England v Australia, 5th npower Test, The Oval, 4th day August 23, 2009

A captain strives, but fails

If there are to be calls for Ponting's head, they should be ignored. He remains the best man to lead the Australian team

This was personal. From the moment Ricky Ponting marked centre on Sunday, all present at The Oval realised this innings - his 50th against England - held a significance beyond all others. Fate and circumstance had conspired to deliver the Australian captain to the centre with his team 459 runs in arrears and facing the ignominy of back-to-back away Ashes defeats. Ponting sought to redress the balance.

As it stood, Ponting's captaincy experience in England was already bookended with blood. Steve Harmison's bouncer at Lord's four years ago left a facial scar that remains to this day, and Matt Prior's forceful drive into Ponting at silly-point on Saturday split open his lip. But more acute than any physical pain was the prospect that Ponting, a proud man with a formidable record, could become the first captain since Billy Murdoch in 1890 to lead Australia to two Ashes defeats in England.

The cards were stacked against him long before he emerged from the Pavilion for the second innings. Having misread the pitch and lost a crucial toss, Australia were forced to battle an England side with a spinner-less attack in conditions they would invariably have the worse of. The tourists compounded those setbacks with an indisciplined first-day bowling performance and a calamitous outing with the bat on Friday. Only a world-record fourth-innings run chase would do, and Ponting took to the centre with determined intent.

The agitated, impatient Ponting of the first innings did not appear; replaced by a steadier, committed batsman more familiar to cricketing audiences around the world. Eyes watchful and defence rigid, Ponting steered Australia's improbable run chase with a steady hand; his swivel-pull always at the ready whenever the bowlers shortened in length.

With his half-century came hope that Australia might just have clawed their way back into the contest. But the notion was fleeting. In a moment of madness, Michael Hussey called Ponting through for a suicide single, only for Andrew Flintoff - in his final act of genius in the white flannels - to gun down the stumps from mid-on with the Australian captain well short of his ground. The Oval crowd's generous ovation will have done little to cushion the blow. Another Ashes defeat was being stapled to Ponting's captaincy resume.

"With me being the leader, the captain, wanting to stand up and perform when we were under the most pressure, I wanted to make a big score," Ponting said after play. "(The run-out) was the turning point in the way the game finished up. We had started to wrestle some momentum back in our favour. We were going along really nicely at that stage .. (and) then two run-outs in two overs and then a stumping soon after and all the momentum had turned back against us.

"I've never doubted myself in anything I've ever done when I've had the baggy green cap on. I always get out there and accept challenges the best that I can. I wanted to make 100 today, to be the last man out. I couldn't do that. As a leader and a captain i wanted to do as well as I possibly could, to hopefully be the captain that won here, but I haven't been able to do that either. I'm disappointed with own performances and other guys are as well."

The blowtorch will inevitably be turned in Ponting's direction after a loss that will see his side plummet to fourth-place in the Test rankings. Much of the heat will be justified - bowling decisions on the final day at Sophia Gardens and the first day at Lord's, for instance - but others will not. The misfiring of Mitchell Johnson was a problem beyond his control, and Australia's rabbit-in-the-headlights batting in the first innings at Lord's, Edgbaston and The Oval was the product of inexperience, rather than leadership.

If there are to be calls for Ponting's head, they should be ignored by Jolimont. He remains, by some measure, the best man to lead the Australian team and his batting, as witnessed on Sunday, is still world class. His main task hereafter will be to ensure the sting of Ashes defeat does not level the confidence of his young side, but rather spurs them to greater things. It is an ominous task, but one he has managed before.

"I'll be answering some questions," he said. "You always do when you lose a game or a series like this, it's part of the job, what leaders are expected to do."

Alex Brown is deputy editor of Cricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Stuart on August 26, 2009, 10:18 GMT

    Ponting is a great batsman and exceptional fielder, but a below average captain. He just doesn't seem to understand the game at the strategic level.

  • Haseeb Ahmed on August 25, 2009, 18:48 GMT

    i still think ponting is the best captian rite now at the moment for australia and u will see how they will crush eng in the next ashes.

  • Mashuq on August 25, 2009, 11:43 GMT

    In this case it pains me to say"I told you so" when I wrote on Wednesday that the (anticipated) selection of 4 seamers implied a negative mind-set. Granted that it wasn't just the absence of Hauritz that cost the Aussies the Ashes - the poor batting on Friday afternoon when put under pressure revealed their cautious approach. Aussies play best when attacking, but what went on after the rain-stoppage was reflective more of indecision than of a focussed game-plan. So who's to blame? Surely everyone's seen what a defensive skipper Punter is, so why look further. It's not be a matter of scape-goating; but please just face facts.

  • Ashish on August 25, 2009, 10:57 GMT

    There is only one option left for Australia n that is to whitewash England in the upcoming ODIs

  • Peter on August 25, 2009, 10:52 GMT

    Our selectors deserve criticism for the reasons mentioned. But these are the same selectors that plumped for Hilfy, Siddle and Hughes as well. So they're not entirely all bad. What we lacked as in 2005 was tactical smarts. And the captain, coach and selectors all deserve some criticism for that. We need a coach that can compliment Rick in the areas he lacks skills in.

  • Siddharth on August 25, 2009, 8:12 GMT

    Top 3 Reasons Australia lost the Ashes. 1. Not selecting Brett Lee for the final encounter-the pressure cooker situation. 2.Not selecting Nathan Hauritz. 3.The last but not the least-Ponting's Captaincy.

    Not selecting Brett Lee was the biggest surprise for me as he was the only bowler who has the experience of these winner takes all situation.You cannot take experience away from anyone.As they say" Form is temporary, Class is forever".

    Not selecting Nathan Hauritz was also a surprise decision as the pitch in the final test was turning from the first day.Marcus North taking 4 wkts in the second inns was a great example of that.

    I agree with Aussie Legend Jeff Thompson on Ponting as a Captain.He is the biggest "Loser". He is a great batsman but not a good ambassador of the game.He is the only captain I know who has gathered booooooes from crowds all over the world. He won games because of his teams greatness not because of his Captaincy.

    Lastly Kudos to England for their team effort.

  • Rajaram on August 25, 2009, 5:56 GMT

    Ricky Ponting may be the only Captain to have lost The Ashes twice in 132 years after Billy Murdoch, but GIVE HIM CREDIT FOR THE FACT THAT HE IS THE ONLY CAPTAIN TO HAVE THRASHED ENGLAND 5 NIL IN 85 YEARS AFTER WARWICK ARMSTRONG .

  • Rajaram on August 25, 2009, 4:20 GMT

    To all you fault-finders. Ricky Ponting's timing of the declaration at Cardiff was the single most brilliant master stroke.

  • Andrew on August 25, 2009, 3:19 GMT

    Raju_Iyer- i think i speak for many people. I think we are all getting a bit sick of Indians bringing up the Sydney test every bloody comment section. It was two years ago, get over it. We weren't the only poor sports on that tour and if your batsmen could have lasted 8 minutes against a part time spinner than there would be no issue. Back onto the topic however. Well done to England. They managed to take advantage of when they were ahead a lot more than Australia did. I think come the next series we should be in a very good shape. Also agree witht he comment about having Clarke captain the limited overs teams. I actually think he would be a good captain. He is basically being schooled by Warne who should have been an Aussie captain.

  • Nikhil on August 24, 2009, 19:12 GMT

    Well played England, throughout the series (considering 4th test as an aberration!). People say England were lucky in the first test, but they forget to credit Anderson and Panesar for their fight. The fact is, Australia are now like any other test playing nation in the world cricket, and Ponting, like any other captain. They are not extra-ordinary anymore. Blaming umpiring decisions for the Ashes would be like fooling around, as the wrong decisions went both ways. You can't forget that the Aussies got two big decisions in their favor in this Oval test on two big overstepping no-balls! One of them being Strauss in the first innings, who was playing excellent...

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