Cricket: Ashes losses loom large in Ponting legacy

Ricky Ponting’s resignation yesterday ends one of the most successful, and most polarizing, reigns as captain of the Australia cricket team. Ponting led Australia in 77 test matches, winning 48 to surpass his predecessor Steve Waugh’s record of 41 test victories as captain. He also captained Australia in 227 limited-overs internationals, of which he won 163, encompassing two World Cups triumphs and a Champions Trophy title.

Throughout his nine years at the helm, Ponting fashioned unprecedented records of individual and team success, including a record-equaling 16 consecutive test wins between December 2005 and January 2008. He participated as a player in 99 Australian test victories, surpassing Shane Warne’s record of 92, and is Australia’s most prolific international batsman with more than 12,000 tests runs – including 39 centuries – and more than 13,000 in 352 ODIs. “We all play to win games of cricket and be involved in a team that wins a lot of games of cricket,” Ponting said when he equalled Waugh’s captaincy record. “They are things I am very proud of.”

Yet, even purely statistical examination of Ponting’s captaincy emphasizes the paradoxes that mark his career. While he achieved unprecedented success and helped make Australia almost invincible in the middle period of his tenure, he was also the first Australian captain in more than a century to lose two Ashes test series in England.

His team’s 3-1 Ashes series defeat in Australia this summer, Australia’s first series loss to England at home since 1987, helped crystalize opposition to his captaincy and push him towards yesterday’s announcement. And beyond bare statistics or considerations of success and failure, Ponting’s captaincy raised long-lasting and polarizing questions about conduct and demeanor, the style and the substance of his leadership.

“Ricky Ponting has been an outstanding batsman, one of the best to wear the baggy green,” Cricket Australia chairman Jack Clarke said in a statement yesterday. “His leadership as captain has been outstanding and I sometimes think his brilliance with the bat has overshadowed his fine work as captain.”

Ponting said yesterday the main reason for stepping down was that it was the right time. “Getting through the Ashes series the way that we did and the World Cup now being over, I wanted to make sure that I gave the next captain every opportunity I possibly could to make sure he has as much experience going forward in the next couple of big events that we will play.”

Cricket Australia declined to name a successor, but Michael Clarke, who stood in for the injured Ponting in the final Ashes test and for the one-day series against England that followed it, is expected to replace his mentor as skipper. Ponting endorsed the 29-year-old Clarke to take over the reins, adding that he would have no problems serving under his apprentice. “I’ve actually taken orders most of my life, so it will be no different than anyone else here,” Ponting said.

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