The tale of three captains
This World Cup has a sad tale to narrate about three captains. Ricky Ponting, Graeme Smith and Andrew Strauss – the trio is awaiting their future in the 50-over format after their respective teams’ shock exits from the World Cup.
End of an era!
Coming into the tournament, defending champions Australia were not reckoned favourites. But given the ability to raise themselves at crucial junctures, they were not wholly written off.
Australia were on an unbeaten streak in the World Cup under the leadership of Ricky Ponting, before they lost their final group game against Pakistan and eventually bowing out to co-hosts India in the quarterfinal, thereby curtaining an era of consummate dominance including three World Cups.
After the humiliating defeat in the Ashes on home soil in January, there was plenty to prove for Ricky Ponting before the quarterfinal match. To begin with, he had been struggling with the bat of late, which he managed to overcome with a century, his first in 13 months. The century apart, everything went wrong for Ponting on that day, as is the case for him these days. He was subject to criticism for the way he depended on three-pronged pace attack in the World Cup matches. In the end, it was the Indians who played `the Aussie way’.
One of the modern-day greats, Ponting has played in five World Cup tournaments, including Australia`s loss to Sri Lanka in the 1996 final and the three titles which followed in 1999, 2003 and 2007, the last two under his captaincy. Even when there are calls for his resignation as the skipper of the Australian team, Ponting feels there is still more left in him. "As I have said for a number of months, I have never seen a finish line. What I want to do is focus my time and energies to be the best player I can be," he said.
Let`s hope this modern-day great gets, in his words, a `Tendulkar-type rebirth`.
South Africa were on an impressive run in the World Cup, winning five of their six games until the quarterfinals, and seemed to bury their choking hatchet. But as the tournament unravelled, the ghosts of past continued to stoke them, as they choked to overcome an under-rated New Zealand outfit.
Graeme Smith, the best Proteas skipper since Hansie Cronje, in his tenure has welded his side into a bunch of gnarled professionals with the versatility and hard-mindedness required to brace the elusive silverware. But they choked when it all mattered.
Thrust into captaincy at 22, he had ticked all the columns including Test wins in India and series triumphs in Australia, the pinnacle being the watershed 438 run-chase in Johannesburg. As a skipper he was inspirational and motivational.
Sadly, he will sign off as the captain of the team, still unable to fetch any ICC trophy, but will continue as a part of the team. "I feel like I still have a lot to offer SA cricket. I am looking forward to carrying on as a batter and a senior player," he said.
Andrew Strauss` proved captaincy material, at least in Tests, when the 34-year-old led England to a historic Ashes victory in Australia. But the future is not bright for him as the team’s skipper, post their humiliating 10-wkt defeat meted out by Sri Lanka. Though in all fairness, he could have done little than lead by example to fight England’s shortcomings. Never a side that could tremble the innards of their opponents, they were laid low by a string of injuries (as many as three replacements were flown in) to their biggest match-winners Kevin Pietersen and Stuart Broad, and bowling sensation Ajmal Shehzad.
But Strauss wasn’t one to blame the preconditions, "If you look at sides that have done well in this tournament, they have got a lot of variety in their bowling attack. We haven`t got as much variety as them. They have got batsmen that have consistently made hundreds. Again we haven`t done that well enough. These are the stark facts in front of us, we can still go back and get better, no doubt about it. That`s what we will be trying to do in the coming weeks."
Worse still, we might not see the protagonist of that magnificent Bangalore tie in coloured flannels. As we embark on the semi-finals, we sigh half in disgust and half in agony of these fallen men, emperors disposed of their sceptre and halo.