Waugh and Ponting's advice for Smith

22 November 2017
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Former Ashes-winning captains urges Smith not to add to external pressure during heavily-scrutinised series

About the Writer:

Andrew Ramsey is the senior writer for He previously wrote for the Guardian, The Australian, The Times, The Telegraph, The Hindu and Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack and the author of The Wrong Line.

Banish all outward displays of frustration, divorce yourself from non-essential obligations, worry not if sleep remains elusive but, above all, stay true to the instincts and the processes that carried you to Test captaincy.

These are the kernels of advice passed on to Australia skipper Steve Smith on the eve of the Magellan Ashes Series against England from two of the most decorated leaders to have trodden that path in the decades before him, Stephen Waugh and Ricky Ponting.

Waugh was an influential figure in Australia’s Ashes renaissance on their 1989 tour to the UK and did not play in a losing Test campaign against England in the 15 years that followed, while Ponting led his star-studded team to the first 5-0 whitewash in around 80 years during the golden summer of 2006-07.

But both former captains learned some harsh lessons during their respective tenures at the helm, and while they acknowledge there are no insights they can on-pass to help Smith sharpen his cricket acumen there are pitfalls that potentially loom for a skipper at the helm in his first home Ashes battle.

After his team became the first in a generation to surrender the urn to England in 2005, Ponting ensured that he took greater oversight of preparation and strategies throughout the preparation and execution of the 2006-07 campaign having learned from bitter experience that not everyone is as attuned to lapses in intensity.

Among the changes Ponting insisted upon for the 2006-07 summer, in addition to the notorious two-day boot camp in the Sunshine Coast hinterland, was that his team desist from addressing England’s players by nickname regardless of how well they knew them.

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If they passed at training, in matches or on the street, the Australians were to look their rivals in the eye and invoke their given names without stopping to engage in small talk.

“There were some things that we all did around the ‘06-07 Ashes that were different and I’d like to think that I played a big role in the way that we went about our training, the way that we prepared, the way that we sort of shut down and didn’t let others in,” Ponting told recently.

“We addressed the English team in a different way than we had the previous series, there were things that had just hardened up and changed and we had a real edge to our cricket that had just started to slip off without a lot of us noticing.

“I was a big one on trust around the group but what I learned in 2005 is sometimes you give guys a little bit too much slack, and that trust that you have is not repaid.

“I made sure from that moment on that as soon as I identified something that I felt wasn’t quite right then I fixed it then and there, and we went on becoming a bigger and better team."

Smith’s obsessive character and penchant for perfectionism has been widely documented, as have his erratic sleep habits partly attributed to the time and energy he devotes to developing routines and rituals that he believes will enhance the chances of success, personally and for his team.

He raised eyebrows among his teammates and coaches earlier this month when he revealed that, while batting in a JLT Sheffield Shield match at Hurstville Oval, he “forgot” how he held his bat and had to enlist officiating umpire Bruce Oxenford’s assistance to draw pen outlines of where Smith’s hands were usually placed on the rubber grip of the captain’s bat handle.

Ponting says he was also a night owl who was rarely asleep prior to midnight before and during international matches, and that if Smith has always got by on minimal shut-eye then that does not sound alarm bells.

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But he did recount a cautionary tale about trying too hard to lead by example if the team was struggling and admitted he had fallen victim to that trap after his team lost a raft of star players and subsequently struggled to find consistency and competitiveness.

“I think in the last couple of years I put too much pressure on myself and didn’t allow myself to play the instinctive way that I’d always played,” Ponting admitted.

“I got too focused on not getting out rather than scoring runs, and when you do that you inevitably get out, that’s the way it sort of finished for me.”

Waugh, who led one of the most celebrated Australia outfits of recent times to Ashes wins at home and away, has also spotted a couple of telltale traits in Smith that the former captain says will potentially attract heightened focus under the Ashes spotlight.

As a young skipper desperate to succeed, Smith has been known to air his anxieties and disappointments through spontaneous gestures such as flinging his hands in the air, jumping in exasperation or kicking at the turf when catches fail to go to hand or bowlers stray from the team plans.

It was notable in New South Wales’ opening Shield match of the season against South Australia in Adelaide when Smith’s animated responses in the field brought derisive barracking from a couple of well-oiled patrons who delighted in his discomfort.

Smith rues a missed opportunity in the field // Getty
Smith rues a missed opportunity in the field // Getty


"The only advice I'd say for Steve this series is maybe not show so much emotion when you're in the field," Waugh told recently

"The camera is always on you as a captain.

“If you're negative in your body language or you're kicking the ground, it's going to be magnified a hundred times.

"I almost talked to myself when someone would drop a catch or the bowlers weren't doing well.

"You almost want to show something either verbally or physically, but you knew that there's every chance it would be replayed on the big screen and the whole team will be watching five seconds later.

"It's about staying in control, composed even if you're a bit ruffled or the steam is coming out your ears.

"Don't let anybody know that.”

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According to Waugh, Smith’s comparative youth and inexperience as captain – Waugh was almost 34 and had been a member of Australia’s Test set-up for more than a decade when he took the reins – looms as a blessing.

The man who led Australia to an unsurpassed run of 16 consecutive Test wins claimed that skippers in the early iteration of leadership can exhibit a greater freedom and he encouraged Smith to retain the intuitive mindset he exhibited when he took over from Clarke two years ago.

"When you first become captain you've got so much on your mind that you just captain the way you've always captained or what your natural traits or instincts (dictate),” Waugh said.

"Later on you probably become a bit more conservative when you realise the ramifications either way.

"Everything gets exaggerated when you're captain.

“When you're going well you're the best, when you're not going so well you're the worst captain."

Smith was part of Australia’s most recent Ashes whitewash in 2013-14 and inherited the captaincy in the wake of the failed 2015 tour to the UK led by Michael Clarke, and Ponting acknowledges that the 26-year-old already boasts plenty of experience against England to fall back upon.

But having led Australia in 77 Tests, Ponting warns the 26-year-old that the distractions and commitments that confront an Australia skipper in a home Ashes summer are significantly greater than in any other campaign, home or away.

Whether it’s media requests, family and friends on the scrounge for tickets, or any number of sponsor obligations that manifest themselves to cash in on the Ashes’ popularity, all have the potential to intrude on the principal responsibility of an Australia captain.

To prepare himself and his team to beat England.

“I don’t need to give him any advice on anything he’s doing with his game, but get the cricket stuff sorted out first,” Ponting said.

“Let the other stuff look after itself, take as much off your plate as you can through this summer.

“Keep it as simple as you can, focus on you, focus on your teammates, and think what it’s going to feel like when you stand up on the dais at the end holding up the Ashes.

“I think if you can just give yourself that one thought and that one goal and think about that, get rid of the distractions and go away and lead your team and score a thousand runs.”

2017-18 International Fixtures:

Magellan Ashes Series

First Test Gabba, November 23-27. Buy tickets

Second Test Adelaide Oval, December 2-6 (Day-Night). Buy tickets

Third Test WACA Ground, December 14-18. Buy tickets

Fourth Test MCG, December 26-30. Buy tickets

Fifth Test SCG, January 4-8 (Pink Test). Buy tickets

Gillette ODI Series v England

First ODI MCG, January 14. Buy tickets

Second ODI Gabba, January 19. Buy tickets

Third ODI SCG, January 21. Buy tickets

Fourth ODI Adelaide Oval, January 26. Buy tickets

Fifth ODI Perth TBC, January 28. Join the ACF

Prime Minister's XI

PM's XI v England Manuka Oval, February 2. Buy tickets

Gillette T20 INTL Series

First T20I Australia v NZ, SCG, February 3. Buy tickets

Second T20I – Australia v England, Blundstone Arena, February 7. Buy tickets

Third T20I – Australia v England, MCG, February 10. Buy tickets

Fourth T20I – NZ v England, Wellington, February 13

Fifth T20I – NZ v Australia, Eden Park, February 16

Sixth T20I – NZ v England, Seddon Park, February 18

Final – TBC, Eden Park, February 21