Ricky Ponting has revealed he should have retired up to four years earlier than he did but felt he could not because it would have exposed a leadership void in the Australian team.
Ponting, the legendary batsman, quit international cricket at the age of 37 after the home Test series against South Africa in December 2012 but has admitted he would have gone earlier had he not been concerned about the "direction" the team could have taken without him.
Had Ponting quit in 2008, that would have meant his then new deputy – and heir apparent – Michael Clarke would almost certainly have been handed the top role, at a point in time when then team insiders privately said he was not ready for it.
Speaking at a dinner for the Chappell Foundation, which fights youth homelessness, a candid Ponting said he had been worried about the direction the team would have taken had he quit late in the opening decade of this century.
“I probably should have retired three or four years earlier than I did but I was really worried about where the direction of the Australian cricket team was going if I wasn’t around," he said.
"And I wanted to be around to help [David] Warner and [Steve] Smith and Nathan Lyon and Peter Siddle and Mitchell Johnson. I wanted to help them through that initial phase of their international careers because I knew it wasn’t going to be easy for them."
Ponting did not mention Clarke in his assessment but to those at Tuesday's dinner, the inference appeared clear.
He and Clarke had a strained relationship when they were in charge of the team. Ponting wrote in his autobiography At the Close of Play that Clarke, although not "disruptive" or "treacherous", had not been a good vice-captain through his three years in that role, for he had not got "too involved" in team planning or debriefs, had not helped ease Ponting's workload, nor bought into the dressingroom culture.
Clarke later admitted he agreed with Ponting's assessment because Ponting's style of leadership had differed to his and he had struggled "to be a yes-man when I disagreed with what was happening around me".
At Tuesday night's dinner, Ponting added: "I was just a little bit worried with the void that was left on the experience side. Every great team that I played in, whether it be a club team or an Australian cricket team or a state team, there was always a lot of old hard heads around just to make sure when the younger guys came in that they understood what it meant to be playing for each of those teams. And if I had have retired … I was worried there wasn’t going to be enough people to point them in the right direction.”
Ponting became Australia's 42nd Test captain in 2004 and retained the leadership of the Test and one-day international sides until he quit after the losing World Cup quarter-final against India in 2011. That had followed a woeful home summer when Australia had ceded the Ashes on home shores, Ponting becoming the first Australian captain to lose an Ashes series three times although earlier in his tenure he had guided his nation to only its second 5-0 Ashes win.
Upon stepping down, he anointed Clarke as his successor and remained a specialist batsman for more than a year until his form dramatically dropped, managing only 32 runs at 6.4 in three Tests against the Proteas. However, in each of the calendar years from 2008 to 2012, he still averaged 50.73.
Australia had lost veterans Shane Warne, Justin Langer and Glenn McGrath to retirement in 2007, Adam Gilchrist followed in 2008 and Matthew Hayden in January, 2009. This had also weighed on Ponting, who pointed to the tumultuous events of Cape Town in 2018 as an incident that highlighted what could happen through a lack of leadership.
“I was a bit worried that with a lot of the experience going out of our team at the same time, that there would be a bit of a void left with experienced players to be able to say ‘no’ basically," he said.
"If I look at where things got at Cape Town, I just don’t think there were enough people around that team to say ‘no’ to some of those guys. Things got completely out of control.
"That’s very much an outsider’s view on it. I had nothing to do with the team really until the last couple of years around some T20 cricket and the World Cup last year."
Clarke feuded with several teammates but went on to captain in 47 Tests, including famous series wins against England and South Africa in the summer of 2013-14. He finished his career with a winning percentage of more than 50 per cent.
Ponting remains Test cricket's second leading run scorer, with 13,378 runs at 51.85, with 41 centuries.
The Tasmanian also said the Australian side had taken important strides since the sandpaper scandal, and pointed to David Warner's emotional speech at the Cricket Australia awards night on Monday as to how he had matured.
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