Every captain sooner or later reaches the end of his tether. Greg Chappell admitted that he was unfit to lead his country on the day of the infamous underarm ball. He had been too long on the road. By the look of things at the MCG, Ricky Ponting's stamina, one of his assets, is fast running out. If so it'd hardly be surprising.
Even before the match the Tasmanian had plenty on his plate. Moving towards the end of a distinguished career, he has been short of runs. His powers are waning at the very time his team most needs them. Still he marches out to bat at first wicket down but hard as he tries and trains he cannot summon his old game.
To make matters worse he had already lost two Ashes campaigns, and one is a surfeit in most opinions hereabouts. Now he is on the verge of losing a third. To make his task harder, the selectors had given him a shaky line-up including an unknown tweaker and two callow youths. Although outplayed previously, his team managed to square the series in Perth and just for a moment hope was renewed. Perhaps he could hold things together for a few more months.
And then he broke a bone in his little finger. The lion had a thorn in his foot. Far from leading from the front in his customary way he has been obliged to hide himself at mid-on and behind point. Another man might have withdrawn, another bunch of selectors might have insisted upon it; Australian captains are expected to lead the charge.
The position deteriorated further as Ponting saw his team fall apart on the opening day. By the second afternoon he could feel the walks closing in. Australia had worked hard and taken a couple of wickets. On the field they were back in the contest but the scoreboard told a cruel tale. They were merely delaying the inevitable.
Now came the incident that revealed the extent of his distress. Ryan Harris sent down a delivery that burst between the bad and pad of Kevin Pietersen, a dangerous opponent whose innings was well under way. Although bowlers and slips heard nothing, Brad Haddin was convinced the ball had struck the inside edge. He claimed the catch and suggested a referral after Aleem Dar shook his head. Desperate for a breakthrough, Ponting obliged.
Officials have decreed that referrals be shown on the big screens around the ground. Accordingly the players could see a hot spot appear on the South African's willow. Expected a favourable verdict they were dumbfounded and then frustrated when the appeal was rejected. Neither snickometer nor replays detected any edge but they did not know that.
Ponting's response to the blow was telling. In the best of times he can be ratty with white coats. Exhausted, he succumbed to anger, argued at length and pointed a finger at Dar. Peter Siddle joined him. They insisted that Pietersen's bat had been away from his body and only the ball could have left such an impression. Dar replied that the mark was low and the ball had passed the bat further up.
And so the row rumbled along. Ponting took it up with the batsman and then the second umpire. Nothing favourable occurred. In all history it is hard to think of an occasion when a decision has been overturned on the field because a player did not like it. In any case the issue had been considered by two highly regarded umpires. Captains cannot expect anything more.
Ponting had no business getting involved, let alone becoming agitated. Undoubtedly he took the matter too far. It is not right for any captain, let alone an international leader, to challenge a decision so publicly and persistently. Fingers ought not to be poked. As it happened Pietersen left soon afterwards but the agony continued.
Better than anything else, though, the incident suggested that the home captain is at his wits end. In that state of mind a small thing can become a big thing. Ponting is a proud man whose team has been taken apart. The end is nigh for Australia and quite possibly its mostly measured leader.
WHAT THE PAPERS SAID. . .
The day the MCG turned from stage to Scaffolds
"For its sins of Boxing Day, the Australian cricket team's punishment is to spend the rest of the Test in stocks." The Age
Ricky Ponting drops his bundle over a turned down appeal
"The strain was clearly starting to show on Australian captain Ricky Ponting when he extraordinarily decided to argue the point with umpire Aleem Dar over a turned down appeal for a catch behind. It was a strange and futile — even desperate — display from the Australian captain." Herald Sun
Pride left hanging on 'top' bats
"Ricky Ponting and Australia's besieged top-order batsmen have one last chance to salvage pride from the train wreck otherwise known as the Boxing Day Test." Courier Mail
Ian Chappell: Ricky Ponting should have been suspended
"If I was adjudicating I'd think it was a suspendable offence," Chappell said. The AustralianReuse content