Saturday, April 2, 2011

Patience and time

by Balanced Sports columnist Ben Roberts

The two most powerful warriors are patience and time” – Leo Tolstoy

Cricket is a game that exists and occurs while affording every respect to time. Yet the peripheral influences afford no respect and errors are regularly made.

You may have noticed that Ricky Ponting has relinquished the Australian captaincy recently. Good, you say, how could we afford to continue to be led by a man who has lost three Ashes series as captain. But take five minutes and actually review his captaincy record, he has a greater than 60% success rate in test matches and even better in limited over internationals. He won as captain the record 16 test matches on the trot and two World Cups. Of course he had the greatest 'wind up' cricketers of the generation in Shane Warne and Glenn McGrath, throw them the ball and they just did the job.

But do you really think it was that easy? Do you think that Warne was easy to captain given it was him who was overlooked for the role in favour of Ponting? Warne may have been the greatest leg spinner of all, but he was and potentially still is the most narcissistic character in and around the game. Warne also played no part in the World Cup victories, and in reality did his best to derail the 2003 tilt with his tournament eve 'diet pill' fiasco. Granted McGrath was probably not as difficult as Warne, but he was a strong character on the field and crossed the line a few times behaviourally. Ultimately as well one of the Ashes defeats included both these men in the touring party (albeit McGrath was limited in playing capacity due to injury), it just isn't a done deal to criticise Ponting's captaincy.

On the Ashes lets reflect on where this great duel was in the mindset of cricket fans. Australia walloped England again in 2002-03 and the cries for the series to be reduced to three tests in favour of extended series against stronger teams got louder. This was unlikely due to the great historical significance of the Ashes, but it reflected just how far the disparity was between the two teams. It is just a hypothesis, but I believe the win by the English in 2005 really saved the series in terms of being a competitive attraction for spectators, the Ashes now for the two countries remains the greatest prize in test cricket regardless of their world rankings. Had Ponting led Australian sides to a 4-0 record in Ashes series rather than than a 1-3 record it is not stretching it to say that he wouldn't have been exactly feted for having done so – everyone else achieved that. Certainly the inverse proportion of credit to the criticism he has actually received would not have been as much.

We cannot write obituaries for Ponting the batsman either because he remains dedicated to playing on, and playing competitively. A five minute glance at his batting record of a plus-50 test average and a plus-40 limited over average shows he is above the barrier that separates the good from the great batsman in both forms of modern cricket. He is Australia's greatest batsman of the modern era, and some would argue him being second to Bradman for Australia of all time.

As now he moves to the expected 'renaissance' like the greatest batsman of the modern era Sachin Tendulkar has had in the past year. Its worth taking time to reflect on where our expectations should lie. Let's reflect that Tendulkar had the best part of 10 years post his dabble with captaincy that wasn't to his taste before his phenomenal past 12 months. Do not hear me wrongly here – Tendulkar is no doubt the greatest batsman of the modern era, but abdicated the captaincy early to maintain his greatness with the bat. Where Tendulkar has focussed on his game without captaincy for 10 years, Ponting will have had barely two weeks before the first match. Let's then temper our expectations of how big this 'renaissance' could be, but I for one hope to see Punter in full flight once again.

In probably the greatest display of impatience Cricket Australia has barely let the temperature drop slightly on the chair before thrusting Michael Clarke the job full time. Hang on, aren't we supposed to be taking time out during this winter to review the state of Australian cricket and asking what went wrong? What would have been the issue in giving Clarke the captaincy temporarily for this brief (and meaningless without a test match being played) tour of Bangladesh pending the review of Australian cricket? Clarke would have been 90% certain to be allocated the job on a full time basis come August so why not do the due diligence and fully back him in the future knowing that all are 100% behind him? Clarke isn't going anywhere. He wouldn't dream of giving up a test career petulantly nor can he request to be transferred as he could in club based sports. The cards were with Cricket Australia and because of impatience they may have played them too early.

Australian cricket is now entering a review asking what the problems are with Australian cricket with a board not going anywhere (despite strong calls for a spill); a Chief Executive rooted in his position because of his willingness to sell the game's soul repeatedly for fast income; a chairman of selectors and selection panel who, under some illusion, think the world of themselves and still are under no pressure from their employers; a coach who is contracted for now two and a half further years; and now Clarke who probably is the right man for the job but cannot be said to have the full backing of the cricket community. Where will responsibility be apportioned for the cricketing failure be laid with so much locked in for the future?

Given great time, many seem destined to continually waste it.

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