Learning, reacting, chopping, changing and Ponting

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It may feel like Australia lost the series against Pakistan 4-0, but actually it was only two. No matter how you play, you can’t lose more than two matches when you only play two.

This has allowed Michael Clarke to somewhat disingenuously plead that his captaincy shouldn’t be judged on the basis of two Tests. People will be quick to draw his attention to last year’s 4-0 defeat to India, which is perhaps what he wants as such talk distracts from his batting form.

The truth is that Clarke’s got away with a 2-0 defeat. He can pretend that Australia might have bounced back were they playing a third Test, but history tends to suggest that learning is more than outweighed by the negative effects of reacting whenever Australia start losing.

“We’re learning,” they say. “Look!”

But changing isn’t the same as improving.

The captain’s view

Ricky Ponting’s main redeeming feature as a captain was that he was plain-speaking. He always erred on the side of blunt honesty and had an unusual predilection for answering the questions asked of him.

But there is quite some distance between being open and honest as an international cricket captain and being open and honest as a columnist. The former is like being the least annoying daytime Radio 1 DJ. You’re the least bad of a group that’s pretty much defined by one negative characteristic.

It is therefore no surprise to see that Ponting’s first column for Cricinfo is fairly banal. He still knows those involved, so his criticism is qualified and weak. You have to read between the lines a bit and magnify some of what he’s saying to interpret his true meaning.

When Ponting says that “a lot of what I saw was a bit frenetic, a bit fast,” then maybe – just maybe – he’s talking about Australia’s number three reverse sweeping his way to 37 off 28 balls in a match in which the opposition’s just posted 570-6 with one guy making a double hundred.

Glenn Maxwell at three – but what would have been next?

The selection of Glenn Maxwell to bat at number three might rank as one of the greatest cricketing decisions of all time. In this context, we’re using ‘greatest’ to mean ‘inexplicable and hilarious’.

But all we can think about is what might have happened next.

If this series had run on, who knows where Australia might have ended up. If you’re picking Maxwell at three by the second Test, what do you do when you’ve lost four on the bounce? The team physio, Alex Kontouris, must have harboured serious hopes of opening the bowling if there had been such a match.

Playing a five Test series when all you can do is lose is like being asked to build an elaborate timber framed home when the only tools you’ve got are a spoon and a spatula. It’s a painful, humiliating farce, but every day you have to turn up for work and do your best and then explain your progress to the client afterwards.

If you ever have to go through this, the after-effects are huge. There’s no hiding place. You had ample opportunities to do a good job so if all you managed was abject failure, you have to answer for that. By slinking off after two Tests, the Australian team has minimised the damage.

The moral of the story

Your averages, captain, coaches and players can probably survive incompetence over a relatively short series, so if you’re going to be rubbish against someone, make sure it’s Pakistan, Sri Lanka, New Zealand or someone.


Mike Gatting wasn't receiving the King Cricket email when he dropped that ludicrously easy chance against India in 1993.


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  1. Excellent moral, KC, and one that both England and India have found out to their cost over the last year. It was at least avoided in the Australia-SA series, by both teams being pretty good.

  2. I enjoyed Ponting’s article – certainly did not find it banal. Even though at times he takes full liberty with history. (His statement about pushing India better in ’08 and ’10 is suspect – they were beaten comprehensively both times).

    It in instructive to see how Australia handled Glen Maxwell during the 4-0 whitewash against India. That might give us a clue.

    1st match: GM didn’t play. Obviously they were holding back the trump card.
    2nd match: Batted at No. 8.
    3rd match: Didn’t play.
    4th match: No. 7 in the first inning and OPENED the second.

    So you see, there’s a devious, devious plan in there. It’s just lucky for the rest Australia don’t understand what it is yet.

    1. Maybe that was harsh on Ponting, but we expected better and didn’t feel we really learnt much new from what he wrote. But you’re right, it wasn’t bad.

      We probably just wanted: ‘PONTING SLAMS AUSTRALIA’ and obviously didn’t get that.

  3. Australia currently still seem to be in the “we need a new Ricky Ponting” phase rather than a “we need to pick our best number 3” phase.

    Instead of looking at who in the Baggy Green system plays best at first drop, they pick a batsman who plays like they believe a number 3 should play.

    I would laugh at them more over this but England have been exactly the same in ODIs. The difference being that England’s management and administration would rather England never win another test series again before admitting in public that they have no real idea how to build an ODI team.

    1. I was referring more to the attacking “f***-you hundred” style that Ponting enjoyed.

      Of course, Maxwell bats like someone tried to roll Sehwag, Afridi, some gasoline and a forest fire into one combustible player.

  4. Those who can, play cricket.
    Those who can’t, write about cricket.
    Those who can’t write, write about writing about cricket.

    1. Those who can’t write about writing about cricket, add comments to writing about writing about cricket.

    2. Those who can’t add comments to writing about writing about cricket, add comments to comments on writing about writing about cricket.

      This is fun. Come on everyone, anyone can play.

    3. Those who can’t add comments to comments on writing about writing about cricket…

      …can’t spake.

    1. Are we talking about the desolate-looking Clarke, stump uprooted? Or about Punter’s bizarrely shaped head? Seriously, how did that summit fit inside his helmet?

  5. > Playing a five Test series when all you can do is lose is like being asked to build an elaborate timber framed home when the only tools you’ve got are a spoon and a spatula. It’s a painful, humiliating farce, but every day you have to turn up for work and do your best and then explain your progress to the client afterwards.

    This reminds me of something, happened fairly recently, but for some reason I can’t quite put my finger on it. Maybe I blocked it out of my memory or something.

    1. It was that 45 year period you spent building a half-timbered house with only a cricket bat and a pair of batting gloves as tools.

      You mean you don’t remember?

  6. Strange experience watching Aus v SA T20 today. Finch and Duminy captaining; a very odd assortment of players playing and others conspicuous by their absence. Rilee Roussow looks a decent prospect, and has a pleasingly ridiculous name. As do Farhaan Behardien and Kagiso Rabada. Yes, I looked them up and copied and pasted them.

    1. You misplaced the O in Rossouw’s last name, though given how it’s pronounced, your way makes more sense.

      Rabada has a great name indeed, and should Steyn, Morkel, Philander, Abbott, de Lange, Parnell, McLaren and Kleinveldt get hurt at the same time, he could be a future leader of the South African attack.

  7. I liked Ricky’s article too — wasn’t banal at all. Not sure what you were expecting, exactly. He gave some really good insights into playing in Asian conditions, and why Australian teams have historically struggled there.

  8. After having the dubious pleasure of reading about 10 pages of a Steve Waugh Tour diary Ricky Ponting’s musings are of a very high standard for an ex Australian skipper…
    Australia are learning are they ? learning that when you go to sub continent you lose really badly then go away for a year come back and lose really badly again obviously having completely forgotten what you were learning in the first place…

  9. Ponting is doing commentary in the Big Bash here in Aus, and he is actually a surprisingly decent commentator. He doesn’t try to pretend that the cricket is more exciting than it actually is, an affliction which seems to have affected most other T20 commentators, and is way better than the dross they have on Channel 9. My lowlight from last night’s T20 was Ian Healy saying “It was a pretty good ball” to a ball that was chest high and just inside the wide ball line which got murdered for four by Rossouw.

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