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Filling the Ponting void

Daniel Brettig

December 10, 2012

Comments: 47 | Text size: A | A

Ed Cowan ventures to the Australian Open golf, Sydney, December 7, 2012
Like Ricky Ponting, Ed Cowan ventured to the Australian Open golf tournament between Tests © Getty Images
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Australia's Test team convened without Ricky Ponting in Hobart on Monday evening. Barring reasons of injury or personal leave, this is the first time such a state of affairs has existed since 1999.

The space left by Ponting will be felt as much in the dressing room as out in the middle, for while his run-making trailed off badly towards the end, his contribution to the team's development as a mentor and example was seldom stronger.

Phillip Hughes occupies Ponting's place on the team sheet, but all will be expected to take up the considerable hole left by his presence. Apart from the captain Michael Clarke, the most senior members of the squad to play at Bellerive are Michael Hussey, Shane Watson and Mitchell Johnson.

Their insights and examples will be critical to younger team-mates, and so too will the personal experience of Ed Cowan. Having benefited greatly from the time he spent around Ponting both before and after his elevation to the national team, Cowan will now be expected to show that example.

"It's an odd situation in that one of the guys that has been inked into the top order, but more so inked into the culture of the change room, will be missing," Cowan told ESPNcricinfo. "So there are two ways to look at it. One is to reminisce and think what a hole he's going to leave. The other side of the coin is that it's an opportunity for guys to step up, not only as players but as leaders around the change room, and that's an opportunity for a number of guys to combine together and try to fill the void of his presence.

"I think cultures evolve, and the culture of this team has evolved since Michael's taken the captaincy, so it's a question of guys being willing like Ricky was to give of themselves to the team like no other. Put the team first, play to win, and make sure the change rooms are a better place when the next person steps into it. A massive loss off the field, but the identity of this team has been growing since Michael took over the captaincy, and that growth's been pretty evident in the results."

That those results did not culminate in a series victory over South Africa was down to a major malfunction at Nos. 3 and 4 in the batting order - of which Ponting was of course a part - the toll of three Tests on the hosts' bowlers, and the resilience of the seasoned visitors. Cowan enjoyed a productive series personally, making his first Test century and looking comfortable at other times, but the most resounding lessons of the series were of the five-day game's unremitting nature.

"From a team point of view it was a great lesson that Test series are exactly that," Cowan said. "It's not one or two days of really decent cricket, to beat the best you have to be consistent for 15 days. As a group we felt as though we dominated them for eight or nine days of the series, maybe had points decisions on two or three days and only lost two or three days to them, and you end up losing the series. So it was a great lesson for us that the great teams soak up pressure when they have to and have an ability to really nail you when they have that momentum.

"They were due to have a good day. That was in the back of everyone's mind that they'd been pounded and pounded and pounded and yet it showed 0-0, and it took a toll on our bowlers a bit more with both quicks sitting out [Perth]. So we were up against it when our top three quicks were all unavailable for what was a grand final, so it was always going to be hard work. We had our opportunity after day one with the bat to really nail them and we didn't take it, then with the ball we let things slip, and in a matter of hours the series was prettymuch gone.

"Having said that, deep down we knew we gave it a massive shake. The best team in the world had come here with the intention of proving how good they were, and we flexed a few muscles and showed how good we were over the course of the series, but didn't come away with the biscuits."

Ponting's retirement and its associated melancholy appeared to add a mental toll to the physical strain evident after the sapping conclusion to the Adelaide Test. Cowan said the start of a new series would allow the start of a new and fresh chapter, without anything like the pathos that enveloped Australia at the WACA ground - there will certainly be fewer tears shed this week, both in private and in public.

"It was tough mentally, and physically because it was a back-to-back Test," Cowan said. "Now we've had a chance to refresh, take stock and move forward. Phil Hughes is coming into the side off a lot of runs and we're pretty confident that everyone can contribute to the team moving forward. We're now missing Australia's greatest modern batsmen, but it's an opportunity for guys to step up. It puts expectation on other guys to fill the void. That's the only way."

Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here

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Posted by Ragav999 on (December 12, 2012, 15:34 GMT)

@Greatest_Game: If one great bowler is better than no great bowlers and you think the horrifically belted bowlers are so worthy to being picked in a team, why does SA have such a poor win/loss ratio record in the last few years especially at home? They are hanging on to the number one ranking not because they are very superior than all other sides but due to the fact that all other sides are more inconsistent than SA.This SA attack described by Allan Donald as the best ever SA attack has a very poor record of winning Tests in the last few years.

Posted by Meety on (December 12, 2012, 0:46 GMT)

@Glen Low - whilst I know where you are coming from, you do say it is "...not right having debutants at around 27..." - yet applaud Cowan's debut who was basically 30! I think it is about a mix. Hussey was 30 when he debuted for Oz, & many good observers (stats suggest as well), that he was the most complete debutant in Test cricket in decades. I think we still have the hangover of 10 years ago whereby it was real hard work getting close to a baggy green & competitiion for a batting slot was fierce in Shield. So I don't mind some seasoned pro's coming into the team, however with an eye on any youngsters coming thru!

Posted by   on (December 12, 2012, 0:22 GMT)

Its symptomatic of the type of cricket played these days that there is no batsman pressing for selection when Ricky Ponting retired. In years past, Shield games were mini test matches played at high intensity where players who made runs/took wickets were prepared for playing at the highest level. Now we have the BBL where junk cricket is featured on the schedule and shield matches are shunted to the side.

I doubt we will see the volume of test match ready cricketers produced in Australia until the imbalance between junk and first class cricket is corrected. I suspect we will be able to pick a decent first eleven but the depth we had last decade will never reoccur.

Posted by   on (December 11, 2012, 18:12 GMT)

@Glenn Low, what is wrong with making a debut at 27? Mike Hussey and Adam Gilchrist were no spring chickens when they came into the side. Guys like Langer, Hayden and Martyn all came back as much better players in their later 20's than when they first played test cricket. They are some of the very finest batsmen Australia has produced in the last 20 years..... @ZenBoomerang, I agree that runs from a no.4 will help. Everyone has been talking about the top 4, but in reality it has been numbers 3 and 4 that have been letting Australia down. Ponting in both places and Clarke too at no.4 before he became captain and more recently a host of others at no.3. Can hardly point the finger at Cowan or Warner after they both made centuries against SA, Cowans in particular turned the match around in Brisbane.

Posted by Greatest_Game on (December 11, 2012, 14:50 GMT)

Oh dear - Simoc has got my mate Marcio all bent out of shape. C'mon Marcio, its just a conversation. It really is not the end of the world if SA has a better attack than Aus! Just look at it logically. All that "horrific belting around" did not stop the SA attack from crushing the Aus batting in the 3rd test. And all the "not being horrifically belted around" simply wore out the flimsy Aus attack, so much so that it had to be replaced for the 3rd test.

So the bowlers who were "horrifically belted around" ended up winning the series, and the bowlers who were not "horrifically "belted around could not even manage 3 tests because they were completely worn out by not being "horrifically belted around."

In that case, it would seem Simoc's is the sensible choice. Take the attack that can WIN matches, not the attack than gets worn out by not winning matches. Besides, one great bowler is always better than no great bowlers!

Cheers

Posted by Andross on (December 11, 2012, 13:58 GMT)

Gee, Cowan speaks well. They should appoint him official speaker of the team. XD

Posted by   on (December 11, 2012, 12:09 GMT)

Let Ponting's shadow leaves the Australian change room for good. His pursuit of Ashes legacy has delayed induction of fresh faces in the Australian team has damaged the cricket. They could have drawn or won the South Africa test series. The brighter days of Australian cricket will come quicker if they forget the past and focus on present.

Posted by   on (December 11, 2012, 11:37 GMT)

Australia needs to get their act together and within the next decade change their system, its not right having debutants at around 27. These are suppose to be your future players and captains! I reckon Watson should be moved down the order if he wants to bowl, while Hussey/Clarke moved up. Australia are doing well with their bowlers, great to see Johnson back in action, the youth of the quicks and the benefits of investing in Nathan Lyon/Ed Cowan.

Posted by   on (December 11, 2012, 8:04 GMT)

Only clarke and hussey are in form for the aussies so the lankan bowling unit should capitalise on that-the sri lankan bastmen had a poor run in SL , but they should draw heart from the fact that they are a experienced unit with players like Dilshan,Sam,Sanga ,Mahela,Prasanna so the batting unit has the talent and the depth to challenge the aussie bowling machine-but the bowlers have to be able to take 20wickets to win the test thats what i fear..

Posted by   on (December 11, 2012, 6:49 GMT)

you need some one with no technical infirmites to open the innings or bat at no 3. Warner, Hughes, watson have improved their batting but not good enough to bat at no 3 or open as these are special roles and need some one with sound technique to bat. I feel cosgrove or doolan or fergusson should get a look in against the likes of Sl and India. May be have hussey play at no 3 and have fergusson play at 6, certainly not hughes and warner. the teams that have dominated world cricket have all had some amazing opening and no 3. west indies of the 80's had greenidge haynes and viv richards, aussies of the early 90's had taylor-slater , Boon.M waughr,and the aussies of the mid 90's - 2008 had hayden-Langer and ponting.the top 3 can morally drain the life of the bowlers with their sheer resistance at the crease. Even teams which had sucess at the top for a transient time like india and england had top 4 firing. cook-strauss-trott, Gambhir-shewag -dravid

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Daniel Brettig Assistant editor Daniel Brettig had been a journalist for eight years when he joined ESPNcricinfo, but his fascination with cricket dates back to the early 1990s, when his dad helped him sneak into the family lounge room to watch the end of day-night World Series matches well past bedtime. Unapologetically passionate about indie music and the South Australian Redbacks, Daniel's chief cricketing achievement was to dismiss Wisden Almanack editor Lawrence Booth in the 2010 Ashes press match in Perth - a rare Australian victory that summer.
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