Australian cricket captain, Ricky Ponting has had a reign full of success and very little team unrest. That was until 2008. With the retirement of two of the all-time greats of the game, Shane Warne and Glenn McGrath and the form slump of some of the stalwarts of the team, 2008 turned into a nightmare for the aussie captain.
Since taking over the captaincy in 2005 from one of the most successful Australian captains, Steve Waugh who himself inherited an outstanding team from Mark Taylor, Ponting has led his team to an ICC Champions Trophy, a World Cup and a record equalling 16 test victories in a row. However he was the first captain to lead his team to an Ashes series loss to England since Alan Border in 1986-1987.
He has been embroiled in many on and off-field controversies in his career and has not always been held in the highest regard by opposition players and officials. Former England manager Duncan Fletcher was hit with a torrent of abuse from Ponting during the 2005 Ashes series after Ponting accused Fletcher of misusing substitute fielders during the course of the series.
After Ponting was run out by one such sub, he directed a tirade at the England dressing room and was subsequently fined 75% of his match fee. Fletcher said at the time that he felt Australia lost the Ashes at that very moment.
During the Border-Gavaskar Trophy series with India in Australia in 2007-2008 was accused himself of not playing in the spirit of the game after a few dubious catches were accepted by his team and then argued with when they went against his team in the second Test. Ponting argued that he had acted in the spirit of the game when he ruled a catch not out when he was not sure if he had taken it in the same game.
But the true reflection of how good a captain Ponting is comes in results. The past year has seen a changing of the guard in the bowling stocks and some poor performances with the bat. This led to a test series defeat in India and then the first home series defeat in 16 years to a rampaging South Africa. These two teams are arguably the heirs to Australia's throne as the number one cricket nation.
In both these series Ponting's captaincy has come under question. In India he was criticized for bowling his part time bowlers to up the over rate instead of going for the win because of a fine and possible suspension hanging over his head. The heat was definitely on when Australia lost the series after having opportunities to win at least two of the Tests.
After a short series against New Zealand, during which a few of the batting deficiencies were being exposed, the South Africans arrived confident of taking over as the best Test nation in the world. The first Test in Perth was almost over as a contest when Australia set The Proteas a massive 414 to win in the last innings. The South Africans charged towards the total and Ponting seemed unable to find a tactic or a bowler to stop them.
The South Africans have since won the series 2-1 and the pressure is mounting on several of the players including opener Matthew Hayden and Ponting's captaincy. It is all well and good to win when superstars are performing brilliantly and covering for any shortcomings. It is another thing to come up with a new tactic or system when things aren't going so well.
Has Ponting run out of ideas? Was he only as good as the players around him? Now that he has to make harder decisions, is it too much for him? And who is the heir apparent? It would seem that Michael Clarke is the obvious choice to become the next Test Captain. He has captained the one day squad and been successful. But would he find it any easier to win in this current climate of turmoil and upheaval in the team.
The bowling stocks are being filled by untried youngsters and part-timers parading as all-rounders. The batting list is being held together by ageing superstars who are beginning to show some dips in form. Australia has enough depth in its Sheffield Shield ranks to cover the outgoings of the Test team but they need to be given an opportunity sooner rather than later.
Is Michael Clarke the right man to usher in this change in the landscape of Australian cricket? It probably wouldn't hurt to try something new as all good things must come to an end.
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