Ricky Ponting is yet to see his last days as Australian captain. This summer, he has proven to be one of the better performers and in a crucial transition period, Australia needs leadership. Despite the series loss, Ponting still fits that bill best.
Leadership manifests itself in more than merely a quality captain. Quality leadership requires the senior ranks to lead by example. Ponting has been largely disappointed by the likes of Hussey, Lee, Symonds, and Hayden.
Going into battle, a captain is only as strong as his lieutenants. Australia’s lieutenants ought not shirk responsibility for the current state of Australian test cricket. So far, the newly recruited corporals in Siddle, Haddin, Johnson, and Krezja have been forced to step up from rank and file.
But it is Ponting’s captaincy that continues to raise eyebrows. Interestingly, he has demonstrated a conservative streak, particularly with respect to on-field decision making, which stands in marked contrast to the Ponting of old.
His lack of experimentation and tendency to captain from a template has been frustrating and potentially costly. For instance, Michael Clarke and Simon Katich have both proven handy with the ball, yet Ponting has refused to give them the nod in spite of numerous occasions that arguably called for experimentation.
Steve Waugh and Mark Taylor both succeeded in risk-taking and aggression. Michael Bevan was Tubby Taylor’s regular go-to man with the ball, and Katich’s left-armers provide Ponting with similar arsenal, yet he remains un-utilised.
This newly-revealed conservatism, or “templatism”, may indicate Ponting’s waning confidence in his men, or possibly a sign of the selfishness that Ian Chappell loathed in Steve Waugh, in attempting to avoid criticism for poor decision-making.
Despite losing the recent test series against South Africa, Ponting’s well-timed declaration in the third test displayed quality judgement and confidence in his bowling attack, albeit on a crumbling SCG track.
Plainly, Ponting no longer has the batting and bowling weaponry that his predecessors had at their disposal. For this reason, it is difficult to reasonably assess his captaincy record on numbers alone. And as past Ashes series have revealed, numbers are irrelevant.
Kevin Pietersen’s recent resignation may prove to be a blessing for Australia. KP is a proven risk-taker, a rogue. He has challenged the status quo and broken the test cricket mould.
There are countless young-bloods eyeing off the baggy green who are itching to break the test mould, as David Warner has recently shown. These players form the spark Australia needs to ignite the test flame of yesteryear.
But to keep the flame alight, the team needs leadership and cohesion. And Ponting is the most capable of providing that...for the time being.