Australia v England, 3rd Test, Perth, 1st day December 16, 2010

Ponting's time is running out as his team slips away

Ricky Ponting is losing control of everything he desires in cricket. His influence on the side is disappearing and his power over the selectors has waned.

Ricky Ponting is losing control of everything he desires in cricket. His influence on the side is disappearing and his power over the selectors has waned. His batting is an imitation of the man who once swung at the same level as Sachin Tendulkar and Brian Lara. Ponting is physically at his fittest and looks in fabulous shape, but his mind, 36 years old on Sunday, is winding down.

His team is in even greater decline. Valued players let him down often and the new faces are not yet helping. Ponting is in charge during Australia's most damaging crisis since the mid-1980s and the situation becomes worse by the day. Everything is going wrong: the wrong XI chosen, the wrong attitude employed and the wrong shots displayed after the coin fell England's way.

Australia did recover from a horror first session to post 268, but it will take something extremely special over the next four days to stop England from taking the 2-0 lead that would ensure they retain the urn. Ponting is already facing the prospect of becoming only the second Australian to lose three Ashes series. If that happens his hold on the captaincy will be weak and he is not a man who will play without the leadership. In this form, with 80 runs in five bats in the series, Australia wouldn't want him to.

The time has come to speak in the past tense of Ponting as a great batsman. Sparks may remain but the periods of sustained excellence have gone. Ponting walks to the wicket on reputation and has been leaving without regular results. He has played 24 Tests since the start of last year and averaged 39.87, including series against West Indies and New Zealand, and two against Pakistan. A No.3 who previously created fear has become a shadow.

Ponting is meant to be the one Australian batsman who can change the game or wrestle back the series. Picking four specialist fast bowlers, omitting the spinner Michael Beer and then losing the toss made his task even harder. He was called to the middle after two overs following Phillip Hughes' early legside wobble, and was lucky to last more than three balls. If England had four slips instead of three, Ponting probably wouldn't have scored. Briefly, his fortune had changed.

Boundaries from a pull and a flick to midwicket raced him to 12 off nine deliveries. He was aggressive and seemed in, but he could not tone down the high-energy tempo, a trait his batting partners also struggled to conquer. Four wickets fell in an opening session that required graft not glamour.

Ponting used to love the bounce of Perth, a ground which hasn't always treated him well. He was lbw, hit high on the thigh, when 96 on debut back when he was already destined for greatness. Last year he was struck on the left elbow by Kemar Roach here, forcing him to retire hurt after a painful, jumpy display. There were more jerky movements today as he attempted to get on top of the ball but couldn't.

To his tenth delivery he leaned on his back foot to James Anderson and pushed unconvincingly at the ball, which found his edge and shot towards Paul Collingwood at third slip. Collingwood launched himself to his right and the ball buried in his outstretched hand. It was a catch Ponting would have claimed a couple of years ago, but one that would surely escape his reach now.

Ponting's lips pursed as he watched the brilliant interception and he then turned his head in anger, disbelief and resignation. He left slowly, watching the replay on the way back, and seeing the score. Yes, he was really out, the victim again. The team was 2 for 17 and heading to an even worse start than the destruction of Adelaide. It would soon be 4 for 36 and 5 for 69 before the rally from Michael Hussey, Brad Haddin and Mitchell Johnson.

Michael Clarke, the leader in waiting, went with a tame waft outside off and Shane Watson was beaten by a searing yorker from Steven Finn. Smith, a batsman Ponting didn't think was good enough for the top six five months ago, tried hard but went tamely after lunch. Haddin is too low at No.7.

In the second session Ponting sat next to his mate Justin Langer, who doubles as the side's batting coach. They have a lot to fix but no guaranteed way of achieving answers.

Usually when Ponting talks publicly he is so reassuring about his team, remaining convincing even during extended losing streaks. On the eve of the match he made a rare slip. When asked if his captaincy could survive another Ashes loss he said the choice was out of his hands. "The powers that be will make those decisions I guess at the end of the series, or after this Test match," he said.

Ponting was the one who brought forward his potential judgment day. He doesn't want to leave the scene, as he showed with his funereal shuffle off the ground after his dismissal, but he knows the price of continual individual and team failure.

Peter English is the Australasia editor of Cricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • paul on December 19, 2010, 16:11 GMT

    Australia may have won the third test but Pontings time as an international world class batsman(and Captain) has come........and gone.... and whatever the outcome of the Ashes he isn't and won't again be the player he was. His test match batting average has been falling steadily for the last 2/3 years, during which time he hasn't scored a hundred. Other test match playing countries have found him out, exposed his technique and weaknesses....particularly outside the off stump to the swinging/seaming ball, vulnerability to off spin, and with the hook to the point where he has looked ordinary and in obvious decline. Great batsmen -including him - should have no real, exploitable, flaws - Kallis certainly doesn't - and also know when its time to go - Lara did and went out on his terms - but if Ponting continues to play and fail then he'll be remembered more as a very fine fading batsman than a true great.

  • Guy on December 19, 2010, 4:28 GMT

    My my my, how quickly things change. The down and out team in crisis with everything going against it (according to this article) has just trounced England and surged to Ashes favourite. Pontings form slump is still a worry but dare I say the selectors won't be thrwoing him to the baying press hounds just yet.

  • Anand on December 17, 2010, 7:18 GMT

    @Gopal Krishna Sharma Nandyala, Ricky isn't a great player! Then we have to delete word "great" from dictionary. A player who is just behind sachin in almost most of records & he is not great. Then, sachin is also not great & might be none is great cricketer.

  • Dummy4 on December 17, 2010, 6:46 GMT

    Mitchell Johnson, you go boy! 62 runs and 4 wickets at the moment, has justified your inclusion and silenced your critics.

  • Dummy4 on December 17, 2010, 6:22 GMT

    go australia.....change comes slowly..........fisrt get england out thn comes the big poting score........all batsman nid time to rethink......luk what happened to johnson.......

  • Dummy4 on December 17, 2010, 5:45 GMT

    U have to value the true performers and consider them as your assets....

    U should be able to differentiate b/w avg players and the gifted players.....It is the avg players that just keep u in the match. but it is the gifted ones who win u the matches......To begin with, Aus should not have let Gilgrist, Daimen Martin and Shane Warne retire....and now Aus should invest on guys like Johnson, B Lee, S Tait.......and keep Ponting as captain..give him full faith because it is the captain and the team that wins matches not the team administration, coaches or selectors they r mistakenly overrated nowadays.. . they r mere sport staff and should be treated as such...period...At best team needs an analyst to help captain formulate winning strategy and a phsychologist to raise the self belief level in gifted players and keep reminding them that they r above is sport not an office ...there is literally no role of administration. coaches should only offer tips at best to players.

  • Dummy4 on December 17, 2010, 5:38 GMT

    I love to see those pull shots and off drives of Punter, hope he will be starving, its time to deliver we expect lot of those in the second innings, and now Mitch has started delivering, we hope you will start from where Mitch has given hope of win.. You are such an exciting cricketer to watch, we miss your fancy shots and drives for long time!!!!!!!!!

  • Dummy4 on December 17, 2010, 5:09 GMT

    @youngkeepersdad: "hussey is not a proper batting superstar"?!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! didn't get u........ are u talking about david hussey???????? @Ahok Rajasingh: Without having class and being consistent a batsman batting at no.3 in tests can't score more than 12000 runs..... I hope PUNTER silents you all........ Its just that nothing going right for him..... He is not out of form but out of luck..... Though its no excuse in cricket..... PONTING has a lot to give before he leaves......

  • Dummy4 on December 17, 2010, 4:33 GMT

    What will happen if Aussies retain the Ashes? The English look equally wobbly in this match. There is a good chance that the home side will have its tail up, and who knows might even win it. Will that recharge Ponting as a captain and as a batsman. If that happens some of his personal demons may go to sleep, but if doesn't than he needs to consult the yoga teacher of Sehwag. Afterall in his second coming Sehwag is destroying bowling (joberg not with standing)

  • Dummy4 on December 17, 2010, 4:23 GMT

    This third test match could be very tight. England are playing extremely well for the last two years. However, Australia have not declined as much as the public makes it appear. They make a few rash shots, a few inexperienced players are in and so they lost a bit of confidence and spark. One should not be so quick to write them off. Who knows what could happen if they put some good pressure on the opposition and get their belief back. All batsmen go through slumps. It isn't really a predictable science - making big runs. Ponting will score big soon - he is in form - so is Haddin, Hussie and Watson.

    On another note SA batsmen will have to be really horrible at spin for India to win a single test there or Steyn or Morkel will have to be retired somehow. I just don't see it. The way England are playing now I would rather see them play SA in SA and maybe India visit Australia. Why don't sides meet when they are equally matched in form??

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