When Ricky Ponting was appointed as Australia's One Day captain nine years ago it seemed unimaginable that his presence in the Australia dressing room would one day be on the receiving end of a barrage of criticism. A lot can happen in a decade, and now it seems certain that Punter's captaincy is edging towards an imminent end.
Ponting received the captaincy while Australia was very much in the midst of a golden generation. With the likes of Warne, McGrath and Gilchrist at his disposal Australia were invincibl: as is shown by victories at the 2003 and 2007 cricket world cups. A stellar 140 in the 2003 World Cup final proved that Ponting was a worthy successor to Steve Waugh.
Such success has led to Ricky becoming Australia’s greatest ever captain, at least statistically. Three Ashes defeats later, including the Aussies first defeat down under since England’s much celebrated 1986/7 campaign, and a dramatic loss in form in recent years have made such triumphs a distant memory.
The time is right for Ricky to hand down the captaincy; Australia is going through a period of transition and regrowth, in order for this to be successful it is essential that there is continuity in leadership.
Ponting is the last remnant of Australia’s golden age of cricket, a symbol of times gone by. Sooner rather than later age will dictate that Ponting will have to retire from the game all together. Cricket Australia needs to be pro- active in finding his replacement, not reactive.
It now seems that Cricket Australia is seriously considering replacing Ponting. Perhaps a resurgent Michael Clarke, who is finally showing glimpses of the player his potential suggests he can be, is now ready to take over the reins on a full time basis.
An unnamed source from within Cricket Australia has been reported by Australian publication The Herald as saying 'We need to be looking at the future… it's time for us to make a change.'
So why is the time right for Ponting to step down, well, there are a number of reasons that can be drawn from this World Cup alone:
Sportsmanship: Ponting is well known, and respected, for his bulldog like spirit. The Aussie grit and determinism that he exhibits every time he wears the baggy green is in many ways admirable but has also been targetted by critics throughout his career. In the first game of the 2011 World Cup he was reprimanded for damaging a dressing room TV screen with his cricket box following a contentious run out call.
Unfortunately this has been a consistent theme throughout Ponting’s career. England fans will recall his angry reaction after being run out by substitute fielder Gary Pratt in the 2005 Ashes series. (Although in defence of Ricky, England was going over the top with their use of substitutes.)
He has also been found guilty of undermining the umpire’s authority on a number of occasions. During the 2006 Chappell- Hadlee trophy an on field argument with Billy Bowden sparked controversy throughout the cricket world.
This has continued throughout his captaincy, most recently in the fourth Ashes test of the 2010- 11 series where he challenged the umpires judgement on Pietersen’s not out call, despite video evidence proving him wrong.
Loss in form: It’s not pleasant to watch a great player struggle for form but since 2006 Punter has failed to average fifty runs across a calendar year in Test Cricket. Indeed, with the exception of the 2008 season his average has been well below 40.
Furthermore his last Test match century came over one year ago. It once seemed that he would be able to challenge Tendulkar’s batting records but now a chasm separates the two men.
Yuvraj Singh has picked up on this weakness ahead of Australia’s crunch game against India. 'You can get into the middle order and Ponting is not in great form…if we can get into their weaknesses, we can win the quarter-final.” Ponting is clearly no longer the threat that he once was.
Tactical approach: Ponting’s tactics have always been the subject of much criticism. Australian teams of old could mask Ponting’s inefficiency to set up a competitive field but now his field placement is very much an open wound that needs attention.
His field placements have often shown a lack of imagination on Ponting’s behalf. Indeed while the likes of Warne and McGrath were a feature of his teams it seemed that they had more say in the field placement than the captain himself. Although it is good for a captain to consult his players he must always appear to be running the show.
Control of the dressing room: The harmonious relationship that once existed between Australia’s chosen eleven seems to have diminished in recent years. Players no longer seem to be the united force that they once were for much of the noughties.
Ponting’s control over a mixed and nervous bunch of players seems to be waning. It is up to him to motivate and inspire the team that is playing under his leadership; the recent Ashes series is a clear example of his failure to do this. A string of poor batting and bowling performers across the order shows that he is failing to motivate his team.
Justin Langer however has been quick in support of Punter’s leadership by saying "He is quite inspirational as a leader and I just never get all the detractors he has. Whether it's in the fielding practice, the nets, the way he holds himself off the field—every time he speaks, these young guys just listen, they hang on every word he says.”
Unfortunately for Ponting it seems that it is time for him to step down as Australia captain, indeed if he doesn’t it can only be a matter of time until Cricket Australia replace.
If Ponting was to lose the captaincy, does this mean his international cricket career is over?