Thursday, 30 December 2010

The Trouble With Ponting

For those who may not have seen it, reprinted here in full from The Cricket Tragics.

''I entered into discussion with the umpires about the detail of the decision, having viewed replays being shown on the big screen,'' Ponting said. ''I accept the discussion went for too long, and I understand the reasons for the dissent charge handed down by the ICC this evening.

''I was simply trying to seek clarification from the umpires regarding how the decision had been made after being referred to the third umpire. However, I would be unhappy if anyone thought I was being disrespectful towards the umpires as this wasn't my intention.''

Ponting's Full Defence on Sky News

The captaincy of Australia, it is said, is the second most important job in Australia. Perhaps it could also be said to be the second most privileged place in Australian society. It comes with expectations and responsibilities too but unfortunately, the incumbent has mostly just talked the talk in their regard.

Leadership is an odd thing. Their are many ways to lead ... by example, for instance. By standing out in harms way and beating one's breast and willing your comrades to stand with you. The examples by which one leads, however, are not chosen .. . yes I'll have that one, no I prefer not to do that ... leadership by example is a focus which never goes fuzzy at the edges and allows the leader to have time off. Perhaps this explains why Ricky Ponting so often fails as a leader and resorts to the ideas of others because he finds the glare in the spotlight too constant, too demanding?

The words and terms which Ponting uses to defend his actions on the second day of the annually most watched cricket match in Australia, are those of a man who refuses to accept failure, despite the obvious evidence that he has failed. Much of it is spin provided by the massagers of truth who know the Australian public wants to forgive their man - has to forgive their man - hence the references to the every man, club captains. It's enough to make those without an emotional sporting reference point dependant on the national team's success puke till bile rises and burns the honesty they hold to. My throat is still stinging.

There's deferral of blame too. So carefully inserted ... if he hadn't seen the replay on the big screen, he wouldn't have been so convinced ... therefore, its not Ponting's fault he went from short fuse to walking bomb. The cleverness here is that it's a claim that rings true.

In the end, Ponting says he's sorry, but he's still right about the Pietersen inside edge, because he saw it on the big screen. Cue The Beach Boys and "Won't Back Down" as fresh coats of Teflon are applied to his image by pleasant ladies and gents with wide smiles and so much to tell him about how wonderful he really is. The ultimate lie is to have the liar believe the new truth.

There is so much wrong with what he did but then so much more wrong with how his reaction was stage managed. It's all about us wanting to let this pass because our boys are under enough attack already from the Poms and its also about plausible deniability. If the media savages the skipper under such circumstance, they are unpatriotic.

Lets deal with a few facts. One player reacted to the ball passing by Pietersen's bat and it wasn't Ponting. Vision showed him being convinced into a referral by Haddin. The players watched replays shown ill advisedly on the big screen as the umpires were deciding Pietersen's fate. The replays showed a clear outcome and Aleem Dar communicated that to the players. The fact that Ponting couldn't allow it to end there is, as he has said, totally his responsibility. What followed was a petulant display which goes against a basic tenant of cricket which media and administrators have been breaking a lot lately, "the umpire is always right".

Why did he react with so little restraint?

The answer is only partly to do with the current state of play in a series in which his exalted position has finally failed to have evidence to support it - he has failed to make significant contributions with the bat in all but one innings and that was after the match was safe in Brisbane; he has dropped crucial catches at second slip where he once caught them as if shelling peas; his captaincy has been questioned as being bland and unimaginative as England have piled on runs.

To be truly derivative in seeking an explanation to to this brain explosion, a wander back over the last five years of Ponting's controversies give a truer reason for the refusal to accept the three umpires' opinion in Melbourne.

Ponting dislikes, even hates the use of technology in cricket and has spoken with passion about the shortfalls of its use. Again before this current series, he called on players to deliver an honest appraisal of catches that are a close call and to leave replays out of the decision making loop. He caused a storm in New Zealand when DRS equipment was unable to be used because of winds over 130k/h. In Bangladesh in 2006, Ponting hurled abuse at umpires Ian Howell and Aleem Dar over a referral involving Aftab Ahmed and lost 25% of his match fee when referee Jeff Crowe found him guilty.In the DLF one day series in 2006, he launched an attack on umpire Mark Benson when he reversed a decision to dismiss Sachin Tendulkar and match referee decided not to proceed to disciplinary action. Even in this series, Ponting became annoyed by a third umpire decision in Brisbane when he felt he had held a fair catch from Alastair Cook and it was overturned.

Technology and its proper application may be a sore point for Ponting but the problem isn't just that. In 2005, Ponting blew up with Dar when he was run out by England substitute Gary Pratt, claiming England had no right to have a fielding specialist acting in the role of "acting" 12th man. His tally of five convictions for dissent against umpires in his six years as Captain can't all be blamed on technology but may have some basis in the personnel involved. It was interesting that he chose to comment on how expert the umpires for this match are, as at least three of the five conduct violations have involved Aleem Dar as the other party.

Ponting has always lacked self-control and despite spin to cover his tracks, his short fuse was apparent well before his ascent to the captaincy. A black eye when his reputation was reduced to annoying pest by a jealous boyfriend at a notorious Sydney nightclub haunt and his penis flopping display in an Indian equivalent are just two of the less delightful examples of warnings which should have seen him confined to the ranks. Unfortunately, we entered an era when performance was everything and Ponting performances were better than any. In return, he has traded on his role as a means of supplying rocket fuel to his batting and becoming easily the most dominant batsman of his generation and likely its most dangerous.

Perhaps the worst example of his aggressive, in your face petulance which owes as much to his immaturity as to the willingness of Cricket Australia to tolerate it, was the home series again the Indians three summers ago. India came to Australia on equal footing with the confident Australians who had squashed England the summer before and were taking a bruising, winner take all approach to Test cricket. Perhaps, in some way, Ponting needed to adopt an approach that might compensate for the hole left by match winners Warne, McGrath and the influential Langer, who despite being the toughest cricketer of his generation, also knew where the line was and kept Ponting from crossing it.

India were crushed in the Boxing Day Test, Hayden making one of three hundreds against them that summer and the bowlers, including a young and inexperienced Mitchell Johnson, easily ran through them. In the second game in Sydney, Ponting two enforcer's, Hayden and Symonds, were a physical presence over the Indians but their off spinner, Harbhajan Singh refused to take a backward step and suddenly the two bully boys were screaming like eight year olds who were about to be found out by the teacher and the match exploded into alleged racial taunts and the sort of bad blood one would expect to find along the Indian/Pakistani border. Then when Michael Clarke took three wickets in an over, deep into the last hour's allotment, Ponting exploded in one of the crassest displays that misfortune would allow. Many observers, were appalled and some, such as Peter Roebuck, called for his head, rightly stating that this was conduct unbecoming.

Cricket Australia sat on its hands and changed its name.

How much is enough? Apparently no amount of regular poor conduct from the Australian Captain will move either the ICC or Cricket Australia or the selectors to make a move against him. Perhaps they should note the spontaneous booing which began after five minutes of the most recent bat-and-ball-go-home stuff in Melbourne and again directed at Aleem Dar. It was no longer just the Balmy Army singing jeers at a man they once admired and feared. Australians in the outer voiced their disapproval at being so poorly represented by the man with the biggest share of little man syndrome in Australian sport. Even Members hissed their contempt.

The ICC, having taken part and whole match payment from him repeatedly, continues to slap his wrist and provide no disincentive. Given the severity of this incident in Melbourne and its repeating nature, a suspension would have been more in order. In soccer, if you stack those yellow cards, it doesn't matter who you are, you watch from the sidelines. Cricket, with all its genteel pretensions can stomach no such thing, having to be forced to take action against obvious cheats only when the media applies pressure. Toothless tigers rarely worry the hunters.

The show is almost over but whilst you and I can hear the Fat Lady warming up, Ricky Ponting still thinks he'll smack England for 100 in Sydney and life will go on. He doesn't like losing but hasn't seemed to notice how often it is happening. His high performance Alzheimer's makes him forgetful of dropped catches and the regularity with which an opener stands, watching him leave for the sheds. He doesn't notice younger players who adore him rushing to his defence. The arbiter of "the line", Justin Langer, needs to move beyond his batting coach role and have a word.

For Ponting's sake and more broadly for Australian cricket, I hope this man whose batting genius has made us all gape at our own inadequacy, will think on the consequences and call it a day in Sydney. As much as I have disliked and critiqued his captaincy and his inability to lead, I'd still like the chance to wave him off at the SCG and reminisce on his behalf on great innings that belong, properly to the past. I hold no malice and would rather hold no regret.

The time is right Skipper. For once, step away from other's plans and suggestions, sniff the breeze and strut your stuff one last time and let us afford you the praise your sumptuous batting and wonderful fielding has well and truly earned.


  1. Well said Lango. I was working at a pub in Adelaide when South Africa toured in 2001/2002. The Aussies came into the pub at the end of the Adelaide test, Ponting had recently been in that fight and was sporting a black eye. He was the most sheepish bloke of the lot, drinking light beer and barely saying a word.
    It's easy to forget the number of indiscretions over the last 10 years and I must say I feel somewhat vindicated in calling him unsportsmanlike. Rule number 1 in sport; you never, ever argue with the umpire. He has rightly stood by his teammates; even those it's no secret he doesn't personally like (eg Tait). But his self-belief manifested into arrogance so much that it seems he sees himself as above normal rules that apply to everyone else.
    I'll always remember his amazing innings and brilliant fielding but will never remember his character or behaviour fondly.
    If he doesn't retire from test cricket after Sydney he can add selfishness to his traits.

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  3. Ponting's standard answer regarding bad decisions when the technology -you lose some, you get some, it all evens out- is the biggest cop out on the issue.

    The right thing is to use the available technology so a true (or as near to true as we can currently get)result ensures a true representation of which team performed the best. I am unyeilding on this point and any other is rubbish! And i don't care who or what they've done in cricket that thinks otherwise.

    Th only real response is that the technology isn't available at every level of cricket- STIFF! Tests ARE the ultimate measure and competition in the game, so that is where it is most needed.

    And while i'm railing, come off it Lango...

    "Hayden and Symonds, were a physical presence over the Indians but their off spinner, Harbhajan Singh refused to take a backward step and suddenly the two bully boys were screaming like eight year olds who were about to be found out by the teacher and the match exploded into alleged racial taunts and the sort of bad blood one would expect to find along the Indian/Pakistani border"

    What is wrong with "physical presence"?
    And what is wrong with equity? Well done to Harby for standing up and not backing off, BOO to him for thinking he could play the verbal game with the masters but do it using complete gutter tactics and then having the team have a big sook and threaten to bail out of Aus and expect financial recompence.

    CA were completely gutless in that fiasco when they didn't back their players to hilt and say, "if you threaten us with expenditure and leave, we will sue you for failing to fulfill your playing contract and complete your summers obligations!"

    You say "alledged racial taunts" Harby has a fairly good grasp of English, he knew what he was doing and what he was saying and how he was going to get out of it.
    I'm sick of racism being considered a one-way-street.

    If Punter is just that, and not a problem gambler, he'll know when to fold 'em and stop trying to hold 'em, and bow out at the SCG like many of the greats before him. If not, being forced will take a gleam off the gloss that has been his wonderful (playing) career.


  4. I have no problem with either Hayden or Symonds engaging in physical intimidation nor Harbhajan Singh standing up to them but let's not play pretends and believe Harbhajan started the gutter tactics. Hayden was the originator of gutter sledging, as befits a man of his obvious intellect. His standard sledge was to hurl abusive language at incoming batsmen - nothing clever or above the gutter there. My points were, that when it was served back at the Aussies, they called for the teacher like Nancy Boys in an effort to remove a threat that they weren't sure they could deal with through batting and that they didn't like it when someone came back at them. Bullies never do.
    This particular style of aggression is a hallmark of teams captained by Ponting and its more football than cricket. Sledging is at its best when it plays on your opponent's mind - let's call it the Cullinan Effect. The Ponting inspired version is a pathetic bullying which is confronting but has little lasting effect to those strong enough to ignore it. Because Ponting is a bully, he blows up when he doesn't get his way and this has given him the worst record for dissent to umpires of any international captain. Its hard not to see this as a childlike level of maturity which all the pampering and spin has manufactured into a false image of the Golden Boy.
    By the way, the taunts remain alleged as despite being found guilty originally, Harbhajan was aquiited by the ICC.
    We agree on the one-way nature of racism in sport/life. Viv Richards was perhaps the greatest racial supremist who walked the cricket field and their knighted him!
    Can't see the evidence to support your claim as to Ponting's standard response to technology. He has always claimed it should be better but has always preferred that it not be there at all.
    Two bad developments for Australian Cricket overnight - Ponting expects to resume his Test career as captain (still has so much to do for or is it to Australian Cricket) and Michael Clarke says he'll captain just like Ponting and will never captain a Test team with Ponting in it.
    Get rid of both of them!

  5. What is said out in the middle should stay out in the middle. Unless it is against the laws of cricket (racial etc).

    What was said to and by Harbhajan remains pure conjecture so analysing it is just speculation.

    I am a believer that anything is fair game out in the middle. If you can't get to 18 years old and not be able to ignore whatever is said out there then you need to take a good hard look at yourself.

    It is said to put you off your game and if it works theyou have let them win. I can't say I have ever felt intimidated out there because after all there is no danger of physical ramifications, especially in test cricket.

    What Ricky did the other day was poor but it is very easy to sit out here and pot him however what he did was on the spur of the moment under intense pressure with The Ashes slipping away.

    Again, what was said is pure conjecture and also driven by pure frustration. As a captain I don't rate him but I can't blame him for showing some angst after the series he has had.

  6. Yeah, the first line had a few words left out- no wonder it didn't make sense. should have read:

    Ponting's standard answer regarding bad decisions when there is no technology (just the umpires call -you lose some, you get some, it all evens out- is the biggest cop out on the issue.

    He expects everyone to "play in the spirit of the game" strange sentiment from such a character.

    His remarks after his Cook "catch" that went upstairs- 'a blight on the game' - show that he is all over the shop on the issue. With the call even too hard for the cameras it went back to the umpire who followed proper protocol- benifit of doubt to the batsman. Sorry Ricky, you may want an honour system, but th above protocol is more fair.

    I too believe gutter sldging to be pretty mindless and know full well level of sesnseless rubbish that plopped from the mouths of our nations best while on the field, but how often has it been racist? How many Aus XI players have fronted that charge at the ICC? Lehman doesn't count because he is from SA!

    And while i would never delude myself to think the Aussies didn't start the badgering of Singh, I believe it is naive to think that Singh didn't mark his words perfectly for the result... and the escape clause. After the crowd calls of monkey from the 2007 ODI series Singh knew he had his comeback should Symonds chirp up.

    "terii maan kii." Spare me! Nothing 'alledged' or 'speculated' about that- it was his defence, "it just sounds similar to monkey, but means (you[r])mother(s)..."

    It is almost the perfect sledge because he knew how it would sound, what it would do, and he knew he could get off the hook.
    Why would you try and respond or shut someone up in a language they don't understand?

    Modi's threat to pull out saw that the ICC didn't push the issue, "here is a slap on the wrist you potty mouth. Please don't pull out of the rest of the tour."

    Once again i'll say it, CA let down their man.
    Sure, if an Aussie is in the wrong, make him pay. But if he is wronged back him.

  7. If you want to sledge, then sledge. If you cant take it and complain then you are a sook.