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Ponting in the spotlight

By Oliver Brett
BBC Sport at Lord's

Ricky Ponting laments gus dismissal at Lord's
Ponting lacks patience, is prone to being fazed when things go wrong, and allows opponents to get under his skin

Australia's Ricky Ponting is a brilliant batsman, arguably one of the top half-dozen who have ever played the game.

But he has never earned the admiration that has so often been reserved for Sachin Tendulkar and Brian Lara, and now it is as a captain that he comes under the harshest of spotlights.

Jeff Thomson, the 1970s Australian pace bowler who terrorised several English sides of past vintage, gave a withering assessment of Ponting's captaincy skills in the build-up to this Ashes series.

Much of the language Thomson used cannot be repeated on a family website, but in any case it was probably fair of him to castigate his leadership.

Certainly, there was a time when Ponting lacked flexibility, but that has now changed.

In this Test match at Lord's, he was badly hampered by the fact his leading paceman Mitchell Johnson bowled so poorly and his spinner Nathan Hauritz picked up an early injury.

He could not do much about that, and yet produced some very intelligent field settings on the third afternoon, brilliantly squeezing the run-scoring of two usually fluent players in Ravi Bopara and Kevin Pietersen.

Perhaps on the last day in Cardiff he underbowled the hard-working Ben Hilfenhaus, and nobody was quite sure why Marcus North was bowling at the end when the Aussies needed just one more wicket.

But what Ponting does have, like many individuals in professional sport, is a flaw. He lacks patience, is prone to being fazed when things go wrong, and allows opponents to get under his skin.

At a critical moment of a critical Test in the 2005 Ashes, when Ponting was run out at Trent Bridge by England substitute Gary Pratt, he promptly rounded on the home side's policy of employing specialist fielders not selected in the England squad to run out with fresh legs and replace tiring bowlers.

He never recovered his composure, and Australia went on to go 2-1 down and relinquish the Ashes.

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During the current campaign, he will doubtless have been reminded several times how he risks being the first Australian captain to lose the Ashes twice. And nobody would want to be saddled with that particular burden.

When Australia agonisingly failed to take that last England wicket in Cardiff, Ponting - though he was encouraged to do so by reporters - voiced criticism of England's delaying tactics in the last few overs, questioning whether they were playing in the right spirit.

At Lord's, Ponting has been at the centre of plenty of unfortunate incidents, which have provided perfect opportunities for the sell-out crowds to goad him.

It is a cowardly sport for England fans - they know that by baiting him they can possibly undermine his batting, and there's no danger for them in trying it on.

And it has worked. When Ponting was dismissed for just two in the first innings, he was extremely angry by the circumstances which led to the dismissal.

Though replays showed he was out lbw, he was circuitously given out caught at slip - and was incensed.

The anger seemed to be simmering still when England were batting in their second innings.

Whatever Ponting's current state of mind, there is one way for his team-mates to ensure he arrives for the third Test at Edgbaston with a smile on his face

He missed a golden chance to run out Pietersen and dropped a sitter to end Bopara's innings, both in a short space of time.

By the time he came out to bat in the second innings he was at the non-striker's end when Phillip Hughes edged Andrew Flintoff to slip and the catch was claimed.

Ponting felt it should have been referred to the third umpire, given that that's what had happened when he himself had been dismissed in the first innings.

But it wasn't, and when Ponting went to look over the replays at lunch he would doubtless have seen typically indeterminate evidence from the video replay.

He looked distracted when he resumed his innings after lunch and was soon bowled by Stuart Broad, playing at a ball he should have safely left alone.

Whatever Ponting's state of mind, there is one way for his team-mates to ensure he arrives for the third Test at Edgbaston with a smile on his face.

They enter the final day at Lord's with five wickets in hand and needing another 209 for what would be one of the greatest of all Australian Test victories.

With Ponting in the dressing room, it certainly helps the Aussies' cause that the new national sport of Ricky-baiting will not be able to influence the result.



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see also
Clarke and Haddin hold up England
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Swann confident of Lord's victory
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Jonathan Agnew column
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England v Australia day four photos
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England open up huge Lord's lead
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Superb England dominate Australia
17 Jul 09 |  England
Strauss century defies Australia
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Ashes memories: Lord's
14 Jul 09 |  Cricket
Australia in England 2009
20 Sep 09 |  England


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