Melbourne: Oct 13, 2013
The details of the Australian cricket team’s transitional turmoil continue to be laid bare by its retiring players with former captain Ricky Ponting becoming the latest to offer a peak into the dressing room and his doubts about his then deputy Michael Clarke‘s attitude.
After retired batsman Michael Hussey recalling his concerns about the Australian team culture in his autobiography ‘Underneath the Southern Cross‘, it is Ponting’s turn to revisit the turbulent times in his memoir ‘The Close Of Play‘.
In extracts from the book that were published by newspapers here, Ponting has spoken of his concerns about Clarke’s attitude towards responsibility while he was vice-captain.
“I knew he was an excellent thinker on the game, but for a long time I was concerned that he wouldn’t be able to handle the huge variety of ‘little things’ that go with being Australian captain.”
“It wasn’t that he was disruptive or treacherous, and publicly he said all the right things, but he had never been one to get too involved in planning sessions or debriefs at the end of a day’s play, or to volunteer to take on any of the captain’s workload,” Ponting wrote.
“More than once, [then coach] Tim Nielsen and I had encouraged him to take on more of a leadership role within the group, but when Pup was down on form or if he had a problem away from cricket, he’d go into his shell,” he recalled.
Ponting did not go into the details of it but said between 2008-10, Clarke seemed like moving “in a different world to the rest of us”.
“It never worried me if a bloke didn’t want a drink in the dressing room, but I did wonder about blokes who didn’t see the value in sticking around for a chat and a laugh and a post-mortem on the day’s play,” Ponting wrote.
“This was the time when we could revel in our success, pick up the blokes who were struggling, and acknowledge the guys who were at the peak of their powers. Pup hardly bought into this tradition for a couple of years and the team noticed.”
“At times, he reminded me of a team-mate from earlier in my career, who’d be chirpy and bubbly if he was going well, but appear a bit grim if things weren’t working for him. The best team-mates are the ones who can keep their moods in check for the sake of the group,” he added.
It was during this period when Clarke had the infamous dressing room bust-up with former opener Simon Katich. Ponting said he was not witness to it but could understand the “resentment towards Clarke at that juncture.”
“The blow-up with Pup (Michael Clarke) and Kato (Simon Katich) after the Test in Sydney in the first week of 2009 wasn’t in itself a big deal. I’ve seen worse arguments involving Australian cricketers… We wondered if he’d lost a little of his sense of team,” Ponting wrote.
“It was our first significant Test win in exactly a year, almost certainly Matt Hayden’s last Test, yet Pup wanted to get away. I didn’t actually witness what went on, but as I understand it he asked if we could do the anthem sooner rather than later, Mike Hussey said he’d have to wait, the point was pushed, Kato suggested Pup be patient, and when Pup continued to complain Kato grabbed him and again told him to be patient.”
“Okay, it might have been a bit spicier than that, but that was the gist of it. Michael [Clarke] left immediately after the confrontation, while we just shrugged our shoulders and said, ‘That’s Pup’,” he recollected.
However, after 2009, Clarke won the admiration of his teammates with some exemplary batting performances and Ponting said he also began to be convinced again about Clarke’s leadership.
“I wouldn’t say we were tight after that, but we were better. His official reign as Australian captain started on a high, with One-Day International (ODI) wins in Bangladesh and ODI and Test wins in Sri Lanka, and he quickly took his batting to a new level, to the point that it seemed he could almost score big hundreds at will,” he said.
“He was training hard when we were together and obviously doing a lot of extracurricular work on his fitness and his game as well, which was inspirational.”
“He now seemed happy to take on the planning, media and administrative duties that he’d veered away from when he was vice-captain and the mood in the Aussie dressing room was positive. Perhaps I’d been wrong to be so concerned for so long,” he added.