Ricky Ponting's dignity

Ricky PontingAccording 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. Indeed, overcoming that difficulty probably helped Ponting to emerge as a champion batsman.

Interestingly as a batsman Ponting knew exactly how to regain authority over an attack. Australian cricket went through a period when hooking and cutting the fast bowlers was considered to be irresponsible and consequently bowlers could pitch short at will. Ponting was fearless when playing off the back foot and was a delight to watch when driving on the front foot. In the field Ponting was courageous, a safe pair of hands in close and a tireless chaser in the outfield.

Ponting generally behaved with dignity under pressure. He seldom displayed emotion and then it was usually a stare or a hint of a smile. He gave no public sign of ever being disappointed with any of his players, but usually made positive comments, even when things were not going well. He always seemed conscious of the privileged position he occupied.

If there was one moment Ponting probably wishes he could expunge from the record — just as MPs can correct Hansard proofs — it would be from the recent home Ashes series. When the umpire delivered an adverse decision, Ponting, who was having a break, immediately reacted. Not only did he surrender his own dignity on that occasion, but by allowing a fast bowler to confront the umpire, he also surrendered a degree of authority.

As some recent Australian elections have shown, leaders are not always able let go in time to avoid embarrassment.

One lesson from politics is that good leaders have an eye to their successors. It may well be that Ponting intended to retire earlier but that he hung on to ensure that the time was right for his vice captain Michael Clarke to take over.

Clarke, like Ponting, joined the Test team young and was known as 'Pup'. He too has faced public pressures. When Clarke's relationship with his partner ended, he came under immediate intense scrutiny, and the media posed unfair questions about his sutiability for leadership. Clarke remained dignified and calm throughout and scored a century when he resumed playing.

Clarke has promised to run the team his way, which will be excellent as he obviously enjoys his cricket. He always looks more relaxed than the heavily gum munching Ponting.

It is a new era. In the not so distant past, the thought of an Australian captain sporting a tattoo would have been anathema to the establishment. In the commercial realities that prevail today, purveyors of 'temporary' tattoos will probably make a fortune when the kids start demanding a tat like Pup's. That small quibble aside, Michael Clarke should be an excellent role model.

It is pleasing that  Ponting, once a batting prodigy, erstwhile champion batsman and captain courageous, decided to keep playing in the role of senior statesman. With his experience Ponting could score many more Test runs. That would ease the pressure on Clarke and make another contribution to the success of the team and the value placed on the 'Baggy Green'.



Tony SmithTony Smith was a fanatical cricketer from age 10 to 40. He has represented Parramatta District in the Telegraph Shield and Coonabarabran in the Far West cricket Council Competition. Tony's highest score was 138 not out, best bowling effort was 9 for 16, and most catches in an innings was four. Tony holds a PhD in political science. 

Topic tags: Ricky Ponting, Michael Clarke, retire, Australian cricket team, captain, lara bingle, langer, warne, hayden



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