Jos Buttler: 21st Century Twenty20 Template?

For those who haven’t seen much of Jos Buttler before, and are marvelling at the cameos which he has already delivered in his brief spell in international cricket, then you’ve missed out. Anyone who has watched Somerset play over the past three years will be ahead of the curve already because in the murky world of County Cricket, Buttler stood out like a beacon.

Even from an early age, he was unveiling the ramp shots he plays with remarkable ease, hitting full balls over the boundary rope for fun and keeping up with Somerset’s other notable big hitters – Trescothick, Pollard, Kieswetter and Trego. He has always played, as Scyld Berry notes here, a 360 degrees game with no limit to his ability to lift the ball over the boundary from any angle. All the while, he has executed with an icy veined veneer, giving little away to the opposition about which way he is about to hit the ball, eerily reminiscent of the best finishers. The only question was whether his talent would transfer to the international stage and so far, while the returns haven’t been particularly big, the signs are looking very good.

England has rarely seen a player capable of doing what he, potentially could do. English players have always previously trended towards the orthodox, leaving innovation and audacity to the other Test nations; few have ripped up the coaching manual and displayed such a range of stroke as Buttler. In that regard, he could well be a template for what is the future for English batsmen in the age of T20.

He was only 12 years of age when the first Twenty20 match was played in June 2003 so it’s no exaggeration to say that he’s grown up with cricket’s shortest format everywhere.  His generation is the first which will have developed from an early age with Twenty20 as their possible raison d’etre. Whereas in the past, young players would have been developed with first class or Test cricket as their sole career option, Buttler’s generation live in a very different world.

The ultimate question remains whether he will make the step up in Test cricket in the future, his domestic first class record is inferior to his shorter form one and questions have been previously raised about the robustness of his defensive technique. Nor is there much precedent for the great finishers of one day cricket stepping up successfully in Test cricket. But unlike his predecessors, who knows whether Buttler will even need to step up anyway such is the prevalence of T20 cricket.

But those are questions which will be answered as his career unfolds. For now, we must simply enjoy him for what he is: a young player capable of playing audacious strokes and hitting powerfully around the wicket and finishing an innings with a flourish. England have seldom had few players like him before, though one wonders if he is simply a sign of things to come; a template for how young players will play in the years ahead.

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Ramnaresh Sarwan: Fade to Black

A tour to Australia once was something to behold for a West Indian. It was here that Clive Lloyd suffered the humiliation at the hands of Lillee and Thomson which spurred him to world domination, where
Mike Holding and Viv Richards ruled World Series Cricket. It was where Curtley Ambrose and Courtney Walsh rocked on spicy pitches and where Brian Lara didn’t so much signpost his greatness but unveil a fifty foot placard stating: “I rule” as he smashed Australia’s bowling attack to all parts.

Their latest incursion, an One Day International series shoehorned into the back-end of the winter is an inglorious continuation of this tradition, a filthy image of a glorious history. And, it’s been a miserable tour to boot.

The defining image of this tour has been the sight of Ramnaresh Sarwan groping around for semblance of form – two ducks, a hell experienced at the hands of Mitchell Starc – a redemptive tour of duty this most definitely has not been. Watching him play now is akin to what people must have felt watching Colin Cowdrey or Brian Close were recalled from nowhere to return to international cricket. The difference was that while those two were in retirement, Sarwan is just 32 and still conceivably, capable of a return.

Sarwan remains a curiosity, a strange curiosity. Here is a man who four years ago was in the form of his life. If England’s tour of the West Indies was famous for Sabina Park and Jerome Taylor, the other noteworthy point of the tour was Sarwan. His 291, the second highest score scored against England in the past 5 years, was his definitive peak. He was untouchable, in the zone at a highpoint which few batsmen can reach.

Yet nine Tests later, Sarwan’s international career seems over. His last Test was in 2011, he has been ostracized by Ottis Gibson and the West Indian management resulting in a successful legal challenge in the mean time. He is only 32, the same age as Kevin Pietersen, and yet his form has disappeared. If his recent form is a barometer of where is game is then he should be concerned, his recent form for Guyana is inconsistent, he has two ducks in two matches when he should have been pressing his case for recall.

It will be a curious end if indeed it is the end. Sarwan emerged as a prodigy, stuck around for ten years as an indicative boom-bust batsmen in a boom-bust team, not as gritty as Chanderpaul but easier on the eye, yet not as stylish or consistent as Lara. He was a mix of the two, a gritty batsmen who when on form could score big runs stylishly. He was the youngest West Indian to 5,000 runs, has more Test centuries than Chris Gayle, George Headley or Frank Worrell and an average of 40.

In a West Indian team which is still very much in a developmental phase, and with Shiv Chanderpaul aging, on record alone he would surely be a certain pick in a side lacking genuine experience but for his own battles to rediscover the game which made him such a capable batsman in the first place.

In a strange way, his career’s rapid decline has parallels with that of another West Indian right hander of repute, Lawrence Rowe. Rowe’s decline was exacerbated by an eye condition, Sarwan’s are less obvious. Perhaps it is just a decline in form, in fitness or perhaps a mental realisation that maybe at 32 he is no longer that batsman striking with a touch of grace, a flourish and plenty of poise. That is how he would prefer to be remembered, as the boy from Guyana who at times batted like a king. If his final moments in a West Indies team are dark one’s, thankfully they will not be defining one’s.

Brad Hodge: The Last Hurrah?

Brad Hodge: Not why, but why not?

It’s a strange kind of symbolic irony that a new tournament such as the Big Bash League should start dominated with talk of a comeback of an old Victorian hand and end with it too. The film may have been called “No Country for Old Men” but Australia still continues to be an exception. But while Shane Warne’s bark was proved to be worse than his bite, for Brad Hodge it was definitive proof that he remained, as ever, a class act.

And then, with Australia’s retirement brigade growing larger with the exits of Ricky Ponting and Mike Hussey comes the next part: The Ashes. As Australia cast their net wide for the next brigade of batsmen, it was interesting to see Hodge put his name forward again with rumours of a first class return for Victoria. It’s a strange and unexpected move, but a complete write off? Never say never.

Sure, there are question marks – lots of them in fact. Hodge hasn’t played First Class cricket in years, gave it up because he got too bored and wanted to hit boundaries. He’s semi-retired, playing club cricket and travelling the world as a Twenty20 top order specialist, a still-headed flayer through the offside who still glistens while capably dismantling the fast and the slow. And then there’s the age, the detrimental impact on Australia’s next generation and the fact that he last played Test Cricket nearly seven years ago. In terms of selection precedents, it’s up there with England in the 1970’s recalling Colin Cowdrey from retirement to face Lillee and Thomson, or Brian Close to face Holding and Roberts.

But, ask yourself a question. Take out age, it’s just a number anyway, and rank Australia’s top ten eligible batsmen and ask yourself if Hodge wouldn’t be part of it. Sure, you have Clarke, Warner, Watson et all, but it gets hard to put him below the rest. And besides, there’s the other factors – flip the youth argument on its head and ask yourself what Australia’s next generation could learn from Hodge, and whether they’d benefit from having an experienced head to guide them through a tricky Ashes summer which, as it stands, looks like it’s a year too soon for their younger batsmen.

Then there’s the motivation argument. Hodge is 38, but judging by the interviews and the talks of Ashes comebacks then it seems something still burns inside him. His Test career remains a curiosity. An average of 55, including a double century, and yet he was dropped after a couple of wobbly Tests against South Africa when Australia’s batting stocks were never stronger.

And yet, as those stocks got thinner and thinner, he was never considered as an option. Without re-writing history but would they really have fared worse in 2009 or 2011 with a middle order which swapped Hodge for say, Marcus North or Steven Smith? And, unlike those bright young things who have been burnt by England already, Hodge remains an icon from a better age in Australian cricket, a man born and raised when Australia ruled the cricketing world and they could use some of that attitude, that confidence, that reputation in a key Ashes year.

Sure, it’s a big call, but Australian cricket was seldom one to shy away from making them when it was at its peak. But if it’s about Australia putting their best XI on the park; regardless of age and reputation, then the question becomes why not Brad Hodge?

2013: It’s going to be a big year

Generally the new year brings with it a sense of renewal, the turning of the page so to speak as we look ahead to the year that is to come and try to identify some people for whom 2013 will be a big year for.

Chris Woakes

Having been on the cusp of full international honours for the past two years, it is probably overly pessimistic to describe 2013 as make or break for Woakes. But one gets the feeling that this could be the year for the Warwickshire fast bowler especially given the recent travails affecting Broad and Bresnan’s form which could open up a gap in the bowler-who can score runs market for England. While his bowling is undoubtedly potent at County level, there are still doubts about his pace – though his role model ought to be Vernon Philander – a bowler of similar pace who does enough with the ball to worry opposition.

MS Dhoni

2013 starts with Dhoni finding himself in a position he’s not probably used to: under a cloud. His own form in Test Cricket is patchy, his leadership of the side underfire as he oversees a team which is palpably in decline with it’s aging batting stars fading and a pace and spin attack which has suddenly losing it’s edge. 2013 ought to be a defining one in Indian cricket, and if Dhoni is to remain in charge he must oversee an overhaul in personnel – dealing with the loss of Tendulkar and Sehwag while continuing to promote the Rahane’s, the Kohli’s and perhaps even the Chand’s, while also finding the right balance of wicket-takers in attack. It’s a tough ask for a captain whose own form is under scrutiny, but if he can set about dealing with India’s problems and set them back on the right track this year then it could redefine Dhoni’s legacy as Indian captain.

Phil Hughes

On the face of it, Australian cricket is on the rise again. They’ve just come off a bumper year in terms of Test cricket results, bar the South Africa series where they did most of the running but fell short at the end, have unearthed a battery of potent quick bowlers and have a captain whose own form has practically gone supernova. Yet scratch beneath the surface, and there are real worrying signs in this team, particularly in the batting line-up which will now say goodbye to Mike Hussey. Their openers have enjoyed up and down results, with Cowan in particular needing to find a big score, at four they have Shane Watson whose injury problems make him the Darren Anderton of cricket and who, when fit, still struggles to convert 50’s to 100’s. At five you have the captain, on another level, and at six you have a question-mark – Khawaja or David Hussey. Hence why this year is a big one for Phil Hughes. Technical and temperamental question marks aside, out of all the top four batsman he boasts the best record of all of them in terms of runs scored in Test Cricket, and one thing you can say about Hughes is that he does, despite all the flaws, score runs. And Australia need him to do it now, it’s a double Ashes year for goodness sake, one in which England are the favourites. Upset the odds and Hughes could make himself a hero.

Angelo Mathews

Something ain’t right in Sri Lankan cricket, something is sucking the life out of it. Perhaps it’s administrators, those greedy men in suits who will skim off the top and refuse to schedule enough Test’s for Sri Lanka. Perhaps it’s the domestic competition, which isn’t developing enough Test ready cricketers, perhaps it’s T20 which skews priorities and hinders player development. Or perhaps it’s the players themselves, who have got on a roll of losing and don’t know how to bring it back. It’s a big question to ask, but Sri Lanka need to get something back into their cricket, some fun, some sparkle, some enjoyment. Hence why this is a big year for Angelo Mathews – because he’s the best person to do it and a likely captain long-term. With Jayawardene, Sangakarra and Dilshan all sidling towards the exit, Sri Lanka need a new hero to look up to, as captain and especially with the bat. The most likely man to do that is Mathews. He’s got the talent, plenty of it, but needs to convert it into a consistent run of scores and if he can do that then Sri Lanka’s batting troubles could be eased somewhat and the give the likes of Thirimanne and Chandimal, good prospects for the future, something to work with and learn from.

Kane Williamson

One of my hopes for 2013 is that New Zealand cricket learns to love itself again. All the cricketing neutrals, bar the Australian’s perhaps, would say that of all the teams that play the game New Zealand are the one’s they most want to do well. We know they’ll never be able to compete in terms of resources and players with the big Test nations, but the fact that they used to so consistently punch above their weight and cause some bloody noses along the way made them eminently likeable. Add in the fact that most of their cricketers came across as decent, down-to-earth guys who played the game the right way and you have a cricket team who are hard not to like. But recently there’s not been a lot of love in New Zealand, in fact there’s been a lot of hate. From the coach who can’t manage, to a cricket board which is falling out with it’s captain and best player, you’ll be hard pressed to find a more inept cricketing structure – an achievement given they share a sport with the BCCI. The shame is, if you look close enough, you can see some green shoots of recovery in amongst all the detritus. They have a pace bowling attack which, finally being led by Tim Southee, has lots of promise, and a batting line-up which, when it fires, can be explosive. It also has unearthed it’s brightest batting prospect, arguably since Stephen Fleming, in Kane Williamson. The boy scores runs, lots of them, and having had a progressive 2012 he’s now the key wicket in this batting line-up. 2013 ought to be the year that really launches him on to a bigger stage, hopefully as part of a Kiwi revival – something all us neutrals would really love to see.

Quinton de Kock

How do you improve the number 1 Test team in the world? Pretty straightforward question, to which there is no answer, yet. The best hope for South Africa in terms of improvement could come from the continued development of a batsman who, by all accounts, is the best young player in the world right now. He scored the fourth most runs at the U19 World Cup last year, averages 67 (!) in domestic cricket, played a couple of sterling knocks in the Champions League for Highveld Lions and has already been fast-tracked to the South Africa T20 set-up. To boot, he can also keep wicket and appears to have the right kind of temperament to eventually step up to Test Cricket sooner rather than later. Who knows, he may even fill that troublesome number six position one day, but 2013 promises to be a big year for a young man with the world, apparently, at his feet.

Sunil Narine

For Sunil Narine, a cricketing career which was progressing so smoothly right up until he hit test cricket has suddenly come to a shuddering halt. All of a sudden all the variations, the ability to bamboozle batsmen which are so potent in the shorter form of the game have suddenly unravelled, and his average of 48 (compared with an average closer to 20 in all other forms) becomes a real hindrance. The challenge for Narine is that, with most other “mystery spinners” once they are caught out in one form, generally it tends to unravel in the other forms and Ajantha Mendis – the great spin hope of Sri Lanka five years ago – is a cautionary tale for Narine to be aware. 2013 will be a big year for him because it will either be the year where he asserts himself in Test cricket and becomes a long-term Test regular for West Indies or he doesn’t and becomes a short-form only player whose abilities to keep an end tight and occasionally knock over a couple of batsmen when they look to attack will be crucial to West Indies. For West Indies and Test Cricket as a whole, you have to hope it’s the former, that he can crack it in the longest form and become a potent force. Because West Indies need wicket-takers, and Test Cricket needs entertainers – Narine could fulfil both criteria, 2013 will go a long way to tell us if he can.

Junaid Khan

Junaid Khan ended 2012 definitively on a high. Ripping the heart out of India’s top order for Pakistan is a big thing, for a young Pakistan pace bowler, given the history of fine pace bowlers who have done the same in the past, it’s arguably even bigger. Thus it was no surprise that the Wasim Akram comparisons were wheeled out afterwards, a left-arm quick taking wickets in Pakistan will always be tagged with the Akram comparisons, but the positive for Khan is that in performing as well as he is, he’s stopped people lamenting the loss of another Pakistan left-arm seamer, Mohammed Aamer. His impact on Pakistan’s performances have been mixed, especially compared with the more consistent output from the experienced spin duo of Ajmal and Rehman. But Pakistan are an ageingteam, one who will soon be reliant on their younger players to lead the way and Khan, as he has already shown is more than up to the task. 2013 should enable him to put an even bigger marker down, with Tests against South Africa, current Test number 1, and a Champions Trophy in which Pakistan ought to fancy themselves as contenders.

Joe Root call shows England have learned from Australia and India

One of sport’s great modern perfectionists, Roy Keane, summed up one of the key parts of his approach to footballing success, when he said: “Fail to prepare, prepare to fail.”

Keane should know a thing or two about sporting success, and also the importance of making big decisions at the right time to benefit the continuation of success. He worked for Sir Alex Ferguson for over a decade, a man who has built three great teams at Manchester United, and who knew when to cut his losses and make the key calls, which once included getting rid of Keane himself when the time was right.

Preparation is a key part of Andy Flower’s philosophy, he ensures his team play as many warm up games per series than Sri Lanka play Tests annually. He also likes his side to be well drilled, organised, and meticulously prepared for whatever awaits them on the field. No doubt he’d fully endorse Keane’s philosophy, as it was the things which England failed to prepare for – a captain’s form failing, your star man texting the opposition and spinners, damn mystery spinners – that have derailed his team.

What he would also recognise is that two of his side’s biggest wins to date, in Australia in 2010 and now in India, came against side’s who ignored Keane’s mantra and found themselves caught in transition and unprepared to cope with what awaited them.

Australia in 2010 were a shadow of the team which had previously crushed English spirits at will. A group of ageing players such as Ricky Ponting and Mike Hussey were required to keep a group of young, inexperienced players and others who were plainly erratic or incapable together in the face of a well drilled unit executing their skills expertly. The sight of Australia throwing in Michael Beer, Usman Khawaja and Xavier Doherty was a joyous one for an Englishman but painful for an Australian. Whereas once Australia prepared a young prospect for Test cricket with baby steps, such was the mismanagement of the departure of their great players one-by-one that they were forced by necessity to push inexperienced players too-far, too-fast. It was a shock they even won a match.

Now India in 2012 have fallen into the same trap. India are a team who have fallen on hard times from their peak of 2010 when they topped the world rankings. Their team are aging, their side disillusioned and their best players are past their peak. The sight of Virender Sehwag, Sachin Tendulkar and Zaheer Khan being wheeled out in a hope they could reignite their dying light was at the same time, both painful and awkward. Their futures are the elephant in India’s room.

The transition has again, scarcely been managed. India have two gaps in their middle order following the departures of Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman, taken by Pujara and Kohli – both of whom who were among the more successful batsmen in this series. But beyond those two, the replacements for Sachin Tendulkar and Virender Sehwag will lack experience of Test cricket, while the replacement for Zaheer Khan is still waiting to be found and the mid-series selection of Harbhajan Singh was hardly a ringing endorsement for the young spinners coming through, though if that group is headed by Ravinder Jadeja it’s hardly surprising.

If England’s two successes tell Flower anything beyond the strength of his own team, it’s also that if he wants to ensure their continuing success, then they must manage these scenarios better than those two countries.

This is a lesson which seems to resonate with him. While England’s success under Flower has been built on a cycle of players capable of adapting well to most conditions, he will be well aware that cycles will eventually end, and while the generation of Pietersen, Cook, Trott, Bell, Anderson and Swann are currently in the middle of a cycle of success which has carried them to the top of the world. But in time, and perhaps not too distant a time, this cycle will end and replacements will be needed. Hence why it was noticeable that Flower took time out in a post-series interview to praise the work of the English academy in preparing young players to be ready for international cricket. He also ought to praise the work of his predecessor, Peter Moores, who was integral in setting up the academy, because the work he has put in is reaping rewards.

English cricket has seldom produced as many multi-talented young players, but Flower has shown a keenness to expose them to international cricket which will ultimately be to England’s benefit. Joe Root’s successful debut at number six is the latest in a line of young English batsmen to be exposed to Test cricket. Jonny Bairstow and James Taylor have also performed noticeably well in difficult circumstances in Test cricket – which should boost their development further and prepare them when they permanently need to make the step up. Developing these players, and even younger, yet equally promising, players like Shiv Thakor, Daniel Bell-Drummond and Sam Billings will be high on the agenda for the next two years.

Furthermore the oft-stated intention of Flower to build a pace bowling squad which should enable England to rotate, will be used to prepare the next generation. The likes of Chris Woakes, Stuart Meaker and James Harris have all been integrated tightly with the squad and drip-fed international cricket, and all ought to be considered for the New Zealand tour. While the spin bowling cupboard is slightly barer, Flower has already exposed Scott Borthwick and Danny Briggs to international cricket and Simon Kerrigan has been part of the Performance Programme for the past two winters.

While these may seem like small steps right now, they are all intrinsic parts of Flower’s long-term plan for England, and his plan to expose as many of these younger players to international cricket as early as possible to aid their development. If England’s recent successes have taught him anything, preparing for the future is as important as preparing for the present, as both Australia and India can testify as they underwent their own, tricky, transition.

Sussex find a fine line in second chances

In his acclaimed book “What Sport Tells Us About Life” the former England and Middlesex opener Ed Smith discusses the nature of talent and sporting success. The point of Smith’s article is that occasionally failure, and how you deal with failure, can be as important to sporting success as talent.

He wrote: “Formative defeats are usually a central strand in any successful sportsman’s story – because failure, for almost every athlete, is written into the script. The important question is not whether you will fail, but when, and, above all, what happens next”.

The notion is relatively simple, yet also, potentially powerful – writing off talent on the basis of failure is foolish, providing it with a platform to be nurtured and thrive is arguably the key. The notion itself is hardly revolutionary, Billy Beane’s Moneyball is a powerful example of it in practice, but remains a hard thing to pull off consistently.

Watching England play this week though was to see the benefits of such an approach in practice, as their success has been helped by the performances of two men whose careers have thrived following their own second chances, Matt Prior and Monty Panesar.

Prior, lest we forget, was once a cursed man for England. His batting unravelled quickly as his keeping made him a liability, just ask Ryan Sidebottom. He was so bad he was dropped for Tim Ambrose (!), and returned to Sussex with a chip on his shoulder and a lot to think about. Four years on, and you’d be hard pressed to get him out of your all-time England XI.

Panesar was dropped by England when people worked him out. He needed help, but Northamptonshire couldn’t help him. He went a season where he couldn’t get anyone out, found himself below Swann and James Tredwell (!) in the England pecking order. Two years on, one move to Sussex and plenty of first class wickets later and a more confident, assured Monty has emerged.

While both their stories are about two men who find answers to some tough questions, it is also about those who kept asking the question time-and-time-again so they can find the answers. For that Mark Robinson and his Sussex staff deserve huge credit for helping both players along the way.

It’s a recurring theme with Robinson and Sussex, the redemptive “second chance” story. Take a look at their signings this summer – Rory Hamilton-Brown and Chris Jordan – two men with abundant talent, but needing answers to some questions about how to harness it properly.

Hamilton-Brown has had a troubled time since the tragic death of Tom Maynard, which has understandably affected him given their closeness. His game at Surrey when he returned appeared to be falling apart, and he desperately needed a change. Sussex will provide him with that change, and hopefully put his game back together. He remains, in this writers view, a probably one day opener for England in a year or two, given his ability to strike the ball cleanly and his excellent ability against spin. It’s a potent package, it just needs putting back together.

Chris Jordan is a different tale. His talent is clear, as are his attributes, but his struggles with fitness and form have made him infuriatingly inconsistent. He should be a dream for a coach or captain, how many players in English cricket can hit sixes and bowl 90mph? But at times he looks more like a nightmare. He has all the talent in the world, but has yet to show he knows how to harness it. At the time of his release from Surrey, he looked like another bright young thing consigned to the scrap heap. Sussex though, realise the potential, and given their track record know how to cultivate it, so that Jordan’s career could yet hit the heights once envisioned in his youth.

They are in good company in this team. Ed Joyce appeared to be stagnating at Middlesex having been burned by England; he joined Sussex and became one of the most dangerous one day batsmen in England again. James Anyon was a bright young thing gone wrong at Warwickshire but joined Sussex and has become the true heir to James Kirtley as their pace bowling spearhead. Joe Gatting was convinced to pack in a floundering football career for another one as a middle order nurdler.

In a county circuit which, through tightened finances and increased domestic regulation, is finding its player pool getting smaller by the year, unearthing bargain buys from other’s castoffs is a tough business. But Sussex is developing a healthy reputation as the club which thrives on second chances.

Ricky Ponting: Symbols, Cycles and the Old Ways

Great players often leave great holes behind them

As with anything regarding Australian cricket past and present, Gideon Haigh summed it up best. He once wrote: “Great players often leave great holes behind them; it is a very rare great player who effectively renders himself redundant”. Haigh was writing about Allan Border, but the sentiment could so easily be applied to one of Border’s successors Ricky Ponting, whose final day of test cricket leaves Australia facing a great hole to fill.

When cricketers become symbols of their age, their exit also becomes symbolic. Ponting’s exit is a symbolic moment in Australian cricket, not for what he was but what he represented. His cycle was a golden one, spanning 17 years of (mostly) unprecedented success, but also of turbulent change as cricket has straddled the demands of valuation and values as the rise of the shortest form has posed a challenge to its longest.

And in amongst the cacophony of hyperbole and exaggeration, Ponting was a voice of reason who often stood up for the game’s finest traditions despite being the captain of the world’s most commercially driven and powerful cricketing country.

He frequently spoke of his fondness for his old days of club cricket, retired from Twenty20 such was his disdain for the format and argued long and loud for the protection of Test cricket and Shield Cricket. He even devoted his Bradman oration to a recollection of his youth growing up playing cricket in Launceston and listening to the old pro’s at his cricket club Mowbray.

It’s hard not to feel his passing is significant. Australian cricket finds itself increasingly at the mercy of the game’s shortest form, with the rise of the Big Bash and the IPL enriching a generation of ordinary Australian cricketers, while it’s form in the longest form suffers. It is at a crossroads and Ponting’s traditional values may themselves soon become increasingly obsolete.

Indeed Ponting was very much in the mould of much of the Australian traditions. He was as competitive as they came, a prodigious talent who seldom took a backwards step against any opposition and who fielded with the enthusiastic energy of a greyhound. His aggression at times overspilled, but it underlined the fiercely competitive streak which made the likes of Dennis Lillee, Jeff Thomson, Allan Border and Steve Waugh real Australian heroes. If anything Ponting was a product of his upbringing.

Yet there are few like him left. Australian cricket needs heroes, people it can identify with, and while it’s technical purists have always attracted purrs of delight. Hard-nosed competitive bastards have always been popular down under, Australian cricket has lost that edge. If the recent examples of Mitchell Marsh and Luke Pomersbach tell us anything, it expects it’s players to be saints rather than sinners. Ponting could be both, but importantly, everyone knew he could easily be the latter if a win was at stake.

Australia will miss that. Ponting was a winner, regardless of the failings of the past three years, and a master batsman to boot. He was symbolic of the age he played in – a winning cricketer in an Australian team which was utterly devoted to it.

He was the golden son of a golden age, and with him passing closes a chapter in Australian cricket which will probably go down as it’s greatest. Ponting led his side to victories, delivered defining innings when it really mattered-too many to count-and at number three dominated opposition bowlers in a style unlike any Australian right hander.

While his place in the side became more and more based upon sentiment as his failures began to stack up, it was a sentiment borne of his standing in international cricket and the nagging fear that one day it would click and the old magic would return and be unleashed on an opposition again.

Nor was his place in the side completely without merit – his form in Shield Cricket where he topped the early run scorers chart – demanded his place in the side, but his failures this summer have merely reinforced the growing gap between the two and confirmed to Ponting that he could no longer continue kidding himself.

Perhaps now neither can Australia. Ponting’s place in the side was a last reminder of what Australia were until recently, a great and dominant side. His departure, and the manner of his decline, are symbolic of the reality of the situation facing them now. The sad reality is that Ponting’s place was as much on merit as reputation such is the dearth of options which Australia have.

Whereas the likes of Border and Waugh could retire safe in the knowledge that they were being pushed for someone else to come in, Ponting has tried to hang on until someone possible came along, only retiring once he no longer felt capable of carrying on.

More ups and downs than a soap opera

The options facing them are scarce. Usman Khawaja, Callum Ferguson and Phil Hughes sit atop the run scorer charts in Shield Cricket, but all experienced as many ups and downs as a soap opera character.

Mark Cosgrove remains an option, but a weighty one unconsidered by the selectors while the likes of Chris Rogers and David Hussey ought to deserve consideration on experience alone but won’t get it. As solutions go it hardly bodes well for the future.

So as Ponting moves into retirement, Australia must confront themselves with the reality of the situation which they have been able to hide from for too long. That great hole the great players leave behind could prove to be an especially great one for Ponting’s successor. Australia may be about to learn just how great the hole really is.

If Ponting’s career was symbolic of the successful Australian team he was part of, his exit in defeat could be equally symbolic of the Australia team which will follow his departure. Competitive, capable but ultimately bereft of the inspiration or never-say-day attitude which Ponting himself embodied more than anyone.