Sunday 3 December 2006

Ponting performance tells only half the story

Second Test, Adelaide
Day 3 Comment

England entered today hoping to still be in a chance of winning the game by close of play. On this batting paradise the Aussies had every chance of scoring big and killing the game. England were, however, resourceful and disciplined and kept themselves marginally ahead.

Irrespective of how this match ends, and there remains hope for both sides, the pitch has been dreadful. It’s ridiculous that mats that favour bowlers too much attract high criticism (and in English domestic cricket, can result in points being deducted) while these sort of featherbed’s are termed ‘good wickets’. The volume of cricket played these days has threatened the potency fast bowlers generally, and making them play on these sorts of wickets adds to the damage. Looking back at Ashes 2005, the quality of fast bowling on good cricket wickets led us to the most exciting test series of all time.

It’s sad that so many pitches in Australia have become so lifeless. Australian pitches have, aided Ricky Ponting’s remarkable run rout. His run of scores is actually unreasonable. In completing his 10th hundred from his last 13 Tests, he became the most prolific century maker in Australian test history. These milestones are markers used to compare players, across the world and through history. His Bradman-esque run will draw lots of debate as to his standing in the game.

Statistics tell much of the story but they are not definitive. One of the many things that makes cricket so special is the examination of character that is offers. How personalities reconcile with themselves and how people overcome the ghosts in their head decides effects their performance. Watching this process is fascinating, it can be genuinely hurtful to witness, as anyone who saw Graeme Hick being defeated by his demons in the nineties will understand. It can also be thrilling – watching Kevin Pietersen stamp his arrogance and authority all over Australia was compelling.

So for me, the truly great innings, and the truly great batsmen needs character. Ricky Ponting should have all those ingredients. His undoubted talent was tempered in his youth by alcohol and gambling, something that threatened his career. But he overcame those demons so successfully that he has crushed any flair or personality with them. His runs are scored with regularity, aggression and at vital times yet there are just too efficient and void of exuberance for me to enjoy them.

No, for me, the greatest of our generation is Brian Lara. Watching a Lara innings is unforgettable. No one can score runs in the way Lara does, no one can take attacks apart with such mesmerising, fluid beauty. Though he is now a more mature person and player, during his great period, where fame and unrivalled success had come too early for him, he was childish, arrogant and surrounded by a team in terminal decline. The abandon that gave him when he arrived at the wicket was perfect.

Ponting, however, would have never had the chance to score is 33rd ton if England had taken their chances.

Anyone who has played any vaguely competitive cricket will know how painful it is to drop a catch. It is the most, unrivalled feeling of despair that you can have on a cricket field. Today, Ashley Giles dropped probably the biggest catch in cricket. At a vital time, in a vital match, on a pitch where wickets are a rarity, he dropped the Australian captain on 35. It could be turn out to be the moment that decides the series – at 78-4 Australia would have been reeling. It should be said, however that Giles was not the only culprit; Collingwood missed an equally gettable run out soon after.

Nevertheless England can be pleased with their effort. Hoggard was outstanding, Harmison and Anderson much improved. Giles did not add anything to the bowling effort but he’s in the side for his batting. Pleasingly Flintoff’s captaincy was superb today, and given England’s general turnaround he should be widely congratulated. Yesterday he instilled discipline, aggression and smart tactical moves into England’s play. Looking ahead to day four, as usual – the first hour will be vital. If England can remove Clarke and Gilchrist early, they will give themselves a great chance of levelling the series. If not, a draw seems inevitable.


Anonymous said...

Hello Sahil.
I really like the blog, its making me want to play cricket again...and get sky sports.

sahil said...

Aw, cheers Ellie. Yeah play cricket, do it! Its crazy cricket is eating my to pieces. There is noone in london so all I do is watch/read/listen/write cricket, its all very unhealthy.