Finally Ricky has gone. It was a resignation as inevitable as the onset of summer, and certainly increases the heat on Michael Clarke. Now is the right time, Australian cricket needs to move forward, and dragging the side for the last few years as captain, surrogate coach, agony aunt and kitman too has had a visible effect on Australia’s most successful batsman of recent times.
Ponting has been an inspiration to his own country and beyond. Observing him close up during the Ashes it was impossible not to be mesmerised by a face so creased from years of battle, a man so dignified and honest in response to constant probing and sniping.
The question now is whether he should stay on in the team as a batsman, as he has indicated he wants to do. Michael Clarke said in December he would never captain Ponting, we will find out in the next few weeks and months how sincere those words were.
Ponting’s record over the last few years is not befitting of his reputation and hardly worth a place in the side – in 16 Tests since the end of the 2009 Ashes he has one hundred (209 against Pakistan in which he was dropped in single figures) at an average of 36.
The counter-argument to that would be that his selfless involvement in trying to arrest the losing culture in a new Australian side stopped him from spending enough time working on a batting technique that was struggling to cope with the ageing process. His supporters pointed to his gritty quarter-final hundred against India as evidence of what he could do when allowed to focus on cricket in the short term. With Sachin Tendulkar batting better than ever and a year older than Ponting, the case for allowing Ponting a chance to fulfil his wish is persuasive.
But there are other things to consider. Ponting’s hold over this Australian team has been total in recent years. In the Sydney press conferences Michael Clarke as good as admitted that Ponting had been acting as coach on top of his captaincy role (another indictment of the apparently invisible Tim Nielsen). How can a player who has exercised that much influence slip quietly into the ranks? Further to this, the distance between Ponting and some of the younger members of the Australian side was obvious during the Ashes. Respect is clearly there (at least in one direction) but camaraderie? Australia needs the Peter Siddles, the Steve Smiths and the Shane Watsons to become their new ‘guns’. Can they do this with the ghost of the past watching and judging their every move?
And what of Ponting’s relationship with Clarke – who rumours would have us believe has been attempting to undermine the man in possession in recent times. The whole thing is a right kerfuffle, stretching beyond this down to Clarke’s 26% popularity rating among the Aussie public. Having a new captain who the country’s press already hold in contempt is quite a situation. Even with the metres of negative press that have greeted England’s World Cup performances we can afford to glance down under and smile.