Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Make Ponting's punishment fit the crime

Ricky Ponting is Australia's least effective captain since Kim Hughes. He's in charge of a team finding it hard to match the achievements of his fallen comrades. He also is facing one of the worst form slumps of his career. As a leader of men he's mastered the art of using the right words with the wrong body language; his history is littered with animated - and public - disagreements with umpires and opposition. He is, quite simply, a bad loser.

But for the ICC to threaten to suspend him for damaging a television set after being dismissed against Zimbabwe is not a bridge, but a channel tunnel too far. Reports have the ICC charging the Australia captain with "abuse of ... ground equipment, fixtures or fittings during an international match". Allegedly, he threw his box when arriving back in the Australia dressing room after being dismissed by an outstanding direct hit from Chris Mpofu. It hit a television set, and damaged the picture control. There was no incident involving him smashing a television set with his bat despite earlier reports and his actions immediately after included volunteering to pay for any damage as well as notifying the Gujarat board of the incident.

Helen Keller knows that Ponting has a temper and struggles to control it, but we're hardly talking criminal offences here. Unlike past cases, where Ian Healy threw his bat into the change rooms, Hansie Cronje attacking an umpire's door with a stump or - apocryphally, anyway - Alan Border destroyed a change room after getting out, this was a private expression of frustration. And Ponting has tacitly admitted responsibility by offering payment for damages. That's also an expression of remorse.

You can't go around damaging fixtures, so some punishment should be doled out, but it's time for the ICC to act more like a responsible parent than a petty dictator: as the governing body proved when judging the accused Pakistani Spot-Fixers, each case should be judged on its own merits and in this case a suspension would be almost unbelievably harsh. In a climate of fear, perhaps Ponting would be punished harshly. In a climate of teaching the result should be simple reparations to the damaged property subtracted from his match fees. Because he has past offences also shouldn't register: although his lack of on-field restraint and this incident both stem from an apparent lack of maturity or self-control, they are completely different issues. And even though he's perhaps cricket's first modern-day recidivist captain, a suspension would be like jailing a person for their first speeding offence simply because they already have a rap for armed robbery.

If the ICC is the caring, sharing father figure it purports to be, justice will prevail and Ponting will be compelled to repay the costs of any damage done. If, as many suspect, the ICC bends to the whim of sensationalism, then Ponting will miss Australia's matches against New Zealand and Sri Lanka. It will be an interesting test case for the ICC.

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