Captains face battle to see who can hold nerve longest

As the teams regroup after Lord's, Strauss and Ponting Ashes will probably be won by whichever leader stands tallest in the face of the coming ordeal, writes Stephen Brenkley

For the captains in this enthralling Ashes campaign, nothing is about to get easier. In England, Ricky Ponting received a round of applause only when his team had lost. In Australia, Andrew Strauss is being vilified for claiming a catch that never was.

In the days and weeks ahead, their teams will come increasingly to rely on them, on the calls they make, on the leadership they offer and on the comfort they give. For the men at the centre of the storm, it is the most severe test of their sporting careers, perhaps of their whole lives.

Ponting has been here before, Strauss had given up hope of ever getting here. They suspected what this series would entail but they may have been surprised by the dramatic course that it has already taken, ensuring that they will be at centre stage in every waking moment – and there will be precious few sleeping ones from hereon in.

The rigours of captaincy are huge as Ponting's predecessor as Australia's leader, Steve Waugh, wrote in his magnum opus Out of My Comfort Zone: "Captaincy seemed to soak up my spare time like a sponge. More often than not I found myself short of a decent warm-up and with little or no time to do what I need to do to switch on. Strange as it may seem the toss of a coin sometimes gave me a mild anxiety attack." And this was the man who invented mental disintegration.

The die was cast for Ponting in Cardiff by something he said, and for Strauss at Lord's by something he did. In each others' countries for the next few weeks and, if precedent is anything to go by, maybe for the rest of their lives, they have been cast as pantomime villains.

It may be harder for Ponting to deal with this issue between now and late August simply because he is away from home and the Poms are delighted to see him squirm. Poor Ricky initially won the part as the guy they love to boo and hiss at Trent Bridge in 2005, when he exploded after being run out by England's substitute fielder, Gary Pratt. There was always the certainty that they wanted something else in order to give Ponting a hard time. He supplied what they were looking for after the first Test in Cardiff.

Until it was raised by a reporter, Ponting never mentioned England's blatant but understandable gamesmanship by which they sought to slow down the game in the taut, final overs. But, when asked, he said something along the lines of England could do what they wanted but Australia would abide by the spirit of cricket.

Considering that an hour earlier he had charged in the general direction of the umpire after claiming a catch at silly point that was not out on the grounds that the ball had got nowhere near the bat, he was leaving himself open to charges of hypocrisy and sanctimony. But it is important to remember two things: the Australians have always thought the Poms a despicable, duplicitous mob since the invention of Bodyline 77 years ago, and the Poms can never quite bring themselves to admit that they are pretty awful.

Thus, was Ricky's tour of 2009 moulded. His every grimace (and there were a few) at Lord's simply enhanced his status as Captain Grumpy, although he is the most approachable and reasonable of chaps. Until recently when the Aussies began to lose a little, he was, statistically, the most successful of all their captains. But the next few weeks will decide his fate and he knows it.

Having lost the Ashes in 2005, it is unthinkable that his selectors would allow him to lose them twice and keep the job. That can only deepen a strain that is already profound. Ponting has a plethora of former captains telling him what a bad skipper he is.

It is true that he can sometimes be inflexible and lack instinct but it is also true that all great captains have had great players, and he lacks them in the bowling department at present. He was decently pragmatic about his treatment by England fans after Monday's defeat and all Andy Flower, England's team director, would say yesterday was: "I'm sure he's big enough to take it."

As for Strauss, a man more easily able to contain his grouchiness and his feelings, and whose batting appears to prosper with captaincy, he is probably lucky he is not in Australia to hear what they have to say. Regardless of his tactical acumen (little of which they think he has) he stands accused not only of gamesmanship in Cardiff but of sharp practice at Lord's by claiming an illicit slip catch off the edge of Phillip Hughes' bat in the second innings. The debate about whether it hit the ground – and therefore Strauss' credentials as a cad – will rage through the ages.

Everybody who knows Strauss says what an upright citizen he is and Flower indeed averred: "He's one of the more honest men I've ever known in my time. He believed he caught that catch cleanly and appealed."

This is not washing at all well with Australians who think that English public schoolboys are a pretty unsavoury bunch and have thought so since Douglas Jardine, he of Bodyline, beat them at what the Poms would say was their own game.

The indications are there in their faces and their eyes. Neither Ponting nor Strauss can hide the tiredness or the tautness. Whoever can make the calmest, most pragmatic decisions in those circumstances, and whoever gets lucky, will win the Ashes.

Strauss v Ponting: How the two captains match up

Andrew Strauss

Matches: 14

Won: 6 (43 per cent)

Drew: 7

Lost: 1

Series won: 2

Series lost: 1

Batting average: 44.53

Batting average when captain: 58.17

While the talents of Pietersen and Flintoff were crushed by the burden of leadership, Strauss has taken the captaincy in his stride, with his batting average noticeably on the increase.

Ricky Ponting

Matches: 58

Won: 38 (66 per cent)

Drew: 10

Lost: 10

Series won: 13

Series lost: 2

Batting average: 56.31

Batting average when captain: 56.69

Ponting came into the Ashes series under a degree of pressure, which will have increased following his failure to press home an Australian victory at Cardiff and the defeat at Lord's.

Life and Style
Steve Shaw shows Kate how to get wet behind the ears and how to align her neck
healthSteven Shaw - the 'Buddha of Breaststroke' - applies Alexander Technique to the watery sport
Arts and Entertainment
The sight of a bucking bronco in the shape of a pink penis was too much for Hollywood actor and gay rights supporter Martin Sheen, prompting him to boycott a scene in the TV series Grace and Frankie
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister
TVSPOILER ALERT: It's all coming together as series returns to form
Sport
footballShirt then goes on sale on Gumtree
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Voices
Terry Sue-Patt as Benny in the BBC children’s soap ‘Grange Hill’
voicesGrace Dent on Grange Hill and Terry Sue-Patt
Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010
music
Arts and Entertainment
Twin Peaks stars Joan Chen, Michael Ontkean, Kyle Maclachlan and Piper Laurie
tvName confirmed for third series
Sport
Cameron Jerome
footballCanaries beat Boro to gain promotion to the Premier League
Arts and Entertainment
art
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine