Ricky Ponting is a worried man. For a batsman who is unarguably the best test player of the last decade and a captain who has lost only 12 out of the 71 matches, is certainly not having a good time. One of the best number 3 batsmen in the world isn’t having a great time with the bat and as well as the captain of his national side. He will be playing 7 very important test matches in the next 100 days. These 100 days will not only decide the future of Ponting as the Australia’s captain but also Ponting: the batsman. To understand the importance of the next 100 days, we need to look at 2 different facets of Ponting, the batsman and the Captain.
Between 2002 and 2006, Ponting has played 57 matches and scored 24 centuries. He averaged 72 in this period and scored a century per 2.37 tests. Such a bradmanesque average for 5 years puts him on top of any batting list for the last decade. Ponting was one of the chief architects in Steve Waugh’s invincible test side and fittingly took over the captaincy after that period. Having batsmen of the caliber of M. Waugh, S.Waugh, Symonds, Gilchrist, Hayden and Langer played a huge role in easing the pressureon Ponting. Ricky Ponting rightly cashed on it and piled up runs at will. Though he had great bowlers like McGrath, Warne, Lee and Gillispie it was always the runs added on the top that gave those great bowlers a platform to go for the kill. But things were too good to last for long and with the retirement of the legends, Ponting’s form started to decline.
In the last 3 years, Ponting has scored just over 2500 runs in 36 matches with an average hovering around 42. His numbers in the last 12 months are even more alarming as he has scored just one test century in the last 10 matches. The double century in Hobart against the talented Pakistan bowling attack is the only saving grace.
The Tendulkar phenomenon
Ponting was all set to get the most coveted record in tests from Tendulkar before 10 months. As on October 1st 2009, he was 1428 runs behind the Little Master and had a couple of home series (against West Indies and Pakistan) and an away series in New Zealand followed by a neutral series against Pakistan before the high profile India tour. But Ponting’s numbers were far from promising in those tours. He scored a solitary 50 when the West Indians toured Australia and had a top score of 41, when he toured New Zealand. In the same period, Tendulkar played 10 matches and scored 4 centuries and a double century and has widened the gap between the two legends. As of now, Ponting can surpass Tendulkar only if he could repeat the magic of the early 2000′s.
Ponting’s first match against Pakistan was the historic Peshawar test in 1998, Mark Taylor scored 334*. The match ended in a tame draw and that was the last time that a test match involving these two teams had ended in a draw. In the next 12 years, Ponting was part of the Australian team which had beaten Pakistan 13 times in a row till 20th July 2010. But Ponting’s Australians lost out to Mohammed Amir’s swing and Ponting could not emulate Steve Waugh in maintaining a 100% winning record against Pakistan. The series ended in a 1-1 draw.
Ponting has captained his side in India 5 times and is yet to taste a test victory. His predecessors (Steve Waugh and Mark Taylor) have atleast had one victory under their belt. In 2004, Ponting was privileged enough to see his side thump the Indians under his deputy Adam Gilchrist, but he returned back to lead his side in its only loss of the series in a minefield in Mumbai. Incidentally, that was Ponting’s first test as a captain in India. When Ponting takes the field on October 1st, he has one last chance to prove his detractors wrong by winning a test match here. This could very well be Ponting’s last tour to the sub-continent and hence the pressure is more than ever before.
The most prestigious and oldest cricketing rivalry has a new dimension. It is a series between a confident English side and a young Australian side. In 2009, Ponting joined a not-so prestigious club by losing 2 Ashes in England. The only other member of this club is Billy Murdoch. With the Ashes starting in November, Ponting has the opportunity to worsen it with his third Ashes defeat (both home and away). If that happens that would definitely be the last nail in Ponting’s coffin. But Ponting can take solace from the last Ashes in Australia. After losing the Ashes to Michael Vaughan, Ponting regained it in the most emphatic way possible by beating the English 5-0. But again it was a team with Hayden, Langer, Gilchrist, McGrath and Warne.
Ponting would be betting big on his new age fast bowlers to demolish the confident bunch of Cricketers from England (many from South Africa as well) and extend his term in international cricket by a couple of years.
‘I’d probably be looking for a new job if we lose again,’ he said in a press conference and he was right on the money with his words. The best Cricketer of the last decade and the leader of new age Australia will bee keen to win these 100 days not only for his personal goals but also for Cricket’s sake. After all there is good Cricket, if Australia, plays. For someone who has made winning a habit , this is just another test, this time for his leadership.Published 01 Oct 2010, 23:28 IST