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900   //    29 Mar 2011, 11:07 IST

If a VB series loss at the hands of South Africa and New Zealand was reason enough for the selectors to sack Steve Waugh as the ODI captain, then Ricky Ponting should have met similar fate as way back as 2005 after his all conquering side failed to win the Ashes against traditional rivals England in England. So was Steve Waugh given a raw deal or Ricky Ponting enjoyed being in the comfort zone of the selectors? Sure, an ODI series loss was just an excuse for the selectors to drop Waugh from the team so that they could look at the future, but wasn’t the 2005 loss a wakeup call for the selectors then? “Ah not quite” was what they would have felt because they did not have anybody who could lead the team? Or with the cricketing greats like McGrath, Warne, Gilchrist, Hayden all stacked in a team together at the same time, did Australia ever felt the need for a captain?

Statistics may prove Punter to be a great captain with a win record of 70% in both Tests and ODIs. But in hindsight, one might just give it a thought when a captain has four great players of an era in the team. The Aussies were very vocal about John Buchanan as the coach and rallied behind Punter as the captain. Ponting was lucky enough to have inherited the team that Allan Border, Mark Taylor and Steve Waugh had created with their vision for the Australian Cricket. He was lucky that the bunch of talented players were disciplined and motivated and there was enough talent sitting on the bench. The Australian team never had the problems of mentoring and guiding the players through, unlike their Pakistani counterparts. Imran Khan was a force to reckon with and was a brilliant motivator for his henchmen, who otherwise would look ordinary on an odd day. And this proved to be critical in the 1992 World Cup when Pakistan came back to win after being almost eliminated in the round robin stages, only to be saved by the weather gods.

Punter lost the 2005 Ashes only to win it back handsomely with a 5-0 drubbing of the Pommies at home in 2006-07. Compare this performance with their 2005 results and one can see a marked difference in the way players performed. Most batsmen were out of form and struggled against the swinging and seaming ball in overcast English conditions. Warne was magnificent as ever and plucked 42 scalps which proved to be a futile effort. McGrath was the only other force but was out injured for a couple of tests.  With the 2006-07 Ashes won, all concerns were laid to rest about Punter’s captaincy. And with it the star players decided to hang up their boots. What followed was a major realization of the things to come. Australia failed to win the CB tri-series at home against England and Sri Lanka. In came the defeats at home to India, Sri Lanka, South Africa and New Zealand in the ODIs. Australia travelled to India in 2008 and 2010 and failed to win a single test match, with the latter one being a white wash. This was a blot in Punter’s face. And it just did not stop here. In the series against India in Australia in the 2007-08 season, things went horribly wrong for Punter and his men. The monkeygate between Harbhajan and Andrew Symonds showed Punter and his men in poor light and the spirit of Cricket was somehow lost in the test played at SCG. Punter himself was guilty on a number of occasions in the series that was marred by poor umpiring by Steve Bucknor and Mark Benson. With no love lost between the two teams, India won an important test match at the dreaded WACA, Perth on that tour. There were controversies galore, with Brad Hodge and Michael Clarke joining the bandwagon, and Punter himself struggled with the bat against a hostile Ishant Sharma. The CB series that followed saw Dhoni’s men clinching the series. The Aussies in the following season hosted the South Africans and were in for a brutal shock when the Proteas chased 400 odd in the fourth innings to win the opener in the first test at WACA. The Proteas went on to clinch the series. There were a few more shocks that waited Ponting. Australia scored more than 400 in a losing cause against the South Africans in the last ODI at the Bull Ring in Wanderers, Johannesburg. Ponting and his men travelled to England, and bragged about winning the Ashes 5-0. Little did they know that a man by the name of Andrew Strauss had different plans. Australia lost the Ashes, on consecutive occasions in England. And the story was repeated when Andrew Strauss led his team to a thumping 3-1 win over the Aussies in the series Down under in 2010-11. And the latest quarter final exit from the World Cup 2011 was a crowning glory for Punter’s critics. Australia were a good side and had great captains in Allan Border, Mark Taylor and Steve Waugh that saw them scaling new heights. Some of the legends of the game played together and brought home 4 World Cups in the 5 finals that they played in. So if an ODI series loss is the reason enough for Steve Waugh to have been sacked, then a loss in 6 Test series’ and an equal number of ODI series’ were befitting for Punter to have been sacked before he decided to call it a day.

Now that Punter has gone, comes the question of his successor. Ponting has openly called on Clarke to be his worthy successor. One wonders if Clarke is the right choice for the job. While a few still wonder why isn’t Mike Hussey considered ever, after he led the Oz on a few occasions and is known for his cricketing acumen. And one just cant stop wondering, why so many thought Ricky Ponting was indeed a great captain!

Wondering what should have been done?

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