ICC Cricket World Cup 2011 / Features
Australia v Pakistan, Group A, World Cup 2011, Colombo
A hard call on Ponting's one-day future
Ricky Ponting wants to continue in one-day cricket after the World Cup, but there is little to be gained from him playing on
March 19, 2011
"I'm going. I have to keep playing. I've missed enough cricket the last couple of years." Those were the words of Ricky Ponting earlier this week, when asked if he would be part of Australia's one-day tour of Bangladesh immediately after the World Cup.
Three days later, the chairman of selectors, Andrew Hilditch, had this to say: "Some players get to go on their own terms at the right times and some don't. I suppose if you're determined to play forever then at some stage a selector is going to make the hard call."
Hilditch went on to praise Ponting's energy and fitness, and said that if any man was capable of playing for a long time, it was the Australia captain. There was no hint that his panel would be making a "hard call" any time soon. But there is nothing to be gained from Ponting, who is now 36, extending his one-day career beyond this World Cup.
If he can guide the Australians to a fourth consecutive title, it would be his greatest captaincy achievement. It would also be the perfect time to fold away the coloured clothing for good. If not - and they have much work to do after their 34-match streak without a World Cup loss ended against Pakistan in Colombo - it would still be the right time to start thinking about the next era of Australia's one-day team.
Michael Clarke has proven himself a thoughtful and adventurous captain, and handing him control of the one-day team would be a positive move. It would also create space to give more exposure to young batsmen like Callum Ferguson and Aaron Finch, who could be important parts of Australia's one-day future. And what else can Ponting, a potentially four-time World Cup winner, hope to achieve in one-day cricket?
Maybe he will go on in Tests; the temptation of another challenging summer against India on the horizon, and visions of one final Ashes tour in 2013 still flickering in his mind. However, by the time the 2015 World Cup comes around, he'll be 40, and will be on the golf course working on his formidable handicap.
Of course, Ponting has been a giant of limited-overs cricket - a tally of 13,184 runs speaks for itself, and his unbeaten 140 in the 2003 World Cup final victory over India is one of the great one-day innings. But right now, he is stuck in the leanest patch of his international career, which continued on Saturday, when he edged behind as he tried to cut against the spin of Mohammad Hafeez.
Since he started at the Academy as a 16-year-old, batting has never appeared difficult for Ponting. It certainly seems to be getting harder. On Saturday at the Premadasa, he hustled to the crease with purpose, rehearsing the swing of his bat as he walked, like a boxer punching the air.
He was careful, and took eight balls to get off the mark. But he was also on the front foot, as is his style when he wishes to make a statement, and when he tried his first hook he was beaten by the bounce of Wahab Riaz, and the top edge flew high over the wicketkeeper's head to the boundary.
The shot that was once Ponting's trademark has become one of his major weaknesses, his judgment not what it was in his youth. In Bangalore on Wednesday, he was surprised by the pace of Canada's Henry Osinde, and lobbed a catch when he tried to pull.
Across all formats, Ponting has played 37 innings since he last made a hundred, against West Indies in an ODI in February last year. The only time he has gone longer without an international triple-figure score was a 43-innings stretch, starting in December 2003.
But even then, during his barren period he still found ways to contribute, and averaged 40.20 across all formats. Now, since his last century, he has averaged 28.27. It is possible to return stronger from such a drought as a young man, but as an ageing player it is much more challenging.
"I'm trying as hard as ever and I feel like I'm seeing the ball as good as ever," Ponting said after making 19 against Pakistan. "If I keep doing the right things, hopefully that big score will come for me. It's been a few games now and I certainly haven't scored the runs I would have liked to have scored in the World Cup so far, but the big games are coming up and hopefully I get some in the quarter-final."
If Ponting wishes to play on after the finals, he would be better off narrowing his focus to Test cricket, and sliding down to No. 5 or 6. It is not a dishonourable move for a captain. Allan Border ended his career down the order, and nobody thought less of him. Steve Waugh hardly ever batted above No. 5.
But Australia don't play any more Tests until August, so that is a debate for another day. For now, it's Ponting's one-day future that needs to be considered. And if he is planning to continue after the World Cup, the selectors might need to make that hard call.
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