England v Australia, 2nd npower Test, Lord's, 3rd day July 18, 2009

Strain shows on Ponting

The Australia captain missed a run out, dropped a catch and has much to ponder

In a week Ricky Ponting has gone from a captain in charge to an under-siege leader whose control is slipping. A match that began with Spirit of Cricket issues surrounding Ponting's response to the draw in Cardiff has quickly resulted in Australia losing theirs. If they save this match - they enter the fourth day 521 behind - it will be as stunning as England's effort in the opening Test.

Last Sunday Ponting was expecting his team to roar to victory but as James Anderson and Monty Panesar held on the skipper showed his first grumpy signs, walking towards the umpire to question a decision and arguing, with justification, about England's support staff wasting time. Off the field he has been calm, friendly and approachable, but on it his mood can change like the English weather. This is a man who grew up winning, making hundreds and being feted. Life in his 30s has become more challenging and significantly less successful.

Despite playing down, by his standards, the time wasting at Sophia Gardens, it became a major issue in between Tests and since then whenever he has been involved in anything remotely controversial he has been jeered by the Lord's crowd. No Shane Warne or Glenn McGrath leave Ponting as the main target. He is the only relic from the teams that dominated England before 2005, making him the most recognisable Australian player to local supporters. He is also the most important member of the side, setting the strategies, the example and the run-scoring lead. During this match he has not yet succeeded in any role.

Australia were already falling apart when Ponting experienced six deliveries that showed his mind was losing not only its ruthlessness, but also its focus. The day before he was stunned to be given out to a ball he didn't hit - it should have been lbw instead, but that didn't ease Ponting's disgust - and after the third umpire gave him out he stood still for moment, opened his mouth and stared at Rudi Koertzen, the on-field official. As he walked to the pavilion, turning his head back occasionally, he was booed by the usually polite Lord's crowd. That was not abnormal behaviour from the leader, but the two mistakes in the field were distinctly un-Ponting.

Kevin Pietersen was disorientated after an inswinger from Ben Hilfenhaus resulted in an lbw appeal and was more interested in the umpire's decision than where the ball had gone as he stumbled around the pitch. It had gone to Ponting at second slip: all the wickets were visible, Pietersen was metres from safety and Ponting's arm is one of the deadliest in the game. He missed.

Standing at the same spot in the following over, Ponting spilled what should have been a comfortable catch off a Ravi Bopara push. The bowler Peter Siddle was so stunned he bent over and grabbed his head in both hands. It's not the reaction a young fast man usually displays when his captain drops one.

Ponting's fingers were facing towards the sky as he crouched down for the take when they needed to be pointing at the ground. A fielder of Ponting's standard might miss one of those chances in a year at practice, but he did it twice in a couple of minutes. His side's distress has changed the way he thinks. It used to be that if a bowler was struggling Ponting could throw the ball to the next man and wait for the results. Now he can't even trust himself.

These errors occurred after he brought off Nathan Hauritz, who had removed both openers in two overs after lunch and did not bowl again until the third session, when he picked up Bopara. The effective swing of Hilfenhaus was used until tea instead, achieving lots of close calls, including two French cuts from Pietersen, but no breakthroughs. Ponting's hunch hadn't work. Arms were waved at fielders and his fingers spent a lot of time rubbing his chin without the appropriate inspiration.

In the over before tea Ponting was frustrated again, initiating a conversation with Pietersen in the aftermath of a debatable catch by Hauritz at mid-on. With hands in pockets, Ponting walked up to the batsman via the umpire Koetzen. He swears his players don't claim catches unless they are out, but his calls for a gentleman's agreement on these types of rulings have been rejected by all opposing captains. They don't trust the Australians either.

In five innings at Lord's Ponting has 72 runs and he started this game hoping to continue Australia's streak of not losing at the home of cricket since 1934. Four years ago he was in charge when his team handed back the urn after 16 years. England supporters have got it wrong. They should be cheering Ponting's Ashes contributions, not booing them.

Peter English is the Australasia editor of Cricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Nick on July 20, 2009, 4:58 GMT

    @Racyrao: First of all, I'm Canadian - so hardly a green and gold eyed fanatic. Secondly, I quite dislike Ponting and agree that he is generally a poor sportsman and a hypocrite (especially in the India-Australia series). However, I was simply pointing out that the Indians cannot possibly claim the moral high ground on this point given how they carried on - no matter how many poor decisions Australia gets in this match or series, I can't see Ponting threatening to boycott the Ashes unless his demands are met.

  • Michael on July 19, 2009, 23:08 GMT

    Ponting is a great Captain as records have shown, he has taken Aus most inexperienced side and had thoroughly beaten South Africa, the worlds best team at the stage whether the rankings show it or not. He scored a magnificent 150 at cardiff only a week before, and just because he's not performing he gets a pummelling from the media.

    England has a good team, and it is very interesting to see them play. As for the controversial catch by Strauss, I'm sure he thought it was a genuine catch, at the heat of International Cricket, where the weight of the country is on your shoulder with the adrenaline pumping you become unsure. That is why the role of umpires are important, if players feel they have caught it, their integrity shouldn't be questioned, it should be up to the third umpire with technology to see whether that was genuinely out or not. Onfield umpires have enough stress as it is, so the third umpire should be given the power to help make decisions easier.

  • Michael on July 19, 2009, 23:02 GMT

    Indians, there is no doubt that the current indian team are good. But I am sick and tired of hearing how great they are and they should be world Champions. You guys are the worse fans ever...funny how when you're players aren't performing you start to burn their pictures, and funny you can talk about the "spirit of the game". Learn to be better supporters of your team before you start bagging Aus.

  • Anand on July 19, 2009, 14:02 GMT

    Currently the English cricketers are PLAYING HARD(as the aussies say) just like the Australians. And guys just stop complaining about the umpiring decisions and Strauss claiming the bump catch. Austalians would have claimed it had they taken a bump catch, make no mistakes and no need to mention the names of those elite sportsman from the aussie team. This is cricket and it is bound to happen until technology is used. About Ponting confronting the umpire, i am sure he would have been left scott free had he done that. The way the aussies are performing i would not be surprised if he does that if a few more go against the aussies in the ashes series.

  • Mohsin on July 19, 2009, 13:17 GMT

    It is good read i think Ponting has been one of the great player Australia has produced but i do not agree with some coments regarding umpires being on same side as home side this has happend a lot in Australia where visiting team have been on receiving end specialy teams from sub-continet, it is good to see Australia on receiving end for once

  • Scott on July 19, 2009, 13:08 GMT

    I agree with popcorn 100%....England are CHEATS.....time wasting in cardiff.....and strauss claiming a catch after it hit the ground....and katich was out off a no ball....andrew strauss should be sacked as captain he has ZERO integrity

  • Rajaram on July 19, 2009, 12:15 GMT

    Rudi Koertzen has done it again! Not once, but twice! First,he did not see it was a "no ball" that Flintoff bowled to get Katich out. Next, he peculiarly, unfairly, chose not to refer to the third umpire for a catch that Strauss (the cheater) claimed he caught - though yesrterday, Rudi chose to go to the third umpire for a catch that Hauritz took. To add insult to injury, Rudi asked Billy Doctrove standing 40 mteres away where the ball was caught fairly. CAN YOU SEE EVEN 22 YARDS AT THAT SPEED,you so -called 100 Tests experienced umpire? Ricky Ponting should have walked off the field, whatever the consequences.Enough is enough. How can Australia be expected to win when the umpire is on the side of the opposition, and the opposite captain, Strauss doesn't understand what is meant by "playing to the spirit of the game"?

  • kazi on July 19, 2009, 11:48 GMT

    People it is time to move on from McGrath or Warne. they are gone...

  • Richard on July 19, 2009, 11:46 GMT

    You highlight Ponting's bad points but the English players' "carry on" when they took his wicket shows just what a great player he is. His performances over a long period prove that-journalistic nit picking such as this, show how hard up this journailist would be if Ponting wasn't playing.

  • Jamie on July 19, 2009, 11:41 GMT

    Wow, just who are you Peter English? You should stick to editing rather than writing, because the ability to spot a missed comma and the ability to make intelligent comment are worlds apart and from reading this article, I think most would recognise just how woefully ill-equipped you are to make intelligent comment. If you can't resist the temptation to attempt to provide some original work, do us all a favour and stick to reporting facts. Don't simply jump on the Lord's crowd bandwagon of revelling in Ponting's misfortune, sticking the knife in under a thin veneer of "analysis". And as for your coaching class on how to take a catch in slips, let me know when you've played a test or even a first class game or even a social match. Until then, just shut up. Remember that readers of your "articles" are likely to be cricket fans who probably know more about cricket than you do (it's almost inconceivable that they could know less) so don't insult our intelligence.

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