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Australian selectors erred in allowing Ponting captaincy after Ashes loss

Posted By Suneer Chowdhary On Oct 15 2010 @ 3:39 am In Cricket | No Comments

India crushed Australia in the second Test match at Bangalore [1] and Australian skipper Ricky Ponting came under a lot of fire for his unimaginative captaincy. Will the Aussies have a good chance at winning back the Ashes?

Shane Warne raised a pertinent point on his Twitter when he questioned the field settings afforded to the Australian off-spinner Nathan Hauritz were horribly wrong given the context of the game and the confidence of the bowler. An irate Ponting slammed back at his former team-mate by saying that the fields had been set by the bowler himself and he had had no tactical input in the same. Warne is said to have then texted, kissed and made up. As has always been his wont.

And yet, one cannot seem to agree with Ponting’s statement that the Hauritz had had the final say in the placement of the fielders. Under normal circumstances, where the bowler has been dictating terms to the opposition, it does make sense for the captain to allow him to make those minor adjustments. Getting an extra slip or moving the fine-leg fielder slightly squarer or even getting a couple of them in slightly more defensive areas could all be a bowler’s prerogative if he had earned it through bowling well enough.

Indian captain MS Dhoni has almost appointed Zaheer Khan as the bowling captain and he is allowed to set not only his own fields but also for the other bowlers. But such relationship between the bowler and the captain is rare and an extreme case of trust in the bowler’s abilities. In case of Ponting, allowing Hauritz to get some weird combinations going in the field was more an instance of the captain putting his hands in surrender and allowing the game to take its own course. And unfortunately for him, the Indians sensed the fear and went for the kill – 22 came off those two overs from Hauritz and they never looked back after that.

The point one is trying to make here is that the buck stops at the captain – allowing or disallowing the bowler to set his own field is a tactical decision by itself. In this case, Hauritz’s confidence had been slammed down by the Indian batsmen in the previous three innings of the game and the last thing he probably needed was for the captain to put more on his plate by having him set the fields as well.

Instead, Ponting could have taken the initiative and either asked Hauritz to bowl a containing line or an aggressive one – and accordingly set the fields.

This brings me to the issue of Australia’s captaincy and one cannot help but feel that Australia could have got more out of Ponting, the batsman, had the captaincy been passed over to his deputy when the Ashes was lost last year. Ponting’s form as a batsman in on a downward spiral and it would have made sense to allow him to get those big centuries. In turn, it would have also allowed Michael Clarke to get himself ready for the Ashes 2010. It is too late in the day to change things around given that a change in guard at this stage would allow the English to go for the kill and the selectors cannot be blamed enough for this one.

Australia will go into the Ashes with only one advantage over the English; the home advantage. There is not much to choose from in the batting, the pace bowling is also similar while England are miles ahead when it boils down to spin. So, it boils down to Australia, with their home advantage and England with their spin; and my gut feel is that this could just be the first time ever an Australian captain has lost three Ashes.

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[1] second Test match at Bangalore: http://live.cricketdiaries.com/cricket/752/australia-vs-india-bangalore-09-oct-2010/Scorecard.html

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