When Ricky Ponting made his debut for Australia, he was unfortunately given out on 96, missing out on a debut hundred. Commended by Academy coach Rod Marsh, as the best teenage batsman he had ever seen, Ponting began with Tasmania at 17 and reached international standards at a young age for a batsman, making his ODI and Test debuts in 1995 as a 20-year-old.
Little did people realise that Ponting would decimate attacks the world over and become the first Australian batsman to pass the 10,000-run mark in both Test and One-Day International cricket. But after 15 years of international cricket with 151 Test caps and leading the side in 76 Tests, just three days away from his celebrating his 36th birthday, is he past his prime as captain and more importantly as premier batsman of the side?
Should Ponting now relinquish the captaincy and play as a pure batsman?
Sachin Tendulkar, the batsman who by Sir Donald Bradman’s own admission was his closest replica, was going through a similar crisis a couple of seasons back only to befuddle the critics with his batteries recharged and appetite for runs renewed.
He reinvented himself and even refused the captaincy in November 2007, as Anil Kumble was given the reins of the team. The results showed as runs came in abundance and he even went on to become the first man to reach 200 runs in an ODI innings. While Sachin Tendulkar, with a new lease of life to his batting, scored 3000 runs in 47 innings, with 12 centuries in the last three years.The year 2010 was the best in terms of centuries, six of them coming from the little master’s willow.
So, is relinquishing the top job an answer for Ponting’s woes?
Former Indian skipper, Saurav Ganguly surfaced as a completely different batsman in his last three years, with tighter technique and greater application on the crease. After the post-captaincy era, he averaged 46, with 2062 runs flowing through his blade.
Though figures tell one part of the story, there could be a solution some where to Ricky Ponting’s problems which show no signs of abatement.
Ponting last big score (209) came against an inexperienced Pakistan attack in Hobart after he was dropped on nought.
With a ray of hope coming from the batting form displayed in the the lost series in India, he has continued his indifferent form in this Ashes series.
His career so far makes for interesting reading .He grabbed the opportunity with both hands after initial hiccups.After his first 30 Tests in just under four years his average was a modest 38.62, and after rising into the mid-40s it dipped again to 40.50 after 45 Tests. Since then, the average has consistently risen in subsequent years; his averages in recent calendar years are 70.93 in 2002, 100.20 in 2003, 41.00 in 2004, 67.13 in 2005 and 88.86 in 2006 38.6 in 2007 and then the sustained decline - by his own high standards.
Statistics are only part of what makes a great player, but Ponting's average once touched 59.13. He was expected to supercede South Africa's Graeme Pollock (60.97) as the owner of the second-best batting average in Test history is now in a muddled mindset, with concerns of becoming the first Australian captain to lose Ashes at home since 1986/7.
The single most critical factor in Ponting's amazing run at the Test level was his ability to attack the oppositions into submission. If he has to replicate some of old magic, he may have to adopt a totally new approach.
Ponting has previously rejected suggestions to move down the order, but at the moment he should give himself the chance to succeed lower down the order, as he has invariably arrived at the crease early, putting pressure on him to keep the scoreboard ticking over
The England top order has shown remarkable control and patience by choosing the deliveries to play and the ones to leave outside off stump from and Mike Hussey is s shining example to illustrate the point. Ponting wants to hit his way out from the loss of form and loses his wicket, which puts enormous pressure on the fragile middle order .Moreover, the mode of dismissals in the last four innings have been behind the wicket attempting to play the wrong line, with the ball darting around.
But, if the Australian selectors are already sharpening their knives, does Ponting have the time?
© Cricket World 2010