Ricky Ponting March 30, 2011

A fine but not flawless captain

Ricky Ponting's eight years in charge of Australia brought miserable lows but also unparalleled highs. It's those peaks that deserve to be remembered

Two years ago in South Africa, Ricky Ponting led a touring party that was as green as the baggy cap to which the new players aspired. When they landed in Johannesburg, four members of the squad were yet to debut, while other newbies were still finding their feet after a home series loss to Graeme Smith's men.

Throughout that trip, Ponting stood in the umpire's place during net sessions and monitored his younger team-mates, dispensing advice and encouragement. When the first Test arrived, he positioned himself in the slips with debutants Marcus North and Phillip Hughes on either side of him, where once Matthew Hayden and Shane Warne had been.

Once upon a time, captain Ponting could steer the Australian ship through any conditions and rely on his experienced crew to help him find the way. Now he was teaching a new outfit, and avoiding the icebergs was naturally much trickier.

Winning that series was a wonderful achievement. That Ponting didn't lead Australia to more successes in the couple of years that followed was not a shock. It would have been a surprise if the victories did pile up as they had when he could call on Warne, Hayden, Glenn McGrath, Adam Gilchrist, Justin Langer et al.

Unlike Australia's other recent captains, Ponting had to deal with two distinct eras of his reign - with champions and without. Will he be remembered for his unrivalled list of achievements as skipper? There were two World Cup triumphs, Australia's first Ashes whitewash in 86 years, a record-equalling 16 consecutive Test victories, and a couple of Champions Trophies for good measure.

Or will it be the fact that he was the first Australian captain in more than a century to lose three Ashes series? Will the mention of his name bring to mind the acrimony of the Sydney Test in 2007-08, when Australia's slide was beginning? How will the nine-year, two-stage Ponting era be considered in years to come?

He should be remembered as a fine captain with a wonderful record, though not without flaws. At the end of the 2006-07 Ashes clean-sweep, when Australia farewelled Warne, McGrath and Langer, Ponting had only endured three losses in his 35 Tests in charge. After that point, Australia played another 42 Tests under Ponting and won exactly half.

Compare that to Graeme Smith, whose South Africans have won only 45% of their Tests under his leadership. In their day, Michael Vaughan and Hansie Cronje were highly regarded leaders, the latter's match-fixing scandal notwithstanding, and they each only won 50% of their Tests in charge.

After the champions left, Ponting's team became normal. Not terrible. Not substandard. Normal. They could have plummeted into freefall, like West Indies after their dominant era came to an end. Instead, Ponting held them together well enough to enjoy away series wins over South Africa, West Indies and New Zealand, as well as home successes against India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, West Indies and New Zealand.

After the champions left, Ponting's team became normal. Not terrible. Not substandard. Normal. They could have plummeted into freefall, like West Indies after their dominant era came to an end. Instead, Ponting held them together well enough

And as great as the men surrounding him were in the opening years of his leadership, they may not have achieved what they did without an uncompromising captain, committed to complete domination. It was a trait Ponting learned under Steve Waugh, the master of mental disintegration. But unlike Waugh, Ponting eventually had a team that couldn't always back it up.

There were times when his on-field leadership lacked imagination. Like a horse wearing blinkers, Ponting was prone to bouts of tunnel-vision. The 2009 Ashes might have been different had he trusted his best bowlers in the final hour in Cardiff, instead of the spin of North and Nathan Hauritz, and in Nagpur a year earlier he had made similar strange decisions by allowing Michael Hussey and Michael Clarke to bowl when a victory could have been set up.

But no captain is without his faults, and Ponting's team-mates were fiercely loyal to him, the sign of a leader respected by his troops. Australia's gradual slip from all-conquering to just all right did not happen because of Ponting. The retirement of stars, a decline in the standard of domestic cricket and the selection panel's poor handling of the spin-bowling stocks were important factors.

Even in the difficult Test times, Ponting managed to keep his one-day international team at the top of the ICC's rankings, which was no small achievement. It was appropriate that his final act as captain was a fighting century in the World Cup, eight years after he lifted the trophy for the first time as leader, having made a brilliant 140 in the final.

When he announced his resignation, Ponting nominated that 2003 World Cup, when a Warne-less team went through undefeated, as his fondest captaincy memory. Even more remarkable was the way he lifted his men to another perfect World Cup in the Caribbean in 2007, given the poor form his one-day side had displayed in the months prior.

Achievements like that must be remembered. In Ponting's nine years in charge, Australia's low points were miserable, but their highs were unparalleled. Like Ponting the batsman, Ponting the captain deserves to be held in great esteem. His successor will be grateful to do half as well.

Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dummy4 on April 2, 2011, 1:43 GMT

    Hey Todd, you might find a few reasons behind why Taylor and Waugh didn't have as good a record as Ponting. 1) They were younger and less experienced. 2) Importantly, there were other VERY strong teams, West Indeis, although waning etc. When Ponting came the opposition might not have been as strong...

  • kieran on April 1, 2011, 11:31 GMT

    Some very obtuse statements being made. Everyone should ask themselves just how many 'GREAT' captains there have been? How many players are tactically brilliant and handle the pressure of their position to maintain their own levels of performance? Tendulkar couldn't. Lara was no great tactician. Waugh was attacking but not astute. Most statements regarding Ponting are influenced by peoples personal opinion of the man. I don't require my sporting heroes to be Mother Theresa. Ponting lead by example. In a champion team he was the greatest batsmen that Australia has seen in the modern era. Edgbaston 2005 is one of the greatest innings I could ever hope to watch. It's about time that Australians realised that it isn't our given right to win evry contest; remember the hard times and revel in the competition that modern cricket brings.

  • Dummy4 on April 1, 2011, 10:51 GMT

    All these people who are saying that Ponting isn't a great captain because he had Warne, McGrath etc etc early on, how about you explain to me why Taylor and Waugh don't have as good a captaincy record as him when they also had those players? Go on, explain it. Wait, you can't can you? Your opinions are not in any way based on facts or statistics. You are just bashing a true great of the game for no real reason at all. You should all be ashamed of yourselves.

  • Rajaram on April 1, 2011, 10:46 GMT

    Brydon, you have forgotten the great jewel when at Ricky Ponting led a young team to a 2 -1 IN South Africa after losing the home series.

  • Apyboutit on April 1, 2011, 2:08 GMT

    Travis-hookes, .... the Australian board is still sending bouquets to Guru Greg, eternally thanking him for that .... (Sachin's 2 yrs of struggle)! and ... do you have a point for / against punter. this discussion is about that I guess.

  • Apyboutit on April 1, 2011, 2:00 GMT

    He never built a team. He never recognized or developed a talent. His best moves on the field were to stall the batsman when he is going strong and disract him with exaggerated and animated discussion with his bowlers. He nevr had real tactics to get a set batsman. All was left to the brillinace of the bowler and the fielders that supproted him. Once that vanised, he was often (always) seen as clueless. His batting was obviously above ordinary. His ceturies in 2003 WC were flashes on the pan. But over all, he never fared good against classy bowling. When I think of his batting, I still cannot get past his struggles against Ishant, Roach, Amer, Shoaib, Bajji, Steyn, Swann, etc. His batting was good when there was nothing to loose, or,when he (for the good talent that he had) performed during his cutomary once-in-a-while innings. So, Punter has been a super-hype as captain and player. He was liucky. Never a team man - ONLY an Oz team man. Dont even talk about Punter the Human being!!!

  • Troy on April 1, 2011, 0:26 GMT

    Punter knew he would be leading a great team and a relatively new team when so many of the modern day greats would be leaving. Amazing that the team didn't fall in a heap when they left. Some parts of the media choose only to show one side a captain. Ponting always asked for gentleman aggrement on catches but ALL OTHER CAPTAINS refused. So he played it tough from then on. India seem to love Waugh but plenty of rot went on during his captains reign. By the way in that Sydney Test, both teams should have been pillared instead of just the Aussies especially Punter.Both teams acted like little children squabbling over every appeal. There was NO SPIRIT AT ALL in that test. Contrags Punter for sticking up for team mates and having the passion to lead your Country. If you want a gentlemans game, watch some other sport - want to watch cricket then toughen up. Thats what modern day cricket is

  • Prashanth on March 31, 2011, 23:38 GMT

    As much as I hate Ponting the sportsman because of his arrogance, credit has to be given where it's due. He's won two world cups. TWO! And a world record 16 consecutive test victories. The only captain who even comes closer to his record is Steve Waugh. You can nitpick all you want but records speak for themselves. He's the greatest captain ever to play the game. I know someone will raise the point that he had a great team at his disposal. South Africa, India and Sri Lanka have all been in a phase where they had a complete team. Yet, when it comes to results, Ponting is head and shoulders above the rest. Let anyone else win two world cups before we even start to question his captaincy skills.

  • Dummy4 on March 31, 2011, 22:10 GMT

    let me list HIS ARROGANCE Ponting's records :: (AS CAPTAIN)*170 ODI wins*48 test wins*2 world cup victories*2 ICC trophy victories*16 tests won at a stretch [NOTES:: it takes as much leadership to guide Warne n McGrath to wins as much as it takes a batsman to score 100s vs Kenya,Zimbabwe and a flattened aus on flat tracks] _________ (AS BATSMAN)*70 international 100s*200 scores of 50+*2nd highest run scorer in test cricket*second highest run scorer in ODIs*scored a 140 in world cup final against a team containing his nemesis Harbhajan*26000 runs in all in a league of him and Tendulkar _________ (AS FIELDER)*won awards for being the best fielder *178 catches in tests and 155 catches in ODIs *widely considered as one of the best in point and slips _____ I dont remember him publicly offending, ridiculing any cricketer,he has been respectful towards many greats and opponent teams - besides with such a resume HE NEEDN'T ACT HUMBLE ANYWAY :) ___ easy to go after him than to reach beyond him

  • Rajen on March 31, 2011, 16:59 GMT

    The media got after Ponting not because of any fault in his captaincy or his batting but rather because of his arrogance and his self-righteousness that made his lack of form or lack of talent in the team get magnified.

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