Monday, July 13, 2009

Ponting angered by England tactics

Ricky Ponting delivered a stinging critique of England's gamesmanship after a contentious final session in which the hosts' 12th man and physiotherapist made multiple visits to the centre. The Australian captain's comments were tantamount to an accusation of time-wasting by an England side attempting to save the first Test, and will do little to defuse tensions between the two sides following a fractious day's play at Sophia Gardens.

Hostilities between the camps commenced before a ball was bowled on Sunday, with Mitchell Johnson and Kevin Pietersen involved in a verbal altercation after the latter hit balls in the direction of the Australian fast bowler. They continued after the commencement of play, with Andrew Flintoff temporarily standing his ground to a Ponting catch at second slip, and again when Stuart Broad and Peter Siddle bumped shoulders in the final session. A pitch invasion staged by a pair of protesters further added to the intensity of the occasion.

But the controversy most likely to linger was the involvement of Bilal Shafayat and Steve McCaig, the England 12th man and physiotherapist, who made appearances in the 102nd and 103rd overs of the innings despite scant evidence that the batsmen, Jimmy Anderson and Monty Panesar, called upon their services. Shafayat ran gloves and water to the batsmen - receiving a none too subtle chirp from Ponting for his troubles - while McCaig briefly checked on their physical condition at a time when Australia was desperately pressed for time to claim a victory that, barely an hour before, appeared an inevitability.

Speaking after the match, Ponting expressed his frustration over England's apparent stalling tactics, reprising memories of his vocal disapproval of England's use of substitute fielders during the 2005 Ashes series. An Australian team spokesman confirmed they would not make an official complaint, although Ponting invited the ICC's match referee, Jeff Crowe, to review the incident.

"I don't think it was required, he changed [the gloves] the over before and I don't think they'd be too sweaty in one over," Ponting said. "I'm not sure what the physio was doing out there. I didn't see anyone call for the physio to come out. As far as I'm concerned, it was pretty ordinary, really. But they can play whatever way they want to play. We came to play by the rules and the spirit of the game. It's up to them to do what they want to do.

"A few guys were questioning the umpires, a few guys were questioning the 12th man, but it's not the 12th man's fault. Someone from upstairs was sending him out there. That's where it needs to be taken up. There was nothing there that we could do out on the ground. We had to get them off as quick as we could and get a couple more overs.

"I was unhappy with it, but it lasted a couple of minutes, and we got them off the ground. I don't want to make that big a deal with it. I'm sure others will be taking it up with the England hierarchy, as they should. It's not the reason we didn't win. We've got to look at those reasons."

Andrew Strauss, the England captain, denied his side had contravened the spirit of cricket, insisting that the reasons for Shafayat's presence on the playing field in the dying moments of the game were legitimate.

"There was a lot of confusion, to be fair," Strauss said. "We first of all sent the 12th man out to let Jimmy and Monty know there was time left, and not the overs. Then there was drink spilled on Jimmy's gloves, and he called up to the dressing room and we weren't sure if he needed 12th man or physio. If Ricky is upset, that's a shame.

"Our intentions were good. We weren't trying to deliberately waste a huge amount of time. Those weren't our tactics. Those two were playing very well out in the middle and the reality of the situation is that Australia didn't take the final wicket and we got away with a draw."

Both captains sought to defuse the Johnson-Pietersen and Broad-Siddle rows. "It was just a few guys on the ground taking each other's space," Ponting said of Johnson's verbal exchange with Pietersen. Strauss, meanwhile, insisted the match had been played in a good spirit. "I don't think there were lines crossed," he said.

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