Ricky Ponting's lid came off yesterday. With the Ashes disappearing out of sight, with his job as captain of Australia on the line, with his whole career approaching a state of meltdown, he reached breaking point.
It arrived in the early afternoon of the second day of the fourth Test and it was not a pretty sight. Ponting, disappointed, disaffected, disturbed, reacted angrily to both umpires after a decision went against Australia. It was behaviour which could have been designed to invite reproach and he must have been aware as his tirade continued its unhappy progress that he was heading for trouble.
Almost certainly, it was deeper than anything that could be covered by the ICC's code of conduct. Shortly after play he was fined 40 per cent of his match fee for a level one breach under article two, which precludes "arguing or entering into a prolonged discussion with the umpire about his decision".
But as Ponting stood there berating and imploring the umpires all at once, trying to show his team he was still their leader, there was the sense that it all might be over soon. The match was already well out of Australia's grasp, already needing performances approaching the miraculous to bring it back, when Ponting snapped. It was actually a lot of fuss over nothing. But, in Ponting's view, at that moment it was nothing and everything.
Around half an hour after lunch with the second new ball only four overs old, Kevin Pietersen, on 49, received a rearing delivery from Ryan Harris which, in the parlance of cricketers, cut him in half. That is, it seared its way between bat and body.
Behind the stumps, Brad Haddin immediately became excited as he took the ball and appealed for a catch, which umpire Aleem Dar turned down. Though it was noticeable that Harris did not instantly react, it was also clear that Haddin was insistent that the ball had taken the inside edge of Pietersen's bat. The wicketkeeper raced down the pitch, tapping his upraised elbow, which is the signal to request a review of a decision.
The replays indicated that the ball had come close to Pietersen's bat but the Hot Spot technology did not show the dreaded white spot. Or it did, but one near the bottom of Pietersen's bat, not close to where the ball had passed. Close, you felt, but no cigar.
This information was relayed to Dar, who has just been anointed world umpire of the year for the second time, and he duly dismissed the referral. Ponting immediately walked over to the umpire and at his side was the fast bowler Peter Siddle. If Ponting was exceeding his remit under article two, at least he was captain of a side under extreme pressure.
Siddle was the foot soldier at the general's shoulder and could consider himself extremely fortunate to escape censure. This was not doubting the umpire's decision, this was calling into question the whole raison d'être of the umpire decision review system and those operating it. The replay was on the screen, the ball did not deviate, the technology did not indicate a nick. Everybody on the ground knew Pietersen could not be given out. Everybody but a man coming towards the end of his rope.
For more than a minute, Ponting appeared to make several points. Dar stood impassively and eventually Ponting gave up. But he was not finished, for he walked up the pitch and spoke to Pietersen and from there he marched up to the other umpire, Tony Hill, and had a word with him.
Though any player nearby was professing not to have heard anything, it was clear Ponting was not making New Year dinner arrangements. It was a sad sight because Ponting, under stress in a series in which he can hardly buy a run, has conducted himself at all times in a dignified and measured fashion.
Ranjan Madugalle, the match referee, said after the hearing at close of play: "Ricky's actions as captain of his country were unacceptable. A captain is expected to set the example and not get involved in a prolonged discussion with the on-field umpires and question their decision.
"While pleading guilty to the charge, Ricky understood that the discussion went on far too long. He apologised for his action and stated that he has nothing but respect for the umpires and his on-field actions were not intended to show disrespect."
When his team achieved their series-levelling victory in Perth last week, it seemed that Australia were back in the contest and his career was back on track. But he was out cheaply, like the rest of his team, on the first day of this match and yesterday nothing much went right. Australia bowled well enough in helpful early conditions but England largely batted with a discipline absent from their opponents. Jonathan Trott and Pietersen had gradually wrested back complete control of session, day, match and series. Ricky Ponting was a man who knew it.Reuse content