Ponting sees his power draining away as Strauss reigns

Since the destiny of the Ashes was decided it has been fascinating to observe the two captains. Andrew Strauss is the undisputed commander-in-chief of the England team and nothing that happens in Sydney this week will change that.

His position is unchallenged and unquestioned, his authority after 31 matches is complete. Strauss is the master of all he surveys and he can talk – though he has resisted it – about the challenges ahead for England knowing that everybody knows he will be part of them.

Ricky Ponting's is a different case. Nominally, he remains the captain of Australia, and though he is not playing in the fifth Test because of a broken finger, he is around the team dressing rooms with the proclaimed blessing of his stand-in, Michael Clarke. In practice before the match started he was seen advising all the batsmen, sometimes he appeared to be running the show and the intention is for him to be present for the whole match.

That Ponting cares passionately about the future of Australian cricket and the national side cannot be doubted and it is clear from his actions that he intends to be part of it. Yet none of this can dispel the notion that Ponting is becoming a monarch without power. His position is discussed each and every day and the more the players say they want him, the more pundits and former captains are wheeled out to say why he should not be there. The selectors and Cricket Australia continue to endorse Ponting as leader but there is an unspoken dilemma looming.

Were Australia to lose the Test series as well as the Ashes, it would add fuel to the arguments of those, like the great former captain Ian Chappell, who say the rebuilding must begin now and with a different leader. "Like a politician intoxicated by power," Chappell wrote in his Sydney Sunday Telegraph column yesterday, "Ponting has talked about extending his leadership maybe as far as the 2013 Ashes series. This is unrealistic as captains have a use-by date. Also, the future captain needs to be installed at a time that's right for his career, rather than at the whim of the incumbent."

But if Australia somehow prevail in the fifth Test and draw the series 2-2, then Clarke will be the man who engineered the victory on the field, not Ponting from the changing room. The movement to move on will gain greater propulsion. Clarke could hardly have been more magnanimous in his assessment of Ponting before the Test match began – glad to have him around, a man who had taught him so much, still the captain, and so on – but he could hardly have said any differently. And if he really did not want to say any differently, then that might tell something about Clarke's credentials as a long-term captain.

It was the oddest sensation, that Ponting had become a captain with too much power and yet seems to have no power at all for he is now reliant on others for it. This is a huge conundrum for Australian cricket, which is in a mess.

By the normal standards applied to sport, Ponting should be replaced. It should not have happened because of a broken finger but that is the nature of the thing. He is 36, he has been a hugely successful captain for nearly seven years and 77 Test matches, but he has presided over the loss of three Ashes-losing sides. The question keeps being asked, if not Ponting then who? Clarke? Apart from his terrible form, nobody truly seems to think so for long – no matter how he manages in Sydney. Ponting may have to hang on after all.

But there is always somebody. England have come to know that – painfully sometimes. In the Nineties, Michael Atherton was probably allowed to be leader for too long: 52 matches, only 13 wins, but there never seemed to be anybody else. Eventually he was replaced by Alec Stewart. That did not work, partly because Stewart was a wicketkeeper, partly because he did not have the temperament. They found Nasser Hussain almost by accident, a gamble that paid resounding dividends, England's best captain for a generation.

After that, Michael Vaughan fitted seamlessly into the chair and, because of his natural leadership skills and Hussain's groundwork, was triumphant. But post-injury, Vaughan hung around too long. The selectors, although they would not admit it, got into a pickle, first with Andrew Flintoff, then with Kevin Pietersen.

By the time Strauss turned up he was the only option, though selectors like to make us think – in view of his predictable accomplishment – that it was their masterstroke. It was no such thing. They got lucky. Six months earlier, the same selectors assured us that Kevin Pietersen would take the team to fresh horizons.

Strauss and Ponting are both admirable men but cricket captaincy can make fools of all. In the first days of the new year, Strauss may have learnt something from Ponting about his future: that some time there is a time to go.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
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

No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor