Sunday, December 26, 2010

C’mon Punter – put your hand up and go

Back in January 2009 I wrote a post examining Mathew Hayden’s comments that the decision on whether or not he should tour England for the 2009 Ashes series was basically up to him committing to do so. I thought that insufferably arrogant and had a look at his last 15 innings to see where he was situated compared to other players who had been given a push rather than been able to say whether or not they were committed to playing.

Here’s what I found:

Matthew Hayden - Average 26.4, Nil 100s, 2 50s, top score 83.
Greg Blewitt - Average 30.9; Nil 100s; two 50s; top score 89.
Darren Lehmann - Average 28.6; Nil 100s; five 50s, top score 70.
Michael Slater - Average 39.8; Nil 100s; three 50s, top score 86.
Mark Waugh - Average 33.7; Nil 100s; two 50s, top score 86.

Then there were two players who jumped before the push:

Justin Langer - Average 33.6; one 100; one 50; top score 100*.
Adam Gilchrist: Average 35.2; one 100; four 50s; top score 102*

Then there were two who were a bit above the average:

Greg Chappell - Average 52.3, three 100s, two 50s, top score 182.
Steve Waugh - Average 53.2, two 100s, three 50s, top score 115. (minus two matches against Zimbabwe and Bangladesh)

Now the reason of course I am revisiting this issue is because of Ricky Ponting. Here’s his last 15 innings:

Ricky Ponting: Average 29.6; Nil 100s; five 50s; top score 77.

His average is worse than all the above bar Hayden and Lehmann. His number of 50s is good with five – the most, but Lehmann also had made five and it came to signify that he couldn’t go on and make a big score. His top score of 77 is second lowest (Lehmann’s 70 is the worst).

Now were he not the captain we wouldn’t be having this discussion. Ponting would be gone. It would be a thanks for your career, but time waits for no man yada yada. Enjoy racing your greyhounds. (Let’s forget this drop him down the order stuff – you do that for younger guys who were tried at number 3 but couldn't cut it – eg Steve Waugh.) image

But as the Captain to dump him, means we need to replace not only his spot at number three (a pretty easy choice given NSW’s Usman Khawaja is sitting there champing at the bit to go, and averaging 52.83), so then I guess we give the captaincy to his deputy, Michael Clarke.

This could be done – there is precedent – Bill Lawry was dumped as captain mid-way through the 19780-71 Ashes series and Ian Chappell took over, and Kim Hughes jumped before being pushed in the 1984-85 series against the West Indies.

However, here we hit a snag. Here’s Michael Clarke’s last 15 innings record:

Michael Clarke: Average 24.8; Nil 100s; three 50s; top score 80.

That ain’t good. In fact were he not Michael Clarke and he came from New South Wales (yeah that’s an anti-NSW dig) he too would likely be bidding farewell to the glories of the baggy green.

Make no mistake, Ponting is not still in the team and captain because of his leadership qualities or because he is such an integral part of the dressing room furniture. It is because the selectors believe there is no one to take his place.

No sure, he might come out in the second innings and hit a big hundred and he can turn to the camera and say up yours to the bloggers of the world, but even if he does I still think he should say, well that just buys me one final chance to say goodbye in Sydney, and then he should depart. The guy is 36. Thirty six! When Greg Chappell retired he was 35. I remembered because he was my absolute idol (my name is Greg after all), and even then I thought him ancient.

Modern medicine is all nice and great, but time does not wait for any man, and if Australia wants to make it ok for a 36 year old to average less than 30 and still bat number 3, then it sets a pretty low bar for the rest of the players. The Australian captain has always been the first among equals – he gets his place in the side because of his abilities as a player, not as a  captain.

If Clarks is not up to it, that doesn’t mean Ponting by default should be (because after all, it’s not like he is a master tactician). Brad Haddin is 33, but he is as safe in his spot as anyone. He has captained NSW, so let him captain for a couple years until one of the younger guys steps up, or at least reaches a level of maturity supposedly required of the position – who knows that person may not even be playing at the moment. 

I have been a Ponting fan for most of his career, but as happened with Hayden, Mark Waugh, Langer, and the others at the end of their careers, when I watch him bat, part of me hopes he fails because I know another innings of 70 odd or more will only serve to convince him that he is good to play till the next Ashes series. And let’s cut the bull, there is no way in hell that can be allowed to happen.

Let’s bid adieu now while we still remember him as one of the greatest batsmen of his generation, and not as the guy who we kept on because there was no one else we thought could do his job.


Anonymous said...

If Hilditch has any sense and integrity remaining form his tenure as a selector, Ponting must be tapped on the shoulder and told this time is up.

Unfortunately the two players who could really lose from this are Hughes and Smith. In a strong team they could be carried to really develop (I rate them both) but with the team so weak, they could be scapegoats.

And there is the amazingly ineffectual bowling. Do not any of the Aussie pacemen understand line and length and bowling to a plan? Of course Ponting doesn't help as he seems have no idea how to set a field but still, they are professionals. I got some bowlers in my 6th grade side who are far more consistent and better understand the virtues of bowling.

Anonymous said...

It happens with all Australian Captains. Border,Taylor even Steve Waugh they start to think they bigger than the game. A clean out is required. Ponting has lost the ashes three times he has no idea how to keep his bowlers on the square and his understanding of spinners is non existent. Yesterday morning he should have told his batsmen tdon't worry about being boring leave everything you can play straight now big back swings just let the pitch die down we can plunder the poms in the afternoon. Instead Hughes went out playing like a 20 200 game and his lack of technique was exposed. Ironically the only jaffa of the day was the one that got Ponting. That was unplayable. The rest of the outs were off balls that could have been left.

Preston Towers said...

Like Tendulkar, Ponting's problem has been that he was never cut out to be the captain. I think his severe limitations as a tactician and man manager has finally had an impact on his batting and general mental state. The Crciket Australia people should have had the foresight to make Hussey the captain 3 years ago.

However, they have been stuck on the idea of "grooming" Clarke as they "groomed" Ponting. The "grooming" failed with Ponting, but the admission of failure is something Cricket Australia cannot do. Border wasn't "groomed" from a young age, neither were Taylor or Waugh.

We are now in an era not unlike the 1980s so I believe we should have Hussey or Katich (if he comes back) as the captain. Haddin, like Marsh and Healy before him, is too combative a wicketkeeper to be a calm, considered captain.

For all to occur, though, there needs to be regime change in Australians cricket. Hilditch has failed repeatedly as the chairman of selectors and I really can't see what Tim Nielsen brings to that tactical nous of the team, when a proven tactical guru like Geoff Lawson sits on the sidelines. If Lawson was the coach, he'd be currently tearing strips off these batsmen for forgetting how to bat on a proper first day cricket wicket, and he'd have the weight of experience and test cred (as well as the reputation of a man who captained both Waugh and Taylor in NSW). Nielsen is just a wicketkeeper from SA, one of the least successful teams of the 90s. The same state, of course, from which Hilditch sprung. Funny that. I remember Hilditch as a batsman. It made the decisions emanating from his selection committee look good.

David said...

Pick the best 11 players and then choose the captain from them. That probably means Hussey or Haddin as captain. Another alternative is to make Cameron White the 12th man and de facto captain on the field!

Fran said...

Good post Greg.

I think Hussey or Haddin or Katich could be good captains. Frankly, they could do worse than drop the lest effective pacebowler (arguably Johnson match by match but possibly Hilfy) and replce with Shane Warne. After bowling, captaining was the thing he could have been best at.

We do have Watson and Smith to also bowl after all. If we brought in David Hussey for Punter, we'd also get a fine fielder who can alos bowl offies.

And who is our leading runscorer in Shield over the last year or so? Ed Cowan. Heard of him much?

Horrie is trying to get picked as a btasman these days. One has to laugh.

Anonymous said...

Sorry for illiterate second comment. The perils of typing on phones. Batsmen should have been told to not worry about being boring, leave everything they could, put the big back swing away and let the pitch die down and attack the poms in the afternoon. Having just heard an interview with Australian coach I thought if the whole dressing room is as delusional as him we all have problems. But as someone who remembers the 80s it is a familiar part of cricket. The old era of supremacy is gone and we have about five years to rebuild. But you can;t rebuild with current line-up. And that includes the selectors, who have failed to spot new talent especially in the spinning department, and bring it on.

Sonia said...

To an extent I do agree with the selectors. When Waugh, Taylor and Hayden retired there was an obvious replacement and at the times these guys retired the teams were very settled with very few changes . This is clearly not the case. Kahwadja has a reasonable average in shield cricket but these days Id question that. If these wasnt so much cricket played so closely together I would say more shield cricket would benefit but apparently that isnt necessary these days either.
Anyway Im being philosophical about the whole thing. There is a whole generation of cricket fans who have only known a winning Australian team. You have to experience the lows to really appreciate the highs of test cricket. As Saint Frankly said yesterday on twitter
"And for all those clowns who claimed cricket was dull when Australia ruled, hope you're enjoying the "excitement" u wished for". Yeh aint it great. At least next Ashes real cricket fans might be able to get a ticket

Hilton Travis said...

Ponting was an adequate captain when he had an excellent team, but since they all (well, almost all) retired a few years back, his lack of brilliance as a captain has been shining through.

If Ponting goes, Clarke should go with him - neither of them are playing well lately. They may be prepping Clarke for the captaincy, but he really shouldn't even be in the side right now and the same with Ponting - their lacklustre performance isn't something that should be rewarded.

There's no use canning Ponting before the Ashes series is over as he has lead his team to a record defeat in Melbourne - even a large number of the 85,000 strong crowd had left before the end of the first day's play (before we were all out for the grand total of 98) as a show of support for the current captain and selectors' inability to pick a cricket team.

Now the current performance (or lack of it) of the Australian team definitely isn't all Ponting's fault. Sure, he can't set a field for any of his bowlers, doesn't know what a spinner is, can't keep his pace bowlers on line and has real issues batting, but the current selectors need to take a good chunk of the blame too - they have decimated our bowling attack, failed to show Punter the door when it was needed (ie, long before this current Ashes series) and can't seem to get a solid batting nor fielding performance out of the many flavors of an Australian team they've been changing around and trying for some time.

And its not just poor Test performances that we've been having - we've been having poor One Day and Twenty/20 performances as well.

We're going through a slump, undoubtedly. We had the world's best team for quite some time and now we most definitely don't. That's the way the cookie crumbles. But leaving an underperforming captain in while we try and rebuild the team from the ground up surely isn't the best way forward.

alanjae said...

This is coming from a totally biased perspective (as I hail from this fellow's home town) but why has Cameron White been overlooked? He is rarely mentioned as part of the up-and-comers but has a fairly good record (with the bat) and is an astute leader. Give the Bear a chance!

alanjae said...

Further, I agree that the problem begins and end with the selection cartel - can't lay all blame at Punter's feet. If they are unable to make the right/brave decisions then perhaps they should consider why they were awarded their positions in the first place.

As a Victorian, there is a marked contrast between the player management of the AFL and the Cricket Australia. Teams are either rebuilding, looking to recruit established guns or top up their list. CA seem to be doing all three.

Anonymous said...

If you were going on coaching form, ability and astuteness you would poach ric charlesworth from Hockey Australia and give him carte blanche to fix attitude, discipline, aggression in the right place and selection.

Next you would ban all media comment by players and managers - only when the team can prove it knows how to play cricket professionally, rather then be a group of contracted professionals who also play cricket, would the ban be lifted.

And too many managers jockeying for position to get their pet up-and-coming player into the limelight - yes they have been successful at creating opportunities for their clients (especially the NSW ones) but in the end pretenders are found to be wanting...

Anonymous said...

It's 1984 all over again, bar the crying. What is needed is for selecters to choose a captain who will be able to lead them out of the wilderness; ie someone with no illusions. Someone who can stand up to a pace bowler and threaten to send him home on the next flight.

All this talk of sacking this player and that and getting rid of the board of the selecters and the batting coach and the team mascot and the kid who serves lemonade in the dressing room is only so much knee jerk reacting that can only have the short term effect of having everyone feel good about themselves that "something is being done".

Which in the long term creates a disaster. You give the captaincy to someone who can take us forward from this point, and who understands that he has the job until someone else emerges to take the team back up to the top level.

Who is that player? You tell me, I've been living in Italy for the past 10 years so I'm fucked if I know.

Clytie said...

Nice to meet a fellow Greg Chappell devotee. ;)

I had no interest in cricket until one day I walked past the TV and saw this guy walking through a gate. He looked incredibly focussed and determined.

I stopped and watched. He walked onto the field, with every step looking more nervous but like one of those unstoppable forces you see mentioned. I think his shirt was buttoned up past his throat, and he couldn't breathe, but boy, was he going to make things happen!

"Happen where?" I wondered, and sat down to watch Greg Chappell make a century in his first innings. I was hooked.

In later years, Steve Waugh's batting also gave me moments of pure joy. Do we have anyone who can grow like this? Do we make it possible?

Or is it now just an unthinking game of hit and miss, for the huge endorsements and advertizing?

Anonymous said...

So, we're looking for the new Allan Border - someone to do the thankless task of leading a pretty average Oz cricket team, until a new messiah is uncovered.

IMHO, we've had a patched up team performing beyond expectations for a few years now. Think unexpected series win in SA, etc. As poor as the batting has been this time, its the bowling where the cupboard is most bare.

Anonymous said...

English cricket was a mess for decades because in became a little club. They seem to have gotten over it. Australia now has the problem.

If you love watching Australia win your in for a decade of pain (unless someone has the power to put a rocket through the cosy little group from the management down).

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