One of cricket's modern greats, Ricky Ponting captained Australia in 324 matches and scored over 27,000 runs
As Steven Smith, Virat Kohli and MS Dhoni have found so far in this series, captaincy throws up all sorts of challenges that can seem difficult, even insurmountable, at times. The test of a leader and his team is how they respond. In Brisbane, Smithy was brilliant in his response to the difficulties thrown up on his first day in charge but still found himself with an over-rates issue that may yet carry over to Boxing Day. As for Dhoni, the tide of dissatisfaction that can take over a touring team in unfamiliar parts of the world began to rise at the Gabba. It cannot be allowed to encroach any further if India are to try to be in contention at the MCG.
As day one drew to a close at the Gabba, Smithy was tackling possibly the biggest fear a captain can face: you know if one of your bowlers goes down early in a Test, you have essentially no chance of winning the game. Smithy might not have known that because he was in his first game in the role, but he would have had a lot of concerns. After going to bed the night before with all these great dreams of winning the toss, batting first and playing well as a batsman on day one, the reality was losing the toss, having to bowl, and all his bowlers breaking down - a nightmare instead.
The way Australia were then able to turn things around from day one to halfway through day two was unbelievable, really. There were injury concerns around most of the bowlers - Josh Hazlewood was cramping, Mitchell Marsh had a hamstring strain, and Mitchell Starc was holding his ribs. You woke up on the morning of day two wondering what sort of attack was going to be able to take the field. And how, after missing some of the best of the bowling conditions early on day one, they were going to work themselves back into the game.
But full credit to Smithy and the coaching staff because they were able to execute better on that second morning. Hazlewood was outstanding, Warner got the second innings off to a rapid start, and the turnaround continued from there. Chris Rogers scratched around before playing himself into some form, and Smithy came out and played the way he has played for the last two years. They were fortunate, too, that the balance of the side left Shane Watson available to bowl plenty of quality overs in Marsh's absence.
It was a great turnaround and a good sign, because India showed evidence in Adelaide that they might be getting closer to winning games away from home than they have been for some time. They had a very good chance to do that in Brisbane, but Australia did not allow it to happen, which says a lot about the team personnel. The tactics employed to turn things around and the level of cricket to play when you start day two that far behind - not many teams lose from 311 for 4 entering day two - were of a very high standard.
Smithy led the way in the field too. His catch to dismiss Rohit Sharma off Watson was very much a team-lifter. He kept the energy of the side up and marshalled his bowlers to improve on day one, despite their various sore spots. He deserves a lot of credit as a captain in his first game for the way he was able to make the appropriate adjustments with his team and play the way he did with the bat and lead by example.
The other great example was set by Mitchell Johnson, who showed himself to now be the sort of player not worth sledging. There have always been certain blokes you need to stay away from and not say anything to, because you know you'll bring out an even better player. Brian Lara was a great example of that: you just stayed away from him and let him go about it and tried not to wind him up too much. India would have been mindful before the series about not stirring Johnson up too much with ball in hand, but they might now also be trying to avoid a confrontation when he is batting as well.
Dhoni's greatest challenge from Brisbane, and now moving into Melbourne, is to stamp out any inclination among the tourists to whinge about perceived difficulties they may have faced, whether it be the practice pitches at the Gabba, the food or umpiring decisions. As a captain, you've got to address these things as soon as they start, because it can begin with something very minor but then turn into something really big before you get a hold of things. It only takes one player to mention an issue, someone else pipes up, and all of a sudden six or eight of the team are in the same boat and the "whinge-o-meter" goes up and up.
India's complaints about practice facilities mirror the feelings of plenty of touring sides to the subcontinent, where nets and other training aids are seldom near the standards of those in Australia. The tourists did not help themselves by having some members of their squad absent from the ground when play began on day four. A critical part of touring successfully is learning to accept what is in front of you, then going out and playing cricket. If as an opponent you hear a touring team complain about issues, like the Indian camp has done in the past few days, it generally means they are a long way from the attitudes required to succeed.
I experienced that most often in India, where so many Australian players, coaches and officials were dealing with circumstances far removed from what they were used to. The lesson out of it was that in everything you did, you had to embrace what was there, do it with a smile on your face, and be polite in your dealings with people. The way you conduct yourself around your hosts, whether it be at cricket grounds, hotels or anywhere in between, can be an early sign of looming discontent, and as a captain you can see when players are starting to get grumpy. Years ago when I met Rianna, I told her that three to four weeks into an overseas tour was when I saw guys start to struggle a little, missing home and its comforts. When those things begin to affect you it can be very hard to enjoy your cricket and your training.
Painful experience taught me that over rates are another issue that must be kept in check. You can't let it get to a point where you can't claw it back. That was the balancing act I tried against India in 2008 in Nagpur - it was important that we kept trying to attack, but I had to find a way to attack that was going to ensure we weren't getting further and further behind. Watson and Johnson had bowled long spells before tea and had looked like being the ones to take wickets, but I had to get them off and attack with a spinner. It would have been the last thing on Smithy's mind too, on his first day as a Test captain - though the umpires remind you pretty constantly, it's a really hard one to get right. He will now have to improve on it in Melbourne or risk a ban for Sydney.
Australia vs India
India tour of Australia and New Zealand