Sympathy in limited supply for Ponting
Posted in England in Australia 2010-11
Ricky Ponting described Alastair Cook as “limited” after his double century helped England draw the opening Test.
I’m looking forward to hearing what back-handed compliment he will come up with to describe the player who followed up scores of 67 and 235 not out in Brisbane with an unbeaten 136 in Adelaide today.
For those who can’t be bothered to do the maths, that is 438 runs in three innings, a contribution which looks increasingly likely to shape this Ashes series.
It certainly dictated the second day’s play in the second Test, helping England build on the foundations laid by the bowlers.
If England earned immense praise in restricting Australia to 245 yesterday, they deserve even more for the manner in which they established a 72-run lead on a day of almost total dominance.
‘Limited’ would be one of the nicer adjectives you could use to describe Australia’s bowling attack in this match. ‘Toothless’ is another - and more accurate at that.
This is not intended to sound like gloating from an England fan; events last week should serve as a salient reminder of the perils of getting too far ahead of ourselves.
Indeed, as a firm believer that Ponting is the greatest batsman currently playing the game, and that his leadership credentials have come under an unhealthy and unfair amount of scrutiny, I hope I don’t strike an accusatory tone.
There was much in Ponting’s captaincy today to refute the suggestion that he is not a thinking cricketer - bowling changes, plans of attack and innovative field settings aplenty - but the harsh truth for him and all of Australia is that he simply does not have the firepower at his disposal.
Australia dropped their two frontline seamers for this match, Mitchell Johnson and Ben Hilfenhaus having returned combined match figures of 1-312 at the Gabba.
Although the close-of-play figures of their replacements - 1-76 and 1-51 for Doug Bollinger and Ryan Harris respectively - represent some form of vindication for the selectors, Peter Siddle failed to take a wicket in 16 overs.
If his place is safe following a hat-trick in Brisbane, the same cannot be said of Xavier Doherty, who leaked almost five runs an over today and denied his skipper the control he desperately sought.
The fact that this match is being played at Adelaide, where Shane Warne worked his magic so memorably against England four years ago, does Doherty no favours. To make matters worse, the great man looms large over any potential successors as he looks on from the commentary box.
Barring a sudden turn of events over the next three days, it is increasingly difficult to see Doherty featuring in the remainder of the series.
Bollinger and Harris are wholehearted cricketers who, like Siddle, will run in all day (they may have another opportunity to demonstrate that tomorrow given the ease with which Cook, Jonathan Trott and Kevin Pietersen scored).
None can be faulted for effort - Siddle appeared close to being sick at the end of the over on several occasions as he toiled away on a lifeless surface - but evidence of sideways movement was sparse.
To use today as an accurate snapshot of their talents would be unfair - a pitch resembling an airport runway, temperatures touching 37 degrees Celsius and a rapid outfield conspired against them - but their limitations were exposed in merciless fashion by Cook and company.
Harris, AKA Ian Austin with a tan, was all hustle and bustle; Bollinger’s biggest weapon appears to be his foul mouth; Siddle’s energy outweighs his skill; and Shane Watson, the fourth seamer, looks like a second row forward who wandered into the wrong changing room.
The white sunscreen daubed over Bollinger and Harris’ faces leant them a comic rather than menacing air as England cruised along, and it was noticeable that when Harris’ anger prompted him to throw the ball at the stumps, with Cook comfortably in his crease, he succeeded only in hitting Brad Haddin in the chest.
Australia's best-laid plans - attacking Trott’s stumps early in his innings, attempting to bore Cook and Trott out by bowling well outside off stump before lunch (a tactic unlikely to bear fruit given that they batted together for six hours in Brisbane) and launching a post-lunch bouncer assault - proved equally unsuccessful.
It was difficult not to feel sympathy for Ponting in that situation. Let's just say it was in limited supply.