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Pressure - what pressure?

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Tom Fordyce | 14:33 UK time, Thursday, 6 August 2009

If Ricky Ponting is worried - about his misfiring bowling attack, about the prospect of becoming only the second Australian captain to lose two Ashes series in England, about being booed whenever he takes the field - he's doing a pretty good job of disguising it.

With Leeds basking under unexpected blue skies, Ponting was doing almost as much beaming on Thursday afternoon as the August sun overhead.

The bowlers? Mitchell Johnson is "back in form", Brett Lee "at full pace". The 1-0 series deficit? Two games left, mate. And as for his reception among some England fans - if you think Ponting is hurt by the opinion of a bunch of blokes dressed as nuns, chain-gang convicts and the cast of Scooby-Doo, you probably haven't been paying much attention to his career so far.

The Ponting of popular English imagining is a snarling, stroppy competitor who struggles to cope when things go against him. On the evidence of his performance on Thursday, that's as inaccurate as Johnson's bowling at Lord's.

Asked about the crowd's reaction to him at Edgbaston, his first reaction is to start laughing. "Ah, it's been well documented that I've copped a bit in the last few weeks," he chuckles, like a man recalling a particularly enjoyable night out with mates.

"I've really enjoyed a lot of the spectator participation in this series. The Barmy Army are the best group of sports supporters I've seen in any sport around the world."

punter595.jpg

Not quite said with a straight face, that last bit, but his message was clear: it doesn't bother me in the slightest.

Headingley is on such alert for Ponting-baiting and booing over the next five days that it's as if a new prohibition had been declared. So concerned are officials about the boozy atmosphere that spotters have been employed to roam the Western Stand, handing out glasses of water and sandwiches to well-refreshed patrons in a display of generosity unmatched in these parts since Howard Wilkinson gave Eric Cantona away to his arch-rivals for the price of half a Brian Deane.

Barmy Army trumpeter Billy Cooper? Banned. You can't have professional classical musicians who trained at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama knocking round cricket grounds, after all. Also not welcome is Vic Flowers, the one in the St George's flag top hat who looks a bit like another local favourite, Jimmy Saville - unless he leaves his flag at home, that is.

"The complaints haven't come from us," Ponting was at pains to point out. "You can go too far the other way."

Punter intends to silence the vocal England support in more traditional ways, and there are plenty of stats to back up his sunny pre-match optimism. Five of the six leading run-scorers in this series are from his team, and four of the five leading wicket-takers. Of the seven centuries scored so far, six have been scored by Australians.

Headingley has hardly been a happy hunting ground for England's key men either. While Ponting himself averages 114 in Tests in Leeds, and has scored a century on every visit of his career so far, his opposite number Andrew Strauss averages a more humble 38.

Of the bowlers, James Anderson has a return of five wickets from four innings at an average of 51. Andrew Flintoff has taken nine wickets in five Tests at 43, while Graham Onions's first-class record at Headingley for Durham is a sobering three wickets at 84.

Should the ball swing, as locals long in the tooth remember it always used to, that trio won't be too concerned about their own personal histories. But Headingley in more recent memory has not been the hooping fiesta of Old. If the pitch is as pleasant to bat on as the last few Test tracks here have been, Ponting will fancy sniffing the win that would put everything back in the balance for the Oval denouement later this month.

The early indications from the middle and meteorological experts are mixed. The pitch itself lay hidden under its domed cover for most of the afternoon, guarded by groundstaff. If Ponting knew anything about its appearance, he was keeping it to himself. As for the weather, my BBC colleagues with pine cones and pieces of seaweed expect it to be grey early on the first day before brightening up in the afternoon and then staying warm and sunny across the weekend.

For England, their main concern, as ever, is the Fitness Of Fred. For his part, Ponting was supremely sanguine; asked by one television journalist if he'd been on Flintoff-watch, he replied, "Nope, but I've been watching you all over the telly for the last few hours, and it looks like you have."

If you're a pessimist, the fact that Flintoff only bowled a few deliveries in the nets on Wednesday and will wait until the morning of the match for his final fitness test will seem to indicate that he's struggling. For the optimists, the prospect of Fred sitting out what would be his penultimate Test is just unthinkable.

Should the big man's Black Knight impression fail, it's thought likely that Jonathan Trott will get the nod, with England switching to four bowlers and possibly the most pun-heavy 11 names in the history of the game.

For the tourists it's more complicated. Reading between the lines of the skipper's medical bulletin, and watching the players go through their fielding drills on the outfield, Michael Clarke will get over his abdominal strain, Brad Haddin remains 50/50 after his broken finger and Brett Lee has probably not done enough bowling at full pace to be risked as part of a four-man attack.

Rumours persist that the metronomic Stuart Clark will be brought in to give Ponting an element of control in the field. That might mean Peter Siddle taking a blow, or even off-spinner Nathan Hauritz - Headingley is not usually a turner. Then again, this is a series in which Hauritz can dislocate the middle finger of his bowling hand and then trundle through a hatful of overs the very next day. Nothing is quite as simple as it seems.

Either way, a result may be likely after the Edgbaston stalemate. The last seven Ashes Tests at Headingley have all produced wins, with England winning six of the last 10 matches against all opposition here.

The overall record between the two teams will give Ponting further cause for optimism. While England have won seven of the 23 matches between the two in Leeds, Australia have won eight.

As he jogged off to join his team-mates in the nets on Thursday, Ponting glanced up at the honours board, where his own name is picked out twice in bright gold lettering. This time there was no smile. The serious stuff is about to start again.

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    Surely as such an experienced professional he shouldn't let the boos get to him? He will more than likely use the negativity to inspire his performance as Ronaldo said he did when he got boos week in week out for Man Utd.
    Boos or not, I hope he crumbles in Yorkshire!

    http://www.loserscomesecond.com/

  • Comment number 2.

    pun-heavy, Tom? Elaborate...

  • Comment number 3.

    Off the top of my head, U11823180: Strauss waltzes to victory/ Cook has recipe for England success/ Bell tolls for sorry England/ Colly wobbles as England struggle/ Prior engagement troubles Ponting/ Australia Fred and buried/ Ponting hit by Broad side/ Australia's hopes go down the Swannee/ Onions makes Ponting cry/ Jim'll fix it for hopeful England/ Weakened Aussies get the Trotts etc etc.
    I apologise for all the above. You did ask...

  • Comment number 4.

    So we have only one century out of seven. we are still one nil up in the series with two to play. How do we do when you compare under ten scored in the series?

  • Comment number 5.

    Outstanding Tom, Just outstanding puns, The Sun are green with envy......

    Best one was Broad side, hoping that will come true

  • Comment number 6.

    Aussie captain is hard-boiled and a tough-as-nails fighter. In spite of the tremendous pressure he must be under and some very concerted efforts from opposing fans to unsettle him individually, there isn't a crack visible in the veneer. Whatever the situation he has found the savoire faire to deal with it adequately - 'expertly deflected the Broadsides' may be the phrase Tom prefers!
    I still think he is at the head of a very good Australian side and do not buy this 'weakest Australian side ever' bunkum. Nothing is done and dusted yet. I have always admired his leadership qualities and if he can find a way to come back from here, his stock will rise more than just a few notches.

  • Comment number 7.

    That Onions one was terrible...what about "Sizzling Onions peels through Aussies"?

  • Comment number 8.

    Good effort mate. I asked, you delivered. Hope this doesn't ruin your journo street cred.

  • Comment number 9.

    Tom, look what you have done by your 'pun-heavy' observation. You have successfully diverted 75% of the comments away from the subject.

  • Comment number 10.

    halroberts - "peels through Aussies"? You're not having that - that's shallot. Oh no...

    Sorry, sevenseaman. I've just made it 80%. Ponting, anyone?

  • Comment number 11.

    I wish the press would stop going on about the booing at Edgbaston last weekend. I was there and it was actually about 2 seconds of booing mixed with much chortling and placing of in tongues in cheeks, and then followed by a much longer round of applause whilst he finished his walk to the crease.

  • Comment number 12.

    Each test ground should have its own personality,what we're seeing now home & abroad (just look at the new WI grounds) a steralisation of the venues for the supporters.

    This is OK when the cricket is first rate as supporters will put up with anything to witness this event but when the opposition is weak and the welcome is cold and a sterile atmosphere covers the ground will we pay ECB prices? I think not...

    As per usual the administrators are missing the point of why we come to test cricket rather than 20/20 or one dayers - it is a five day social gathering above all.

  • Comment number 13.

    Forders - add Sidebottom in there and the punning reaches new heights...

  • Comment number 14.

    Lets be honest, the reason ponting gets booed is because he is that good!!
    All the best players in all sports get booed by oppostion fans, mainly because they hope it will knock them down from there best form. (except robbie savage, that was a case of no one liking him!)

    I dont think there is any harm with banter from the crowd, I can understand why officials are worried because it can go too far and become abusive, at which point there is no place for it.

    The aussies fans do it too, again its all light hearted and dont think there is any malice in it and as long as it stays that way then in my esperience is entertaining for all

  • Comment number 15.

    Englands trott to victory (I hope!!)

  • Comment number 16.

    Well, if it goes (fingers crossed) badly for the Aussies you could always have "Ponting Down The River!"

  • Comment number 17.

    How about:

    "Roar Onions"
    "Onions has Aussies in a pickle"
    "Strauss About That Then?"
    "CollyPOPS"
    "Prior tuck-s in to aussie bowlers"
    "Ready Freddie Go"
    "Night said Fred"
    "Broad Beams"
    "Broad Focus"
    "Broad of the Manor"
    "Broad of the Swings"
    "Swann with the wind"
    "Swann step beyond"
    "Anderson-ic"
    "Trotts Landing"


  • Comment number 18.

    I'm not too impressed with the booing of Ricky Ponting either, not necessary at all. Maybe those doing it are afraid as Straussy said? Ponting is a damn fine cricketer and captain. Enjoy the 4th test Ricky.
    A Pom :)

  • Comment number 19.

    Very good blog Tom. However, Chris Old's web site left me a wee bit confused...

  • Comment number 20.

    We boo him cause his the captain of Australia. We boo him cause of the history (throwing toys out of pram etc). We boo cause he wants to win so badly. We boo him cause deep down we respect him and rate him so highly. In short he is one of the games greatest ever players and we know it. Just a shame he is not English really.

  • Comment number 21.

    The booing of the Aussie captain can only be described as dissaponting

    *badoomtish*

  • Comment number 22.

    Just proving I read it after our coversation on the train this morning. Some great puns in here and hopefully our boys will be 2 up by close of play at Headingley. PS My team won our match today too!

  • Comment number 23.

    Phild04

    Whilst I agree that Ponting is a fine cricketer, I can't agree that he is a fine Captain.

    He is tactically lacking and certainly not in full control of himself when things go against him. These are not the hallmarks of great captaincy.

    He has an excellent win/loss ratio, but one has to consider the enormous talent he had at his disposal during the early years of his tenancy. Now the the cupboard is somewhat barer Pontings flaws are being exposed.

  • Comment number 24.

    Ricky Ponting is one of the greatest in the Game's illustrious history. That he gets little respect is not surprising.

    Most greats get their deserved respect after either their retirement or their death. Sad but true!

    Punter is still a youngman and has more than a reasonable chance to amass the most Test tons of all time.

    I'm rooting for him! Sachin 10D, look out!

  • Comment number 25.

    So the fun police have banned the trumpet player, what nonsense!

    To hear the fans singing and playing is such a delight but now because of some perceived sensibilities they're told to sit down and say nothing because a few of the players may feel upset.

    Did anyone witness the appalling treatment dished out to the English at Brisbane with anti English songs being played at the intervals on the public address system? All sanctioned by the ACB, which prompted Peter Roebuck to call for the sacking of the persons responsible.

    Obviously "Jerusalem" is a song not to administrators liking. Try banning instruments in the Caribbean or India...see what you get.

    " So sorry if we upset anybody...er, well....er you see, er..we're English...wouldn't do to offend...what?

  • Comment number 26.

    You are quite right archLionheart. Sadly the joy police are active here in Oz too - banning the mexican wave, piercing the beachballs which inevitably end up on the ground but which have always been treated with humour by the players, limiting flags and musical instruments etc etc.

    Unfortunately the powers that be appear to have neglected the fact that a day at the cricket is meant to be an enjoyable occasion - not just for the action on the pitch but also for the atmosphere created by the supporters - that is the difference between watching a game on TV and turning up at the ground!!

    When you are forking out $100+ for a days play - you want the full experience. As I imagine do the majority of players.

  • Comment number 27.

    Tom, with regards to your "that's shallot" comment, I refer you to Oliver Brett's blog from a few weeks back and comment 28. Coincidence or blatant plagiarism? I'll let the public decide...


    http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/tms/2009/07/blog_2.shtml

  • Comment number 28.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 29.

    Pommyfan,

    I have mixed feelings about the whole Aussie fun police thing. I agree that stopping the trumpet player is nonsense, but the worst behaviour I've ever seen at a cricket match was Aus vs Sri Lanka in a one day final 3 years ago at the 'Gabba. The Mexican wave progressed to Mexican wave with throwing full plastic beer cups, which progressed to throwing said beer cups onto Sri Lankan fans in the tier below, and the whole perimeter of the outfield was covered in them. So Aussie fans brought the fun police on themselves really with such disgraceful behaviour.

    But if you go totally the wrong way and ban the essence and spirit of the supporters we will end up with all cricket being like the biggest spectator disaster of recent times: the 2007 World Cup in the Carribean. A balance needs to be struck, and I didn't think there was a problem with how things were at Edgbaston.

  • Comment number 30.

    Benny Blanco, with regards to your "that's shallot" comment, I refer you to Paul Merton using a very similar joke on Have I Got News For You. Coincidence or blatant plagiarism, I'll let the public decide.

    Anyway,headlines are never particularly original, they tend to be reworkings of old puns to fit the subject.

    More seriously, Banning spectators for a bit of fun is disgraceful. I don't support the booing of Ponting at all but surely there are better ways to stop it. He is a top cricketer and Strauss is right that the England fans are scared of him. I personally would love to see him double ducked or anything that helps England win.

    I am going to stick my neck out and say Harmison should come in. That decision could go anywhere, like his bowling really but we need someone who can take wickets if there is no swing. Either Broad or Flintoff to go depending on the latter's fitness. I like Broad a lot and agree that his runs are valuable but he just hasn't delivered this series with the ball.

    Bopara's form is probably a bigger question though.

  • Comment number 31.

    People seem to forget the whole reason sport is played in the first place. There is a reason only 22 people play in the Ashes, and thousands watch it.

    Sport is, and always has been, a form of entertainment, from right back when the Roman's would congregate in the Colosseum to watch gladiators chop bits out of each other. For spectators not to be able to enjoy themselves in the cricket ground is a sad state of affairs. Ponting himself has said he is unfazed by it, and realises it's all part of the game. Why can't the fun police at Headingly do the same?

    Personally I would like to see the back of Broad. I think he has played 'OK', but in an Ashes test against a solid Aussie team, 'OK' just isn't enough. I would be interested to see Trott in the side, especially if he bats as well as his stats say he can.

  • Comment number 32.

    Edikbentliev,

    I have lived in Australia since 2006. I last watched Have I Got News For You some time in 2005. So coincidence it is.

  • Comment number 33.

    #25 - What "Anti-English" songs were palyed at the 'Gabba?? I don't remember hearing about that...

  • Comment number 34.

    Who is Punter? a nickname or an error?

  • Comment number 35.

    andybarc,

    Punter is an affectionate nickname for Ricky Ponting.

  • Comment number 36.

    I'm with BennyBlanco. You have a great product, and the powers that be wnat to change it to something of their liking, rather than something the fans want. What a joke.

    When I watch NBA Basketball, and guys from the away team are taking free throws, there is more booing and arm waving and thunder-stick clacking than any number of stewards could prevent, but they are allowed to continue nevertheless. It is all part of the fun and entertainment.

    Sounds very much like the guys at Boro who asked the crowd at the Riverside to please be quiet during games. WHAT?

    Punters loves it. Gees him up. You gotta love him for it, even if you hate him. And as for the point earlier that his 'flaws' are showing, get over yourself mate. Did you not see the bit the other day where he is now the 3rd highest run scorer of all? I expect his only flaw is he's tired of scoring so many runs.

    And I'm English.

    Peace!

  • Comment number 37.

    diss - a - ponting ?



    geddit ?

 

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