South Africa v Australia, 2nd Test, Durban, 5th day March 10, 2009

The 'Ponting Age' has truly begun


Ponting has captained Australia for five years but only now, with a new generation at his command, does he have the chance to create his own distinct legacy for the next captain © AFP

The headwear gave them away. Ricky Ponting and Phillip Hughes sat together after Australia's win in Durban and the most obvious sign of the generational gap that divides them was the state of their baggy green caps. Ponting's was battered and faded, a victim of sweat-drenched toil and booze-soaked celebrations from 130 largely successful Tests. Ponting's was baggier but Hughes' was, appropriately, greener.

Whereas Hughes' cap - one of ten handed out over the past year - has seen only the eastern half of South Africa during the past two weeks, Ponting's has travelled the world for nearly 14 seasons. It has been sprayed with so much beer that it must smell like a bar-room dishcloth. Most of those celebrations came with a familiar group of faces: Shane Warne, Glenn McGrath, Adam Gilchrist, Justin Langer, Matthew Hayden, Damien Martyn, to name just a few.

It was a squad that Ponting inherited from Steve Waugh who, in turn, had accepted it from Mark Taylor and, before him, Allan Border. It was a group that struck fear into the hearts of those who faced it and forged the greatest cricketing dynasty Australia has known. It was a squad that, over the past few years, eroded steadily with each retirement.

The departures of so many luminaries left Ponting with the youngest and most inexperienced side he has ever led. Ponting has captained Australia for five years but only now, with a new generation at his command, does he have the chance to create his own distinct legacy for the next captain. The "Ponting Age" has truly begun.

The loss to South Africa in Australia this season was the end of an era. Australia had not been defeated in a home series for 16 years. Through most of that period they were unquestionably the world's best side. The beginning of the end of that era came in the 2006-07 Ashes when Warne, McGrath, Langer and Martyn all retired. Gilchrist departed a year later. The loss of Hayden this summer left Ponting as the only link to the full stretch of Australia's glory days.

It has forced a change in Ponting's leadership style. Where once he was criticised for captaincy by consensus, turning to the likes of Warne, Gilchrist and Hayden for advice, now he is demonstrably in charge in every aspect of Australia's on-field performances. There are fewer committee meetings on the ground. Ponting directs traffic with the confidence of a policeman.

His authority extends beyond the field. During the net sessions in the lead-up to the Kingsmead Test it was notable that Ponting stood in the umpire's position and watched every one of his new bowlers and batsmen with an analytical eye, handing out advice when required and presumably confirming in his mind who he wanted in the side.

Those decisions haven't been as easy of late. During the glory days of what is sometimes known as the Warne-McGrath era, the team picked itself. All the selectors had to do was cut and paste the squad from the last match and if there was an injury, throw in the man who had been next in line. Now things are far less simple.

Phillip Hughes, Marcus North, Ben Hilfenhaus and Andrew McDonald are not names that most observers would have expected 12 months ago to be in the Australian Test side. It has meant an enormous challenge for Ponting.

"It's certainly a unique phase in my career as a captain," Ponting said. "To have a number of debutants, and a number of inexperienced guys in the side, it's something I haven't been accustomed to in the majority of my career as a captain. I've said right from the start, that when these challenges come up and this transitional phase first started, I always looked at as being one of the most exciting little phases of my career.

"Being the captain of the side when I was, when we were so dominant, Test series and Test matches seemed to roll into one another. We were winning everything that came along and we were expected to win everything that came along. If you look at our group of players [now] … a lot of people around the world didn't think that this was achievable."

It has helped that Australia entered this match with an unchanged side for the first time in 16 Tests. Following the controversial home series against India in early 2008, the squad rarely looked settled throughout the remainder of the year. Now Ponting is in charge of a group of men who have been told their roles and are keen enough and capable enough to perform to specifications.

Players like Hughes, Hilfenhaus, Peter Siddle and Doug Bollinger could have ten-year careers ahead of them. They are without question benefiting from starting their careers under a leader who believes in them and is willing to persist with them. Five years into his captaincy, Ponting is finally starting to leave his own unique mark on the Australian team.

Brydon Coverdale is a staff writer at Cricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Suraj on March 12, 2009, 11:26 GMT

    australia is not a good side and lost to India and SA because they are not good enough. Ponting sholud be sacked

  • cricfan06964670 on March 12, 2009, 9:58 GMT

    Ponting is such a revisionist. I'm happy he's finally embraced the spirit of youth (and the sacking of the tawdry and tired old guard), but it's only 3-4 weeks ago he was saying "I need experience" - Jaques. "give me men not boys" - Symonds. "he can't be replaced" - Hayden.

    it's a blight on the modern media that if he is ever called to account for his inconsistency, it never appears in the final story.

    the contributors to Cricinfo and blogs like the Tonk have long memories, and deserve an apology for all of the criticism for calling, for example, for Hayden to go for Hughes before the last summer.

    anyway, as I have said repeatedly, our England tour of 72 was a similar band of the young and the abstract, and look what it led to.

    Hussey to miss the next test with McGain to get a go, that's the next frontier.

  • Nathan on March 12, 2009, 1:06 GMT

    The death of Australian cricket has been greatly exaggerated ... as it was when Taylor retired, when Waugh retired, when McGrath and Warne retired, and so on and on. Fans and media from outside Australia love to count this side out but such people are very slow learners. And original818, India is NOT a mountain Australia have to conquer. Australia have beaten India in India over the last few years, India has never, EVER won a test series in Australia. (I realise that many indian fans will claim the last series in Australia, in which case I will claim the 2001 series where the umpiring wasn't just incompetent ... it was outright cheating). Australia is well on it's way through it's transition period and is going OK, let's see how india fare in their next test series vs Aus without Tendulkar, Laxman and even Dravid.

  • Zain on March 12, 2009, 0:09 GMT

    To have doubts over Ponting's captaincy is absolutely ridiculous. Granted he did have a team of great players when he began captaincy, but without the shepherd, even the best sheep will go astray. Right before the Commonwealth series between SL, Ind, and Aus, the same questions were asked of MS Dhoni who was leading a relatively young side, but today, all those critics have been silenced. Youth will fail once or twice, but thats an experience they will take forward with themselves, and use it to win more games. I have confidence that Ponting will be able to do exactly the same for his young squad. The Aussies are reaching the same sort of balance of India had before the commonwealth series, of experienced players like Hussey, Clarke and Ponting, and the young like Hughes, Siddle, and McDonald. And lastly congratulations to the Aussi team for a great victory.

  • Michael on March 11, 2009, 22:04 GMT

    SA weren't at their best, true. However Australia was not at it's best when it was in India and either. In India they only had new cap Siddle, an unfit and in bad shape Lee, Watson who is injury prone, Johnson and White as their full time spinner option which they didn't use. So India beating a weakened Australia doesn't prove much if the same logic was used here.

    A win is a win, at the end of the day the better side won. The better side won in India, the better side won in Australia, and here in SA the better side won.

  • Sat on March 11, 2009, 11:08 GMT

    Have to say this has been an impressive comeback by the aussies after all but being written off in the pre-series hype - that SA merely needed to turn up to claim the number 1 crown. Well the injection of youth has done wonders for Australia - Hughes & North have already shown there worth & Hilfenhaus looks a prospect; he could thrive in England in a Aldermanesque role. Not too sure about MacDonald though, the obvious big weakness in Aust's attack is the lack of a quality spinner. I reckon even on one leg & a 'burger belly', Warne would walk into this side ! However, the batting looks solid again, Mitchell Johnson goes from strength to strength and with Lee & Clark due back soon, suddenly the aussies look in good shape to retain the Ashes

  • Parth on March 11, 2009, 10:08 GMT

    I said it before the series, and I will say it again. South Africa are over rated. I said before the series, only reason they won was because the Aussies were morally demoralised by Indians. In the past 10 years its been the Indian Aussie show, each series has gone 2-1,2-2, 2-1,2-1,2-0. So when these one off teams like England and South Africa come into the spotlight for a while forgive me if I don't jump for joy. Its been a one-two show for a lone time that is Aussies one India two. South Africa just don't have the talent, their super bowling lineup was thrashed again well proves once again swing is king which Saffas dont know how to with the old and the new. God knows what would have happened if Staurt Clark played.

  • rakesh sharma on March 11, 2009, 9:58 GMT

    That would do a word of good to silence his critics. His methods are nothing out of the box, I guess he has learned to look beyond his usual stars. The legacy is no more there for the lamb slaughter. The rest of the teams too have changed and are matching aussie tactics as never before. As it does the rounds in the army...If we engage the enemy for too long , we get adapted to the tactics. There was some housekeeping work required in the Aussie camp. Bing is no more pacier and threatening and Aus don't have a genuine spinner. Ponting can increasingly look out for series triumphs if these dilemmas are addressed

  • Muthuvel on March 11, 2009, 9:40 GMT

    thoughts from india.. ok, Aus are still the kidding what, thrashing SA like this. They loose a couple of high profile series' and then are commented to be in decline what they do ? go to the toughest opponents home and trash them hehe. Now go beat them India if you want to be No 1.

  • Peter on March 11, 2009, 8:03 GMT

    True tinker. Cricket will always elicit a lot of passion, with the media exploiting that fact. The Australian team of the summer after losing so many champions & in transition, was faced with injuries and form slumps to its many of its remaining experienced players. The South African team was at its peak of success with both experience & youth firing. We saw an awesome series with Sth Africa justly deserving its win with amazing come from behind wins. However the media were quick to crucify Ponting & the Oz team in what was a very close series. It was a proving ground for Johnson, just as this series was the same for the mentioned recruits. To say the 'Ponting Era' has begun may be media hype again, but despite luck or SA injuries, the young Oz team should be rightly proud of their efforts & Ponting, who already is one of our greatest batsmen & a successful Captain, may prove the articles headline more than just hype.

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