Australia: Ricky Ponting has revealed the doubts he harboured about Michael Clarke before his ascension to the Australian captaincy, saying his deputy did not contribute as much as desired and that for some time senior players “wondered if he’d lost a little of his sense of team”.
In an extract from his forthcoming autobiography At The Close Of Play, Ponting frames his relationship with Clarke against his own decision to give up the captaincy following Australia’s defeat to India in the 2011 World Cup quarter-final in Ahmedabad. He is frank in describing how Clarke took a back seat to proceedings as vice-captain, despite being asked numerous times to take on more responsibility by Ponting and the former coach Tim Nielsen.
“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 in the extract published by News Ltd. “More than once, 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.”
At the time of Australia’s 2006-07 Ashes victory over England, Ponting said Clarke had emerged from a run of poor form to grow in maturity and presence, and had begun looking like a potential captaincy successor. But over the following two years Ponting described Clarke as 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.”
Tension over Clarke’s contribution to the team bubbled over following the January 2009 Test win over South Africa at the SCG, during an infamous confrontation with Simon Katich. Ponting states that Katich’s anger about Clarke’s desire to get away from the dressing room after a victory summed up the feelings of more than one member of the team at the time.
“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 left immediately after the confrontation, while we just shrugged our shoulders and said, ‘That’s Pup’.”
Following the incident, Clarke’s standing within the team was gradually repaired, helped by a staunch performance during the 2009 Ashes series in England and his success in New Zealand in 2010 having flown home to put an end to his engagement with Lara Bingle. Ponting wrote that the pair grew closer again over this time.
“I wouldn’t say we were tight after that, but we were better. His official reign as Australian captain started on a high, with 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 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.”