Ricky Ponting is the best Australian batsman of his generation, probably of several generations. His relentless run scoring during this last decade has won world cups and test series. However, it can be clearly seen on his graph above that he has been in decline for a number of years. The start of which seems to coincide with the retirement of Shane Warne and Glen McGrath. He has been captain of Australia since the beginning of 2004.
Yesterday Sachin Tendulkar scored his 50th Test century. An astonishing achievement having scored 20% more centuries than anyone else. Sachin also has 46 ODI centuries and so it only seems a matter of time before he hits a century of centuries in International cricket. It seems likely that his records will stand for a long time (Kallis has 38 Test and 17 ODI centuries, Ponting has 39 Test and 29 ODI centuries). In addition to being a one-man run machine his humility and general demeanour make him a genuinely nice guy. Congratulations Sachin Tendulkar.
Sachin has scored centuries in his last three Test matches against South Africa - maybe that is why Graeme 'Sour Puss' Smith doesn't like him. We have news for you Graeme...
There was a dramatic shift in the way the game was played in Adelaide. I am not referring to England’s supremacy over a floundering Australia who had their first innings defeat inflicted upon them since 1993. I am in fact talking about the Umpire Referral System (URS) in which players can ask a third umpire to take another look at a decision. In particular two referrals on the last morning show how the game is changing.
Jimmy Anderson removed Brad Haddin with a classic seamers dismissal. Ryan Harris came to the wicket and shouldered arms to a straight ball that hits him straight in front of the stumps. He is stone dead out and the umpire gives it immediately. Harris and North (his partner for one ball) thinks he is out too. However, given the situation they refer it. It is out, but it is only just out. It clips the top of middle-and-off. An absolute stone dead LBW has been turned into an ‘only just’. Suddenly even simple LBWs are looking complicated.
Two balls later and Swann is bowling to Marcus North. It pitches in-line and straightens hitting North in-front of the stumps. Swann appeals and it is turned down. England refer and on reply the ball is seen to miss the edge of the bat and hits North in front. North sees it on the big screen and doesn’t even wait for the umpire to raise his finger. Simple then, the right decision has been made in the end … except when it is seen at full speed the ball is very near the edge of the bat. North is at full stretch going forward and so the impact point is at least eight feet from the stumps. Given the very close edge and the fact he went a long way forward the umpire would have had some doubts about giving North out. The ‘not out’ decision was correct – he gave the batsman the benefit of the doubt as umpires have always done. Of course the ‘out’ decision for the referral was also correct. This is not a contradiction, we are deciding the batsman’s fate based on two separate judgements: full speed from 22 yards OR in high definition slow motion with technological aids. When judging an umpire’s performance we should remember that.
My point is that cricket is changing because of the referral system. LBWs that seem obviously out are not always so clear cut. Other situations where the batsman has always received the benefit of the doubt may no longer hold. In the end Marcus North was out and so the correct choice was made. The interactive reply was also very exciting with the players and crowd watching and cheering. Pure drama. Referrals are a game changer; we have to make sure cricket changes into something we want to watch and cherish.
Can you imagine how difficult it is to be Ricky Ponting today? For years he has cruised around the outfield marshalling Shane Warne and Glenn MacGrath, Brett Lee and Stuart MacGill. When they had finished embarrassing world batsmen Ricky could have a bat with Matthew Hayden and Justin Langer. He could watch and grin as Damian Martyn and Adam Gilchrist made the opposition bowlers wince. What does Ricky have now? Memories are about all – a side without a bowling attack. A side whose batsmen are already nervous of facing the English attack tomorrow. A side where the team talk for tomorrow is ‘go to bed and think of rain’.
However meagre the resources sure the captain’s job is to get the most out of them. Two of Ricky’s decisions in the current test staggered me.
Firstly, before lunch on the second day England had reached 80-1 and the Australian attack bowled wide of off stump. This was a plan: a negative confining plan; a plan to stop England scoring. There are times and places for this sort of thing and 80-1 with ball less than 20 overs old is definitely not one of them. Ricky hadn’t even tried his spinner at this point – what sort of a message does it send to Doherty?
England came out to bat after lunch on the third day in a very strong position. Petersen and Collingwood looked good. The forty minute break will have disturbed the batsmen’s concentration so it is vital Aussies have an attacking blast before settling back to containment. Who does Ricky choose to bowl: Shane Watson and Marcus North! Bowlers Ricky had such faith in he didn’t even let them have a bowl in the morning session.
Tough times for Ricky – I wonder how his batting will hold up…
Australia 2-3 (or 3-2 if you like), who would have thought it? It was a bit like watching a dream – Ponting, Katich and Clarke behaving in the way so many English sides had done before them. The bowling was too good and the batting not up to it. In previous Ashes contests I would watch Hayden and Langer play and miss. Play and miss. Struggle. Then, as if by magic Australia would be 60-0 and our bowling would be ineffective. Huh? I would think ‘those lucky so-and-sos’, ‘if we had their luck we would win too’. Of course what I didn’t realise at the time was that playing and missing is down to ability and talent. The really good player doesn’t nick off to slip. The quality play finds a way to survive. Ponting, who by any yardstick is a quality player, appears to have the weight of a continent on his shoulders. He just doesn’t look like he is enjoying it anymore. How much fun can presiding over the destruction of a once great cricketing nation be - Brian Lara. Clarke looks like a man who has broken something and doesn’t want anyone to know. Future captain? No chance.
Of course England may well bat poorly tomorrow – but that will not change what is happening to Australia. Cricket is a fantastic leveller.