'Clearly the better side': Ponting rues missed chances
Former Test skipper reflects on the 2-2 Ashes result and pinpoints the crucial moments that cost Australia the chance at a series win
Sam Ferris at The Oval
16 September 2019, 07:41 AM AEST
Test legend Ricky Ponting says Australia were "clearly" the better team in the Ashes but after the series was drawn 2-2, he expects Tim Paine's side to look back on the campaign as one of missed opportunities.
Australia retained the Ashes with a comprehensive 185-run victory in the fourth Test at Old Trafford but let slip a golden chance to win their first Ashes series in England in 18 years with a 135-run loss in the tour finale at The Oval.
But Ponting says the series result could have been different had Australia held their nerve, and their catches.
On day four of the second Test with England 3-71 holding a lead of 79, David Warner dropped Ben Stokes at first slip off the bowling of Nathan Lyon while the allrounder was on six. Stokes went on to make an unbeaten 115 and set up a tense final day, where Australia scrapped to secure a draw.
Had Warner held on to that tough chance low to his left, Ponting believes Australia could have gone on to win that match.
In the following Test, it was Stokes again who fortune favoured, surviving dropped catches, missed run outs and umpiring decisions to score another undefeated hundred and deliver England a pulsating one-wicket win.
Again, had Australia took their chances, Ponting says the series could have been completely different.
"Australia will look at it as a series of missed opportunities," Ponting told cricket.com.au.
"I think they've clearly been the better team. They've clearly played better cricket throughout the series.
"They should have won at Headingley. If Warner catches Stokes pretty early on at Lord's I think they probably would have gone on to win that game as well.
"That's the way I think they'll look at it. Two-two is not a fair reflection."
Despite ruing those chances at Lord's and in Leeds, Australia had a chance to seal the series at The Oval.
While Ponting said he would reserve judgement on Paine's decision to bowl first until after the match concluded, the former Test captain now says it was the batting that let down the Australians.
After dropping England captain Joe Root three times on the opening day, Australia bowled out the hosts for 294 on a dry pitch that was considered good for batting throughout the Test.
But when it was Australia's turn to bat, only Steve Smith (80) and Marnus Labuschagne (48) posted scores above 25 as the visitors were bowled out for 225 to concede a first innings deficit of 69 runs, which Ponting says is a cardinal sin if your side has elected to bowl first.
"Once they decided to bowl first, they had to go on and get a first innings lead," Ponting said.
"Knowing how dry the wicket was and how dry it looked, they couldn't afford to be behind in the game after both teams had batted once.
"Once they bowled England out for 294 they just had to get 350. If they got 350 they were in the game."
While Australia's bowlers continually created enough chances to take 20 wickets during the series, Ponting says it is the batting where Paine's side failed to fire.
Of Australia's specialist batters, only Smith (110.57), Labuschagne (50.42) and Matthew Wade (33.7), who scored his second Ashes century on day four at The Oval, averaged more than 28 on the tour.
The top order particularly struggled, with experienced batter David Warner averaging just 9.5 as part of a misfiring opening combination that failed to reach 20 once during the series.
Speaking on Saturday, Ponting said Smith, Labuschagne and Warner are the only locks for the first Test at the Gabba against Pakistan, with question marks around the other batting spots.
"Steve Smith has been unbelievably good," Ponting said.
"Wade has made a couple of hundreds. The top-order batting has been a huge disappointment for them.
"The opening partnerships through the series haven't been good enough.
"You take Smith, Labuschagne and Wade getting a second innings hundred here, you take them out and there's been a lot of question marks about the batting.
"They bowled particularly well, Pat Cummins and Josh Hazlewood have been outstanding, Nathan Lyon has had another good series with the ball. The bowling group can hold their head really high."
With the Ashes wrapped up, Australia's players can finally return home after what has been a marathon northern summer.
Six players in the Ashes squad, plus most of the support staff, have been involved in both the World Cup and Ashes campaigns.
Australia were knocked out of the World Cup at the semi-final stage by eventual champions England and retained the urn in England for the first time in 18 years.
So while Australia's mission to the UK in May was not fully accomplished, Ponting says the efforts of Paine's side should be congratulated.
"We shouldn't undersell how well Australia have played, and on the back of a pretty successful World Cup campaign," he said.
"The boys have been on the road for five months. Making a World Cup semi-final and retaining the Ashes 2-2, it's been a good few months for Australian cricket."
2019 Qantas Ashes Tour of England
Australia squad: Tim Paine (c), Cameron Bancroft, Pat Cummins, Marcus Harris, Josh Hazlewood, Travis Head, Usman Khawaja, Marnus Labuschagne, Nathan Lyon, Mitchell Marsh, Michael Neser, James Pattinson, Peter Siddle, Steve Smith, Mitchell Starc, Matthew Wade, David Warner.
England squad: Joe Root (c), Jofra Archer, Jonny Bairstow, Stuart Broad, Rory Burns, Jos Buttler, Sam Curran, Joe Denly, Jack Leach, Craig Overton, Jason Roy, Ben Stokes (vc), Chris Woakes.
First Test: Australia won by 251 runs at Edgbaston
Second Test: Match drawn at Lord's
Third Test: England won by one wicket at Headingley
Fourth Test: Australia won by 185 runs at Old Trafford
Fifth Test: England won by 135 runs