Left field

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Ponting’s success blighted by Ashes defeats

March 29, 2011

CRICKET-AUSTRALIA/PONTINGRespected but seldom loved at home, admired but also reviled abroad, Ricky Ponting led Australia to great success but his captaincy will ultimately be defined by three lost Ashes series.

The tough, single-minded Tasmanian
always put the team first and that, he said, had prompted him to stand down after nine years in charge of the Australia one-day team and seven as test skipper on Tuesday.

The most test (48) and one-day international (164) wins by any captain as well as successive World Cup triumphs in 2003 and 2007 is an impressive record by any standards, and there has never been any doubt about his quality as a batsman.

And yet, ever since he took over a world-beating side from Steve Waugh, there has always been a question mark hovering over his captaincy.

His honeymoon period as test captain lasted little over a year until he blotted his copy book with the ultimate sin for an Australian captain, the loss of an Ashes series to England.

Ponting silenced the critics the following year, however, leading from the front with a Player of the Series performance to help Australia regain the urn 5-0, the first Ashes whitewash in 86 years.

The retirement of greats like Shane Warne, Glenn McGrath, Adam Gilchrist, Justin Langer and Matthew Hayden would have weakened any side, however, and so it was for Australia.

A rare home defeat to South Africa was followed by a second Ashes defeat in England in 2009 and the pressure was now weighing heavily on him again.

“There’s no doubt over the last few years, things have become harder around the team, to captain the side when things haven’t being going brilliantly,” he said.

There were great hopes in Australia that when England pitched up late last year, they would again be put to the sword.

This was a different England side, however, and three humiliating defeats by an innings or more saw the Australians lose a home Ashes series for the first time in a quarter of a century.

FORM SLUMP

As much as he denied it, the pressure had clearly effected Ponting. Always accused of lacking imagination, the sight of him frantically moving his fielders around the Adelaide Oval as England’s batsmen continued to hammer his bowlers smacked of desperation.

His form with the bat also slumped and as the team declined, his undoubted passion for victory started to look more like petulance as he engaged in spats with opponents, umpires and finally television sets and team mates.

Even while they were plummeting from first to fifth in the test rankings, however, Australia maintained their place as the best one-day side in the world.

While Ponting said his biggest regret was never winning an Ashes series in England as captain, it was to the limited overs game that he was drawn when he was asked for his best moment.

“If I was to pick one, it would probably be the first World Cup that I captained,” he recalled on Tuesday. “As a relatively new captain, we got through that tournament undefeated.

“I made a big hundred in the final and to this day, that’s one of the proudest moments of my career.”

His final innings as captain was a defiant, and sometimes inspired, century in Australia’s quarter-final defeat to India at the World Cup last week.

Bucking the trend of his predecessors in the last three decades, the 36-year-old has decided to play on in both test and one-day cricket.

Unburdened by the captaincy, Ponting will be hoping to rejuvenate his batting, much as happened with India’s Sachin Tendulkar — the only player in the history of cricket to have scored more runs than him.

PHOTO: Australia’s Ricky Ponting looks down during a news conference at the Sydney Cricket Ground March 29, 2011, where he announced he was retiring as the country’s test and one-day cricket captain. Ponting, the most successful captain in 134 years of test cricket, resigned as captain on Tuesday but will continue as a batsman with the team. REUTERS/Tim Wimborne

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