Stephen Brenkley: Passionate and honest, Ponting was a leader players loved to go into bat for
Wednesday 30 March 2011
It is the height of fashion to deride Ricky Ponting as a captaincy numbskull. Pugwash without the instinct. This is the man who lost the Ashes three times, something no other captain had done, or been allowed to do before. This is the man who was at the helm when Australia lost their first home Test series for 16 years in 2008.
And this is the man who, most recently, led them to their first World Cup defeat in 34 matches, spanning 12 years. He immediately made it two, with the upshot that they were eliminated from the competition before the final for the first time since 1992. The charge sheet is impressive.
This is also the man who led Australia to their first Ashes whitewash for 80 years, which formed part of the sequence in which they were winning an unprecedented 16 consecutive Test matches. He was also captain of the sides that won two World Cups and two Champions Trophies, an unequalled record.
Ponting did not possess deep tactical acumen, the ability to pull a rabbit out of a hat at any given time. This was partly because of a latent caution which flew in the face of his gambler's persona, partly because for his first few years in the job he could simply say: "Shane/Glenn, for heaven's sake get us a wicket will you mate?" and Warne or McGrath would oblige. There was to be no following that.
But there is more to captaincy and Ponting had most of the rest. He was disarmingly honest in a way that shames most of the dissemblers and excuse peddlers. Most of those who inhabit the role become, to some extent, large or small. He was a straight winner and a straight loser.
He was no angel and his swiftness to argue with umpires could be unpleasant to watch. But he did it because he was passionate and because he believed he was right. Often he was.
Above all, Ponting cared for Australian cricket and Australia's cricketers. He had men whom he preferred to be in his teams but he was a wonderful mentor to his colleagues. He was always careful to ensure that they knew who they could talk to and that that was him.
Sometimes it was possible to think that Ponting saw himself as spiritual leader of his country's cricket as much as captain. That was why he was never about to give up the role easily. In recent years he seemed prouder of the victory he achieved in South Africa with a young, untried side – weeks after they had been beaten at home – than he was of all the great wins with the great sides.
Comparisons are inevitable and as Australia have come back to the pack, Ponting has fallen behind some of his recent predecessors. Maybe he did not have Mark Taylor's smart intellect, or even Steve Waugh's rugged self-belief.
But it should not be forgotten that Australian cricket was generally perceived to be dominated by arrogance, swagger and a quality not exactly sweet-tasting when he took over. For a kid from Launceston, Tasmania with ambitions to change that, it was always bound to be tough.
Despite his recent travails, Ponting averaged above 50 with the bat as captain in Tests, he won 48 and lost 16 of those 77 Test matches and he had a staggering one-day winning record of 71.9 per cent. Ponting might not be remembered as a great captain because it was his misfortune to have too many great players for that judgement to be made but he was the sort of captain that every cricketer wanted to play for.
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