As Australia spiral towards another Test Match defeat at the hands of arch rivals England, speculation is rife about the future of Ricky Ponting, Australia’s gutsy leader since March 2004. His form, which has yielded just 593 runs at 31.21 since making 209 against Pakistan at Hobart in January this year, and position in the side is being questioned, which ultimately leads to issues regarding the captaincy.
However, this isn’t anything new for Australian cricket, with Ponting’s two predecessors, Mark Taylor and Steve Waugh, also suffering prolonged periods of poor form towards the end of their careers. In fact, these periods of poor form were far greater and more extreme than the one Ponting’s experiencing at the moment.
Between December 1995 and June 1997, Mark Taylor, one of Australia’s greatest captains, suffered a loss of form much worse than Ponting’s, however he was given more than his fair share of time to turn it around.
Since Taylor’s 96 against Sri Lanka at Perth in December 1995, he produced 367 runs at a paltry average of just 18.35 in an 18-month period, before turning it around with a career-saving 129 against England at Birmingham in June 1997. The headlines were similar to what we’re seeing currently with Ponting’s situation, however the only difference was that the Australian side was winning. Despite the los of form, the selectors retained faith in the opening batsman and it paid dividends, with Taylor amassing a further 1719 runs at 66.11 before his retirement in January 1999. This included his record-breaking 334 not out against Pakistan at Peshawar in October 1998.
Waugh, like Taylor, was experiencing a poor run of form just a few years prior to his retirement, with the period between August 2001 and October 2002 reaping just 345 runs at 21.56, before a career-saving century against Pakistan at Sharjah. Similar to Taylor’s situation, the Australian team was winning most of their games during this period, and despite calls for Waugh’s sacking, the media weren’t as harsh as what we’re seeing now with Ponting. In another similarity to Taylor, Waugh also repaid the selectors who showed faith in him, amassing 1296 runs at 68.21 before retiring in January 2004.
With these examples in mind, it’s dangerous to write off a champion, especially one who has scored in excess of 12,000 Test Match runs. There will be those in various forms of media claiming that the key difference is that the Australian’s are losing, unlike when Taylor and Waugh were in charge. The fact remains though, that despite being talented cricketers, the likes of Hughes, Haddin, Smith and Siddle are simply no match to the likes of Hayden, Gilchrist, Warne and McGrath.
Certainly, there is a concern about Ponting’s individual form, however his captaincy can’t be judged on the (lack of) performance of others.