. It would have been merely a good win for Australia and this is what it should have been. With eight wickets down and 98 runs still required it is shocking that they let the game run away. The cause of the loss was Ponting's strategy to deal with Ishant Sharma which in hindsight was clearly wrong. Sharma was treated as a bunny, the Australians leaking runs to Laxman to bring the youngster on strike. He was peppered with bouncers and tempted like Adam in the garden but remained immovable and resolute. Meanwhile the injured Laxman, who though as always poised and elegant had hardly got himself in, was left free to roam and brought the match home with such panache.
The fact is Ponting has seen in the past that Sharma deserves respect. I remember an impressive albeit brief stand made in his debut series in Australia and in this very game he made a fine display as nightwatchman in the first innings. He is every bit as capable as other recent stoic tail-enders such as James Anderson or Jason Gillespie. Laxman realised this and was happy to rotate the strike. While Ponting's strategy was sound and initially hard to fault it was maintained for far too long. Sharma came in with 98 runs required and it was not until 70 runs had been scored before the strategy was changed. By this point his side had lost its confidence moving from an unstoppable force to a winded and confounded beast. The last gamble with Watson and North was inneffectual and so the game was lost. Hauritz was ignored, Laxman was not challenged, and Sharma was disrespected. To reiterate, Ponting's strategy had sense to it but completely lacked imagination. It relied upon what should be the case rather than allowing for nuance of situation. Frankly it was boring. What made it brilliant cricket was that this dull move failed so spectacularly.
I have only the greatest respect for Geoff Lawson. I was too young to remember him as a player but in addition to coaching duties and otherwise he has been a splendid commentator in recent years. Aside from his capacity to call the game from a bowler's view better than most, his worth lies in his courage to be honest. In this case though it was naive to call for the sacking of Ponting. I wholly agree that Ponting should not be captain and think Lawson is as correct as Peter Roebuck was in 2007. I do quite like Roebuck although he has an odd tendency to be altruistic at times in his writing. He is an intelligent commentator and unlike Simon Barnes when he makes classical allusions they are pithy and exact not pretentious. At that time, with Australia at the giddy height of their 5-0 Ashes victory, Roebuck called for the sacking of Ponting because he is a boor and the installment of Katich because he is a nobler and greater man. What a magnificent sentiment though for it he was jeered by all and sundry. How utterly futile this wish is, for Ponting shall be captain so long as he wishes to be so. Should Australia fail this summer I doubt he will cling to the position, this is unlikely though and he has made quite clear his intention to remain for another northern Ashes tour.To their general merit Australia stand by their captains which elevates the role to a most prestigious and honourable position. As far as my knowledge extends the only captain to be deprived of this veneration and thrown out to the dogs was Kim Hughes. Therefore we cannot hope that Ponting shall ever be sacked and must time our patience with his.
What we do have the capacity to do is remember Ponting and establish the manner in which his captaincy will be recalled.
Ponting is the successor to a great line of revered captains- Alan Border, Mark Taylor, and Steve Waugh. Unlike the illustrious prestige enjoyed by these men, Ponting's captaincy shall be remembered as chequered. In some ways it is similar to that of Greg Chappell though less selfish. Both men are superb cricketeers and ordinary captains. Greg Chappell was at his best in the role when he left Lillee and Marsh to run the show. The demise of Australian cricket following the departure of Warne and McGrath is a more wearisome cliche than the sans-Judd and Cousins West Coast Eagles. However it has displayed very clearly the failings of Ponting as captain. He continues to rely upon star players and dull strategy rather than draw upon the depth of his team. Ponting is not a dreadful captain, he is just not a good one. To a large extent this comes down to the spirit in which one wants cricket to be played. I want it to be a game of splendour and romance where the magnificence of contest outweighs all other petty concerns. I am like Roebuck vainly calling for Katich over the incumbent. I love Ponting for taking a cricket ball in the face at Edgbaston and not flinching. I despise him for spitting directly afterward (although in this case the awful habit is probably warranted what with the accumulation of blood). The majority of Australians desire victory at all costs and this sanguinary trend has informed their modern approach to the game and the development of the unsavoury character. Now Ponting is losing games that should be won the public and I can perhaps make uneasy alliance. Further misdeeds will have to occur in full view on Channel Nine before this can ever be so though.
THAT'S ACTUALLY PRETTY BRUTAL
For you reader take heart and do not be frustrated. With us lies the power of history and recollection. To those who come after, our sons and daughters, we can tell them what a man and a captain this Ponting was. This is perhaps a poor satisfaction when we witness the dear sport being butchered but such is the only consolation we may take.
THE DIVIDED MEMORY