Players 'too scared' under Arthur - Ponting
Ricky Ponting believes Australia's new coach Darren Lehmann will bring calm to the squad and instil the players with confidence after they appeared "too scared" under Mickey Arthur. Lehmann has now spent three days in charge of the squad after the surprise sacking of Arthur on Monday and he has less than two weeks to prepare the Australians for the first Investec Ashes Test, which begins at Trent Bridge on July 10.
The first opportunity for the batsmen under Lehmann's mentorship will come in Taunton on Thursday, when the Australians bat against Somerset in their ongoing tour match, and men like Phillip Hughes and Shane Watson will be desperate for big runs after struggling on the previous Test tour of India. Writing in the Daily Mail on Thursday, Ponting said it appeared as an outside observer that the pressure on the players had become too great under Arthur.
"The bottom line for me is that maybe the players had been put under too much pressure by the previous regime and that pressure needs to be released now," Ponting wrote. "It's hard to judge from afar but they seem to have been too scared to play the way they can. It's not a question of trying to live up to the great names of Australia's past, it's a question of the current group playing as well as they can."
Ponting played under Arthur for a year before his Test retirement in December and he has now spent seven months away from international cricket, watching as the Australians struggled in India and the Champions Trophy. He said that if a change of coach had to be made then there was no point waiting until after the series, and he believed that Lehmann would bring a sense of fun to the group.
"'Boof' has had a lot of success as a coach and even though I have never played under him I know exactly what he'll be like around the Australia team," Ponting wrote. "He will bring calmness to the group, make sure they try to have fun and enjoy the experience of playing for Australia. Above all, he will instil confidence into the young guys in the team who seem to be lacking it at the moment.
"Will this decision affect the outcome of the Ashes? Well, only time will tell. Australia could have won the first Test under Mickey Arthur and equally they could win it under Darren Lehmann. What I do know is that they need to be aggressive and take England on now. They will under Boof."
Ponting said it was his belief that Arthur's axing was the result mostly of Australia's on-field struggles over the past few months, although the off-field turmoil - the homework saga in India and David Warner's punch at Joe Root in England - had not helped. Ponting said he did not believe there was anything more Arthur could have done to prevent the Warner incident occurring, and he said the players needed to take some responsibility for the on-field failures as well.
"Everybody involved has to take responsibility for this and that includes the players," Ponting said. "There is only so much the coach can do. Once the players step over that line it is down to them and our displays clearly haven't been up to scratch."
Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here