Ponting now has the authority to be himself

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The Independent Online

In those days Ponting darted around, inspiring team-mates, conveying ideas, fielding brilliantly. He was a driving force and had plenty of mongrel in him. Since becoming captain, he has calmed down. Respectability has him in its grip. Perhaps he did need a little tidying up but it has affected his leadership. By nature a rocker, he has been playing chamber music. At times, he has been captaining by numbers.

Despite recent headlines, Ponting's problem has not been with the senior players but with his coach. No one is suggesting that John Buchanan has been anything other than loyal and helpful. Simply, it is a question of contrasting temperaments. Buchanan relies on reason and analysis, a method that suited Steve Waugh. Together they built a formidable team.

Ponting is another case. He is a thinking, instinctive, involved cricketer blessed with numerous hunches. Yet as captain, he has been predictable, cramped. Obviously he is limited by an attack containing four bowlers, one of them struggling. Nevertheless, it is hard to think of a surprising move he has made or penetrating field he has set. Michael Vaughan has run rings round him.

A lack of confidence has held Ponting - a sharp operator - back. It is no small thing to emerge from Tasmania and captain your country's most closely followed sporting team. Much easier to emerge from Yorkshire or New South Wales, with the great traditions.

He proved his capabilities by leading his side to victory in the last World Cup. He was incisive and fearless. Appointment as Test captain followed. But Ponting has held back and his team has become flat. Perhaps it has been the pressure of the past. Sometimes it is better to inherit a losing team.

Before his rescue act in Manchester, murmurs could be heard about Ponting's captaincy. He might have crumbled. He did not. Hindsight has not diminished his performance. It was a magnificent display of technique and determination. By stumps Ponting could echo the words once spat out by Bob Dylan: "I've got nothing more to live up to." Now he can set out to recapture the vigour of his youth. No longer is there any need to bother about how his moves will be received.It will awaken the dormant soul of his side. He will become the leader he is supposed to be. It took Waugh several campaigns to stop imitating Mark Taylor.

Not that victory will necessarily follow. Ponting must rally his men. He could remind Matthew Hayden that he is one of the most destructive batsmen the game has known. He can start chasing Damien Martyn around in the field. Australia can also abandon diplomacy by drawing attention to the frequency with which England players leave the field. The umpires can also be reminded about their duty to scrutinise the ball. If Pakistan were obtaining as much reverse swing there would be uproar.

Certainly Ponting cannot do much about Andrew Flintoff, except acknowledge that he is a wonderful cricketer. Perhaps, though, his innings and his team's fighting performance will encourage him to rediscover the sharpness and unapologetic aggression that secured him the position. Polish is for furniture and press conferences.