If Graeme Smith had an unforgettable 2008, Ricky Ponting had a 2008 of being bashed and bruised. Never in recent memory had an Australian captain lost a home series since 1992, particularly a back to back defeat.
It was an eye-opening experience for the Australian public; they have now witnessed the current Baggy Green is miles apart from the late '90s–mid '00s of Steve Waugh’s all-conquering Test team that included champion players like Shane Warne, Glenn McGrath, Jason Gillespie, Justin Langer, and Adam Gilchrist.
That team also had the support acts of Damien Martyn, Darren Lehmann, Mark Waugh, and handy all rounders Andy Bichel and Ian Harvey. Out of the current team, only Ricky Ponting can claim a spot of his own in that team. Another player to be considered, Matthew Hayden, can definitely be a useful foil for Justin Langer and at his best can bully any opening attack the rest of the test world can throw upon.
But sadly the machismo is catching up with age, and is no longer the force he used to be (although I can be proven wrong if he returns to the test line up). Brett Lee is feeling the heavy burden of leading the attack getting to him, and a foot injury will do him a world of good to unwind and recuperate his powers so that he can start bowling at blistering pace he is capable of.
But what about the current captain? Ever since Ponting was made captain in 2004, a few foresighted individuals see him being charged with the unenviable task of re-building an ageing team.
Initially he has managed well with the introduction of Michael Clarke and Michael Hussey into the middle order, plus the introduction of Andrew Symonds and Shane Watson as all-round options (although they seem to take turns whenever they play for Australia), and the emergence of Mitchell Johnson and Stuart Clark as a pace attack to support the talisman Lee.
As captain of a side that needs to live up to the ruthless winning streak displayed by previous captains, Ponting did that well to coming short of attaining that record winning streak of 17-straight test wins (against India in January 2008). Since that fateful test defeat, Ponting’s Australia has failed to implement that killing instinct to good effect.
Shaky series wins over India that summer, plus the unconvincing series win over the West Indies in the middle of last year had plastered the cracks of a team in decline. It only became obvious with the series defeats to India away and the home series defeat to an in-form South African side that a second re-building stage is needed. This is where Ricky Ponting as captain is distinctive of Ricky Ponting the batsman.
Unlike many recently-capped Australian players, Ponting was a genuine talent to begin with; he broke into the Baggy Green side at the age of 20, and has held the number three batting spot as his very own. Like his Tasmania counterpart David Boon, he was a fighter and loves a battle.
But he has an attacking instinct that combines well with his fluid technique (classy front foot cover drives and back foot pull shots are his trademarks) that sets him apart from Boon, and as captain of the Australian side we also saw the best of Ricky Ponting as an accumulator of runs. This was backed with razor-sharp fielding and you have a feared one day batsman any team will want to have.
His form with the bat has been mixed; even though he had finally achieved a test hundred in India, he is susceptible to the bowling of Ishant Sharma and Zaheer Khan. At the decisive test defeat in Melbourne, he would have become the only test batsman to score test hundreds in each innings four times if he did not get out on 98.
In those innings displayed all that is best of Ricky Ponting as a batsman; overcoming a shaky start to implementing his strokeplay once he got his eye into the game to make a quick century to bring Australia into the game. It demonstrates Ponting’s character and desire to lead from the front.
Already at his mid 30s, Ricky Ponting has some way to go and has a lot to contribute to Australian Cricket. He is within striking distance of Sachin Tendulkar’s record for the most test match runs, and even Tendulkar is backing Ponting to beat his record. As a captain, he will continue on as the selectors are in no hurry of disposing of his captaincy and they see him continuing the mentoring role onto Michael Clarke as Ponting’s successor.
No doubt they have suffered some series defeats, as it is part of the process of re-building a new team. Will it be a great team? Too soon to ask, but it will definitely be a competitive team that will continue to ask questions of South Africa’s new-found dominance and India’s rise for conquest. Interesting times are ahead for the Baggy Green, with series matches against South Africa in March, the Ashes in the middle of the year and the summer series against an unpredictable Pakistan side.