Ricky Ponting – The man hailed as the one of world’s astute leader and master of the willow (to quote Mr. Ian Chappell precisely). Many think him to be responsible for Australia maintaining their undoubted world dominance in test cricket until 2009, when South Africa dethroned them. But was it really his legacy? We all know how AR Border built this world champion unit in the mid-80s and then Mark Taylor infused the young talents: McGrath, Ponting, and Martyn. Did Ricky really do something of these levels, or even to match what Steve Waugh achieved? In his defense, it is said that Australia lost their big three and even Hayden later on, however, when Taylor took over he also lost players like Border, McDermott, Hughes, & Dean Jones, but the Aussies continued to dominate. So what went wrong with Ponting?
The first question we ask is Was it really his legacy, or did he inherit that from Steve Waugh? In his early days as skipper, he enjoyed tremendous success winning 30 of his first 39 tests and losing only 3, W/L ratio of 10. Then in 2007, the Big three: McGrath-Warne-Gilchrist, eventually left and it has been 3 years since that happened, team Australia’s W/L ratio has now dropped to 2.22 over next 36 tests. It is clearly evident that Australia’s much touted bowling bench strength has not come to the party. To win any test match, you need to take 20 wickets, which is precisely the reason for their decline in the winning percentages. Amongst Border, Taylor, Waugh, and Ponting, Ricky is the only captain to lose the ashes twice. So, it is evident the glory that Ponting enjoyed at the beginning of his captaincy was courtesy the big three, who entered the side either around the same time as Ponting himself or a tad earlier. He also must consider himself a bit fortunate that Australia has not been yet able to find a suitable successor, otherwise captains losing the Ashes twice, don’t last too long in Australia.
The second question is about Ricky the batsman. Of course, someone who has scored over 12,000 runs with a career average of 55 and with that have 39 tons, has to be a batsman of sheer class. But what has Ponting achieved since the big three have left the scene? The table below reflects his career stats along with stats as a captain, and his performance over last 3 years. Again, it is clearly evident that the departure of the three giants has definitely impacted Ricky’s batting numbers. And let me correct you, in these three years, he has not missed even a single test due to an injury.
Unlike others, we don’t want to jump to the conclusion that Ricky is done, or he should hang his boots, or look into some kind of mirror, he is smart enough to figure that out himself, when that time comes. These stats simply point to one thing: Ricky enjoys batting when he’s aware that he has the bowling power to corner any opponents in the world. That is precisely why he likes to bat first after calling it right. In 75 tests that he captained, he chose to field first only twice, the second occasion being the Edgbaston in 2005 Ashes. Since then, for last 5 years, he has never opted to field first, including his latest test where his team got skitted out for 88. Whenever Australia has been asked to field first (since the big 3 left): they have won 2, lost 5, and drawn 4 of their 11 tests. The table below shows Ponting’s performance in those 11 games. It is startling to see how his average drops to under 22 in the games that Australia lost.
After reviewing all the facts & figures, I can’t help but recall what Mr. Ian Chappell once said about a certain other non Australian player: “At the moment he looks like a player trying to eke out a career; build on a glittering array of statistics. If he really is playing for that reason and not to help win as many matches as he can for his team then he is wasting his time and should retire immediately”. I wonder, if these words fit perfectly in the case I just pointed out: you be the judge!!! If the Australian cricket pundits and media would spend even half of their time and energy on talent hunting for CA, than what they spend on criticizing every non-Australian great cricketer, perhaps they might not have ever lost that #1 ranking in tests, perhaps, just perhaps!
-Nikhil Sharad Jadhav