Sydney: Ricky Ponting must be sacked as captain of the Australian cricket team. If Cricket Australia cares a fig for the tattered reputation of our national team in our national sport, it will not for a moment longer tolerate the sort of arrogant and abrasive conduct seen from the captain and his senior players over the past few days, writes former Somerset batsman and reputed cricket writer Peter Roebuck.
The Australian skipper's disrespect for his opponents has embarrassed his country. Beyond comparison it was the ugliest performance put up by an Australian side for 20 years. The only surprising part of it is that the Indians have not packed their bags and gone home. There is no justice for them in this country, nor any manners.
That the senior players in the Australian team are oblivious to the fury they raised among many followers of the game in this country and beyond merely confirms their own narrow and self-obsessed viewpoint. Doubtless they were not exposed to the messages that poured in from distressed enthusiasts aghast to see the scenes of bad sportsmanship and triumphalism presented at the SCG during and after the Test. Pained past players rang to express their disgust. It was a wretched and ill-mannered display and not to be endured from any side, let alone an international outfit representing a proud sporting nation.
Make no mistake, it is not only the reputation of these cricketers that has suffered. Australia itself has been embarrassed. The notion that Ponting can hereafter take the Australian team to India is preposterous. He has shown not the slightest interest in the well-being of the game, not the slightest sign of diplomatic skills, not a single mark of respect for his accomplished and widely admired opponents.
Harbhajan Singh can be an irritating young man but he is head of a family and responsible for raising nine people. And all the Australian elders want to do is to hunt him from the game. Australian fieldsmen fire insults from the corners of their mouths, an intemperate Sikh warrior overreacts and his rudeness is seized upon. It might impress barrack room lawyers.
In the past few days Ponting has presided over a performance that dragged the game into the pits. He turned a group of professional cricketers into a pack of wild dogs. As much can be told from the conduct of his closest allies in the team. As usual, Matthew Hayden crossed himself upon reaching three figures in his commanding second innings, a gesture he does not perform while wearing the colours of his state. Exactly how he combines his faith with throwing his weight around on the field has long bemused opposing sides, whose fondness for him ran out a long time ago. Hayden has much better in him.
Michael Clarke also had a dreadful match but he is a young man and has time to rethink his outlook. That his mind was in disarray could be told from his batting. In the first innings he offered no shot to a straight ball and in the second he remained at the crease after giving an easy catch to slip. On this evidence Clarke cannot be promoted to the vice-captaincy of his country. It is a captain's primary task to rear his younger players and to prepare his successor for the ordeals of office. Nothing need be said about the catch Clarke took in the second innings except that in the prevailing circumstances the umpires were ill-advised to take anyone's word for anything.
The Indians were convinced Ponting grounded a catch he claimed on the final afternoon at the SCG. Throughout those heated hours, the Australian remained hostile, kicking the ground, demanding decisions, pressuring the umpires. So much for the corporate smile that has been produced these last few years.
Probably the worst aspect of the Australians' performance was their conduct at the end. When the last catch was taken they formed into a huddle and started jumping up and down like teenagers at a rave. It was not euphoria. It was ecstasy. They had swallowed a dangerous pill called vengeance. Not one player so much as thought about shaking hands with the defeated and departing. So much for Andrew Flintoff consoling a stricken opponent in his hour of defeat.
Nor could Ponting and Gilchrist stop themselves publicly chiding Tony Greig for daring to criticise the timing of the declaration. They should have been thanking their lucky stars that three wickets had fallen in five balls, one of them in dubious circumstances. Australia had 150 runs and five minutes to spare. It was unfitting conduct from an Australian captain or vice-captain. By all accounts Ponting was later rude towards Indian reporters at his news conference.
Ponting has not provided the leadership expected from an Australian cricket captain and so must be sacked. On this evidence the time has also come to thank Hayden and Gilchrist for their services. None of them are bad fellows. All will look back on this match not as their finest hour but their worst. Obviously a new captain and side is required. But that is a task for another day. It is possible to love a country and not its cricket team.