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.

John Travolta is a qualified airline captain and employed the pilot with his company, Alto
people'That was the lowest I’d ever felt'
Life and Style
healthIt isn’t greasy. It doesn’t smell. And moreover, it costs nothing

Other places that have held independence referendums
Arts and Entertainment
Jack Huston is the new Ben-Hur

It scooped up an unprecedented 11 Academy Awards when it was first remade in 1959

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style

Olympic diver has made his modelling debut for Adidas

Arts and Entertainment
Blossoming love: Colin Firth as Stanley and Emma Stone as Sophie, in 'Magic in the Moonlight'

Actors star in Woody Allen's 'Magic in the Moonlight'


peopleThe Times of India said actress should treat it as a 'compliment'
Arts and Entertainment
Maxine Peake plays Hamlet at Manchester's Royal Exchange
theatreReview: Maxine Peake brings emotional ferocity to Shakespeare's starring part
London's New Year's Eve fireworks event is going to be ticketed this year for the first time at £10 a head

Revellers will have to pay to see New Year's Eve fireworks in London


Watch this commuter wage a one-man war against the Circle Line
Home body: Badger stays safe indoors
lifeShould we feel guilty about keeping cats inside?

...and the perfect time to visit them

Jonas Gutierrez (r) competes with Yaya Toure (l)

Newcastle winger reveals he has testicular cancer - and is losing his trademark long hair as a result

A male driver reverses his Vauxhall Astra from a tow truck

Man's attempt to avoid being impounded heavily criticised

Life and Style

Try putting that one on your Christmas list
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
filmsDaniel Craig believed to be donning skis as 007 for first time
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

Career Services

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week