Talk about a slow news week! The cricket “scandal” involving Harbajan Singh‘s alleged racial comment to Andrew Symonds have captured the imagination of the Australian public, and the media. And it’s fair to say that said “imagination” has run wild! The story jumped from the sports page to the front page, and to the opinion page. For two days running, 4 of the 5 most read stories in The Age online were about this topic.
The first thing about it I don’t understand is how Indians calling a black person “monkey” is a racial insult. Ummm … what colour are Indian people?
But that aside, it seems Peter Roebuck‘s call for Ponting to be sacked received a huge amount of feedback, most of it negative. I have a lot of respect for Peter Roebuck’s opinion, and while in this case I don’t consider this incident grounds for sacking, he raises some valid points. We all know that the captain of the Australian cricket team is the second most important job in the country. It’s fair to say probably more people aspire to that role than that of Prime Minister, and certainly more people look up to Ricky Ponting as a role model than Kevin Rudd (or Howard).
Previous captains have been able to deal both the basic on-field tactical management essential to any good captain, as well as the diplomatic and statesman side that is essential for such an important role. Ponting has been found severely lacking in the latter.
He seemed quite comfortable with the huge let-off at not being given for a catch down the leg side, but when he gets a shocking LBW call despite getting some bat on the ball, he storms off and is seen throwing his bat in anger in the dressing room. This is something I might expect to see from a young, hot-blooded, player with only a handful of tests to his name. Not from a veteran of over 100 test matches. Not from someone with over 9,000 test runs to his name. And certainly not from the Australian captain. If you are happy to take the mistakes that go in your favour, then you need to accept the ones that go against you too.
The Aussies play a tough, uncompromising game. They push boundaries with their on-field aggression (with bat and ball as well as verbally). However, it seems when the tables are turned and another team finally pushes back, they run to the referee and cry foul. You can’t have it both ways.
The blame for this sort of behaviour and team culture rests squarely with the captain. He must not only ensure that his troops behave appropriately, but he must lead by example. In recent months, he has been found lacking in both.
Ponting should not be sacked as captain. But what he does need is a good talking to by the selectors about the responsibility that goes with leadership. This could be well augmented by some “coaching” from his predecessors – Mark Taylor and Steve Waugh. They both understood that as a cricket captain, in addition to batting, bowling and fielding, you must also master diplomacy.