Australia v Pakistan, 2nd Test, Sydney, 1st day January 3, 2010

Ricky Ponting pays heavily for overconfidence

The Australian captain's decision to bat on a testing surface was a result of an overestimation of his team's abilities

Ricky Ponting has experienced major bouts of discomfort over the past month but his team's self-inflicted pain on the opening day in Sydney could turn into the most damaging of the summer. Boosted by Australia's resurgence in Melbourne last week and convinced that his hastily re-jigged order could perform like his men of three years ago, Ponting ignored the specks of green across the pitch, won the toss and batted. Just like Mark Taylor or Steve Waugh would have done.

Ponting doesn't have charge of the same quality as that duo and just when he thinks his side is ready to dominate again in every terrain, his emerging men show they aren't. After 44.2 overs of struggle in extremely challenging conditions, Australia dripped to 127 on a slippery day, their third total of 160 or under since The Oval in August.

Since Edgbaston in 2005, when England scored 407 in a day on the way to a series-turning victory, Ponting has stuck rigidly to a bat-first policy during 23 toss wins. Despite his leadership and tactical gains over the past year he refused to be flexible and the decision has given Pakistan an opening to level the three-match series.

Still remembering those increasingly hazy days at the start of his captaincy reign, Ponting expected his openers to shoulder arms and shovel through the hardest situation of the summer. Except he no longer has a Matthew Hayden or a Justin Langer. Not even a Simon Katich, who was scratched shortly before the toss with an elbow problem. Even before then it was always going to be a day for the bowlers whenever the showers stopped, which they did after lunch.

Michael Hussey didn't have a say in the decision, but he knew what Ponting would do. "I did joke with Ricky a day before the game saying he batted at Jo'burg in first Test against South Africa [early last year] and that wicket had branches growing on it," Hussey said. "I didn't think he'd bowl first on any wicket in the world and there's proof again today."

Ponting's over-confidence in his outfit left Shane Watson, a stroke-maker in conventional conditions appearing in his third series as opener, as the senior partner with Phillip Hughes, a 21-year-old in his sixth Test. Hughes has little experience of green tops, although the conditions were similar to his debut innings when he lasted four balls, and had a rushed entry after replacing Katich. Ponting demanded his openers to swim in the damp conditions, but by the time they had both sunk, the captain had joined them at the bottom of the dressing room.

It's acceptable to flap about after being sent in, but there is less sympathy for a side after it has selected the method of execution, and then added to the torture by sharpening the tools. Mohammad Sami and Mohammad Asif were outstanding, but both were helped by some Australian gifts on a day when reputations could have been made or, in Ponting's case, reconfirmed.

Ponting knew it would be tough and understood that intense application would be required to survive the swing and seam. Then he played a soft shot to his opening ball, being hurried into a pull to deep square leg. Other batsmen contributed to their respective dismissals, but none was more culpable than Ponting.

It's acceptable to flap about after being sent in, but there is less sympathy for a side after it has selected the method of execution, and then added to the torture by sharpening the tools

Mark Taylor had been this brave at the toss at Old Trafford in 1997, but he was certain someone would emerge from that jungle and watched Steve Waugh return with two centuries. Ponting doesn't have anyone of that class except himself, and he hasn't been the same since his left elbow was squashed by Kemar Roach's bouncer in Perth. At the WACA he was caught at short leg fending in the second innings, a justified reaction to another Roach lifter given the bruise in his arm, but in an effort to protect his injury and show he is not frightened by the fast men, he has been determined to pull. Twice in a row he has fallen that way against Pakistan.

A captain needs to realise when self-expression and personal battles have to be shelved to show an impressionable team how to wade through a Test's most difficult day. That can't be done when the No.3 exits at 2 for 2 in the fourth over.

Hughes had already departed for 0, being fortunate to stay for as long as 10 balls on his comeback. Caught between swaying and swinging, he aimed a drive without moving either foot and was taken at second slip, missing out on a chance to impress at home. A gritty half-century would have created a lasting memory for the selectors and those seeing him bat in Australia for the first time.

Watson (6) was undone by his front-foot press and as he forced himself on to the back foot was unable to deal with the seam of Sami, sending a catch behind. Michael Clarke, Australia's most bankable batsman last year, stayed 51 minutes before his self-control departed on 3 and he walked a big drive at Asif. Having seen a couple of outswingers, he left a hole between bat and pad for an off-cutter to slice through.

A similar lapse occurred to Michael Hussey, who knew plays and misses were to be ignored, but he couldn't eliminate his occasionally compulsive tendency to hook. When the ball arrived faster than Hussey calculated on 28, he was caught off the top edge at first slip. It wasn't a shot to be playing at 4 for 51 and he called it "silly".

Marcus North edged behind in familiar fashion and Brad Haddin walked out wanting to smash his team to 300 before stumps. Some days it works - usually when the wicket lacks spice - but today it didn't. He left after an ugly skew to mid-off and seven specialist batsmen had gone for 62.

Under these conditions batting a long time is the key, and defence the most important weapon. The surface looked like how distracted parents paint ceilings, with a decent coverage through the middle and patchy sections closer to the edge. Bowlers crave such green patterns and Australia's fast men begged to use it first but were over-ruled by Ponting. At the end of the day the attack, led by Mitchell Johnson's team-high 38, had already batted on it, praying it would retain its darting seam for another day.

Peter English is the Australasia editor of Cricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • SRT_Jammy_Dada_VVS_and_Anil_legends on January 5, 2010, 0:03 GMT

    @crownprince4u: Watch the video of Dravid's innings at Leeds on YouTube and then tell me that conditions were not as bad as Sydney if you are so confident. The short balls at Headingley were far more venomous and threatening which created the chance of serious physical injury to the batsmen, which was hardly the case on the 1st day here. And do not sully the great names of Sachin and Dravid by saying they would not make double figures on this pitch when they clearly have no opportunity to prove you wrong. They both made fifties at Wellington in 2002 on what was one of the greenest seamers you will ever see and certainly far more bowler-friendly than the pitch here in Sydney.

  • Rahul_78 on January 4, 2010, 4:31 GMT

    200% spot on mr.english. Nobody remembers but ponting declared abrublty in the first eanings on 1st test. Everybody said it was positive and bold decision. But it also showed how lowly he thought of pak batting and was adoment on making a statement. Well it came off in the 1st test but he half expected it to blow full on in his face at sydney. Mr.Ponting this is pakistan cricket team...comprising of some very fine fast bowlers, underestimating there bating is one thing but they have some killer fast bowlers playing for them and for ones yousuf looked every part of the capten which is very pleasing to see.

  • BigDataIsAHoax on January 4, 2010, 2:36 GMT

    it does not surprise me one bit that australia was skittled out for 127. aussies have never been good players of high-class swing bowling. Pace and bounce is fine. They handle pace and bounce well. But swing?? Nope! India exposed them in perth in 2008 with swing. england did the same twice in ashes. pakistan did it again. and how can i forget dale stayn's heroics down-under. so lets not be so surprised at what happened. remember if u play aussies at ur home, ask the curator to leave good grass on the surface and bring in a few local swing bowlers. that will do!

  • rohanbala on January 4, 2010, 1:37 GMT

    The Australian selectors have a job on hand considering the failure of Phil Hughes, Marcus North & Michael Clarke. Phil Hughes aptly represents a "cat on a hot tin roof", Marcus North seems to enjoy an extended run despite a poor show with the bat while Michael Clarke has done precious little in terms of contribution to the team either with the bat or the ball (except being the vice captain). The selectors should also warn Haddin that this is a test match and not a limited over game whenever he goes to bat, particularly in situations like what the Australians found themselves in, on the first day. As for Ricky Ponting, the West Indies fast bowlers found the chink in his armour and the Pakistan bowlers are following it.

  • MartoAus on January 4, 2010, 0:46 GMT

    Rubbish. Easy to kick Ponting when he's down with the benefit of hindsight, isn't it Mr English? Just like every other two-bit journo, sticking the boot into the Aussies. I see 3 reasons why Ponting batted: 1 It's the Australian way, traditionally. 2 Edgbaston 2005. 3 He didn't want to bat last on this pitch. But no, it's those bad Aussies, being arrogant and ugly and all. The Australians batted poorly and batting first doesn't appear to have been a great decision, but give credit to Pakistan who bowled beautifully.

  • Gopes_On_Dopes on January 4, 2010, 0:44 GMT

    Well its too much of an ask for Ponting to learn now when he has learnt so little in what 7-8 yrs of captaincy? He'll still be ignorant and over confident. Also this has proved once again that he is a flat track bully and benefited hugely from depleted attacks and flat pitches around the world in the last decade. When was the last time he made good runs in a pressure situation against a good attack?

  • gjando on January 4, 2010, 0:42 GMT

    Whether you agree or not with Ponting's decision to can he be responsible for poor shot selection by his senior players (Hussey, Clarke and Haddin). At least Hussey stuck around for a while before his rush of blood, but Haddin was culpable. This is not the first time. Haddin lacks self-awareness...look at his test record, as short as it is and its not littered with innings when the team needs him to show some grit, leadership and circumspection. Add this to the fact he is not a great keeper...perhaps some self-reflection is required.

    Credit to the Pakistan bowlers who were disciplined with length, control and fielding.

  • Josephus72 on January 4, 2010, 0:37 GMT

    Some questions for the article's author.

    Which of Australia's quicks "begged" his captain to bowl first? Is there verifiable evidence of this, or is it just an assumption (quite possibly a correct one but only a guess nonetheless ) that they did? And even if they did, when did it become an issue or a concern for a captain to over-rule his players on these matters? Wrong or right, is it not his job to make the decision to bat or bowl on winning the toss?

    Based on the article's content, it appears the author has a different view on what being a cricket captain means compared to what I until now believed was the generally accepted view. The author seems to be advocating that a captain should behave more like a chairman of a board than a CEO. A facilitator rather than a decision maker. It is an interesting idea.

  • WeirPicki on January 4, 2010, 0:22 GMT

    Ponting's poor decision reeks of his arrogance. Oh for an Ian Chappell or Mark Taylor type captain to come along.

  • shettysaheb on January 3, 2010, 23:54 GMT

    I think cricket is a fluid game and there are never any hard and fast rules... yes batting first has its advantages in test cricket... but I think on this occasion ricky was blinded by his rigid rules... the game is still young and anything is possible but I hope if there is one lesson to be learnt for ricky... it is to learn everyday in cricket adapt or perish...

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