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Ricky Ponting's dignity

  • 01 April 2011

According to some commentators, cricket is a metaphor for life. Cricket leadership certainly has some strong parallels with political leadership. Captains have their own individual approaches and it is better that they stick to their own styles rather than take advice from everyone. At one extreme, the cavalier Keith Miller supposedly told his fielding sides to 'scatter', while at the other the control freaks would micro-manage field placements and tell bowlers exactly where to bowl.

Ricky Ponting, who has just announced his retirement as skipper of the Australian men's XI, seems to have found a happy medium between the archetypes of anarchist and dictator. Ponting occasionally seemed to be keeping his players on a tight leash, but that is probably attributable to the nature of the era rather than the man.

Regardless of the balance between wins and losses under his captaincy, Ponting handled a difficult period well. The team was rebuilding after the retirement of dominant figures such as Justin Langer, Matthew Hayden, Adam Gilchrist, Shane Warne and Glen McGrath. This created its own pressures, particularly in the Ashes series, at which he was not successful.

Ponting seemed to be constantly surrounded by support staff such as managers and coaches and was perhaps constrained by them. This was an era in which professionalism grew more intense, with team meetings, the adoption of game plans and frequent media commitments. Players were in demand for unprecedented product endorsements. No previous captain had to balance so many demands and expectations.

Although Ponting has declared that he will remain as a player, it seems clear that he saw the captaincy as an extension of his individual performance. He seemed to sense that the team performed better when he led by example and scored runs. That made the job of captaincy easier.

Indeed, if one criticism sticks to Ponting as a captain it will be that he led well when Australia had the edge, but lacked the instincts of a Richie Benaud or the ruthlessness of an Ian Chappell to seize the initiative from an entrenched opponent. Sometimes, the situation would cry out for the ball to be thrown to Michael Clarke or Simon Katich, but Ponting would do the predictable and bowl the quicks.

Early in his career, Ponting was distracted by a drinking problem. Luckily, this was kept from the public until he could announce that he had put it behind him.