Image courtesy of: The Guardian
“We wondered if he’d lost a little of his sense of team”
Former Australia captain Ricky Ponting has revealed that he had a lot of doubts about his successor Michael Clarke as he seemed to be living “in a different world to the rest of us” at times.
In his forthcoming autobiography At The Close Of Play, Ponting noted that Clarke always took a back seat approach while he was vice-captain.
Ponting added that he and then coach Tim Nielsen had constantly urged Clarke to “take on more of a leadership role”.
“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.”
Following Australia’s 5-0 whitewashing of England in the 2006-07 Ashes series, Ponting stated that Clarke regained some form and started to ooze leadership qualities as he became more confident and mature.
However, over the next two years, Ponting acknowledged the fact that Clarke seemed to be living “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.”
In January 2009, doubts started to emerge over whether Clarke was indeed an asset to the national team.
This led to the infamous dressing room brawl between Clarke and opening batsman Simon Katich following Australia’s Test victory over South Africa in Sydney.
Ponting conceded that Katich’s anger towards Clarke always being in a hurry to leave the dressing room was shared by other members of the team as well.
“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’.”
However, after the incident blew over, Clarke found his form once again and dominated with the bat during the 2009 Ashes series.
He also excelled during Australia’s tour of New Zealand in 2010 as he had ended his engagement with Lara Bingle prior to the series.
Ponting admitted that his relationship with Clarke became much healthier from then on.
“I wouldn’t say we were tight after that, but we were better,” Ponting said. “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.”