Get out of the studio and back into the nets

Congratulations to India on finishing the Australian summer as winners. Australia was outplayed in the finals – India won batting first, and chasing and it can’t get more comprehensive than that. Over the summer, humble Kumble was praised for his leadership. I think Dhoni is even better. The highest paid cricketer in the world (based on payments directly related to cricket playing services) shone as an inspirational and intelligent captain.

It was no surprise to see Tendulkar make the Aussies chase leather but the surprise of the summer was the Indian (medium) pace bowling reserves. There were worries when Zaheer Khan broke down after an impressive first Test. But it didn’t matter – RP Singh stepped up. Irfan Pathan and Ishant Sharma stole the show in Perth. When RP Singh dropped out late in the ODI series, it didn’t matter a snit – some guy we’ve never heard of – Praveen Kumar – rocks up and knocks ’em dead. It’s quite impressive. Still, when you consider that there are over a billion people in India, you’d think they could muster some backup.

Australia, on the other hand went from good to pretty ordinary. Most of them are playing below par while having some good moments, but the main problems are Ponting and Symonds. Both averaged 19 in the one day series. Both were involved in a great deal of off field shenanigans. And something else occurred to me while I bothered to watch the final one day match of the summer, and the accompanying ad breaks: In the past few months, both have spent more time in the TV Studio that in the nets. It’s no bloody wonder they can’t catch, bowl or lay bat on ball. I can’t name brands but there is the car company, the bank, John Law’s oil company (no what I mean?), soft drink, finger lickin’ fast food, deodorant, vitamin tablets. Spare me days! The list goes on. If someone will pay them, the boys will go on TV and say that they use it and love it. It’s just lucky that it’s not legal to advertise cigarettes anymore or they’d be adding lung cancer to their problems.

The catching this summer was appalling. I’m going to have to resort to clichés here. Catches win matches. It’s time to get back to basics. Gillie said that he didn’t think the dropped catches were worse than normal. I think he is wrong – but not far wrong. Australia was having to bowl 12-15 wicket taking balls every innings this summer. That was not so noticeable with Warne and McGrath – they had more wicket balls in them than Batman and Robin. Times are tougher and when the going gets tough the tough get going (down to the nets). This is still the cliché paragraph. Bring back Bobbie Simpson. Now I appreciate that times are tough for guys like Ponting. When you own a $4m house in the Shire, on Port Hacking and are committed to $3m in renovations, you are going to need a second job. Especially when you first job earns you only $2m per year. How could you get by on that? And then you get only a lousy $400k from the great IPL cash cow when lesser pudknockers such Cameron White are raking it in. But Ponting needs to realise that cricket is his ticket. It’s his claim to fame. Without cricket, he is nothing special. He can’t act. He’s nothing special to look out. He’s a Tasmanian for goodness sake and I doubt his leadership credentials. If the runs dry up and he’s on the reserves bench, the phones going to stop ringing.

Ponting, once again, has been shown as an ordinary leader when under pressure. We saw it in 2005 when the team was losing. His decisions on field are curious, his behaviour off field is less than gracious and his batting form has slumped. However, this season has been far more than losing cricket matches. This year has been about character. Australia has needed a leader who is prepared to step back and endure some criticism. Ponting has never endured criticism well. Perhaps he is insecure. Ponting is the quick to fight back. Australia needs a leader who is humble but strong, who shows good character when the pressure is on. A good captain will lead his team to achieve greater things than others thought possible. Look at Stephen Fleming, for example. Ponting has never done more than be appointed captain over a team of champions. And now they are all retiring before he is.

Australia probably won’t tour Pakistan later this month but they will tour India later in the year. It’s a pretty sure bet that Australia will hand over the Border-Gavaskar trophy at that time. India is not a place to tour with a siege mentality. India needs to be embraced with open arms and open mind. It’s different. The weather is hot. The food is hot. It’s overwhelming. If Ponting takes the boys there thinking “everyone hates us, let’s stick it up ’em”, they won’t go the distance. It will be like swallowing rat sack and expecting the rat to die.

End of season rant over. More on IPL, Pakistan and various Test cricket (yes, South Africa did have an opening stand of 415).

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