Video nasty for Ponting
Posted in npower Ashes Series 2009
I have a confession to make: I watched my Ashes 2005 DVD last night.
Before you accuse me of living in the past, I’d like to point out that I am as willing as the next man to move with the times - only last week I bought a new Walkman, and I have just cut a deal with Comet to trade in my black-and-white TV for a model which, they tell me, shows things in colour.
But, on the eve of the first Ashes Test of 2009, I thought I would take the opportunity to cast my mind back to the last time Australia visited these shores.
I fell asleep midway through the highlights package last night (long days in the office - I hope you're taking note, boss), but not before I had seen Australia mount a sensational comeback at Lord’s.
Bowled out for just 190 on the opening day, they responded by reducing England to 21 for five on the back of one of the finest spells of fast bowling in recent memory from Glenn McGrath.
It was the perfect illustration of the Australian mindset, which demands aggression in even the most hazardous of situations - and from such a position they ended up winning the Test comfortably.
It was hard, therefore, not to contrast that ultra-attacking approach with the defensive tactics employed by Ricky Ponting on the opening day in Cardiff.
“Reputations and legend are generally made out of these bigger series and there is no bigger series than an Ashes series to do that,” Ponting said in the build-up to this match.
One wonders what sort of reputation Ponting was talking about, because there was little positive about the way he allowed England to regroup after they lost three wickets in the opening session.
There was something distinctly un-Australian about the way Nathan Hauritz was afforded the protection of a long-on during the early stages of Paul Collingwood and Kevin Pietersen’s fourth-wicket stand.
There was something distinctly un-Australian about the way Ponting posted a deep point despite the fact that his side had just taken two wickets in five overs after tea, when Matt Prior and Andrew Flintoff were not even out of single figures.
And there was something distinctly un-Australian about the way Mitchell Johnson, armed with the second new ball, bowled with a sweeper on the cover boundary.
No prizes for guessing what Australia's former captains, who are hardly queueing up to heap praise on Ponting at the best of times, made of it all.
It reflected Ponting's negative mindset on a day which traditionally sets the tone for an Ashes series, and will surely not have gone unnoticed by the England players and management.
There are mitigating factors, of course - Ponting can no longer call on greats such as Shane Warne and Glenn McGrath when times get tough in the field, so you could argue he must cut his cloth accordingly.
Ponting may also claim that the restrictions he placed on Pietersen - he hit just four fours in almost two and a half hours - ultimately proved successful, but his lack of intent in general was remarkable.
He may have positioned a short mid-on and mid-off to Andrew Strauss. He may have allowed Hauritz a short-leg at times, a silly point at others, and both on occasions. And he may have stationed two men almost within touching distance of each other short midwicket in an attempt to stymie Pietersen.
Yet these were tactical gambles which lacked the conviction expected - nay, demanded - of an Australia captain.
So while Collingwood and Pietersen milked singles with freedom during their 42-over stand, and Matt Prior and Andrew Flintoff raced along at almost six an over while adding 86 for the sixth wicket, the overriding feeling was that Australia were far from being in control of this game.
That they will begin the second day requiring just three wickets to mop up the England innings owes much to the perseverance of Ben Hilfenhaus and Johnson, and a late burst from Peter Siddle which yielded the wickets of Flintoff and Prior.
Australia were also thankful for some excellent catching - Mike Hussey and Brad Haddin take a bow - as well as debatable shot selection from England’s batsmen.
Those ready to criticise Pietersen for the paddle-sweep which cost him his wicket should remember that the stroke brought him a large proportion of his 69 runs, while Andrew Flintoff and Matt Prior deserve to be above censure for falling late in the day to the sort of aggressive shots which had Australia reeling for more than an hour.
It should make good footage for the DVD, although I doubt Ponting will be queueing to buy a copy.