Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Punter's Last Stand

Ricky Ponting's been Australian captain ever since I can remember. As someone who only started taking an interest in cricket circa 2003/4, Ponting was well established as one of the world's best batsmen, and had his feet firmly under the table as captain of the world's best team. Ricky hasn't made an international hundred in over a year, and the all-conquering side that he led is long gone. With yet another Ashes defeat over the past few months, and a potential quarter-final exit to India ahead, we could be seeing the final days of Ricky Ponting as Australian captain.

Ricky's time as Aussie skipper has been spoken about to death. He had some incredible years, including countless records, two World Cups, an Ashes whitewash, and general dominance over the cricketing galaxy. Ponting himself was piling on the runs, the driving force behind the most forceful side in recent cricketing history. But the players of that side have mostly hung up their boots, and even Ponting's runs have seemingly disappeared.

There are two sides to the issue - Ponting as a captain and Ponting as a batsman. While he has overseen some remarkable success, he has also seen a remarkable slump in Aussie fortunes, losing Ponting's third Ashes as well as going into the series having lost seven consecutive matches in all formats. The decline has been mirrored by Ponting's personal failures, and there have been growing calls for him to be dropped regardless of his success or failure as captain, as he simply isn't justifying his position in the side as a batsman.

Australia have many options, both as potential batting replacements, and as captain. Michael Clarke has been groomed as captain ever since he first kissed the baggy green, and while he may not have the support of the Aussie public, he certainly has the backing of the selectors. He would be ready to step up immediately, as proved by the success he's had when assuming the role when Ponting's missed out through injury. And as a batsman, Ponting may not be missed thanks to the real strength in depth that Australia boast. In tests, Usman Khawaja showed that he is able to bat at number three thanks to his (albeit brief) stay at the crease in the final Ashes test, and the continued rise of Callum Ferguson, Shaun Marsh and even Phil Hughes suggest there will be no issue either in ODIs.

Even at the age of 38 Ponting's refused to talk about retirement, but a loss to India tomorrow may take the decision out of his hands. You feel that only taking the World Cup back to Australia for yet another time could save him, but even that may be too late. The odds are stacking up against Ponting, and while he clearly has the mental fortitude for the occasion, does he have the strength left in his little goblin legs for one last push? Ponting's captaincy and international future is on the line, and even he may not have enough to save himself. Exile at an English county may beckon, and tomorrow could see the end of an era, with the end of Ricky Ponting.

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