Former Test captain Ricky Ponting says the time has come for the game to reconsider the need for neutral umpires in international cricket, while he’s also lauded Steve Smith’s mental fortitude following his superb century at Edgbaston.
Ponting says Smith’s match-turning 144 in Birmingham on Thursday was as good as the series-defining century he made in Brisbane at the start of the 2017-18 Ashes, although he added it will likely do little to silence to ridicule of English supporters for the rest of the series.
Smith’s century highlighted an entertaining opening day of the Ashes that was marred by a series of incorrect umpiring decisions out in the middle.
In 2002, the International Cricket Council mandated the use of neutral umpires in all international cricket, meaning some of the best officials in the world are not available for Ashes due to the fact they are either English or Australian.
Ponting, who is part of the MCC’s influential Cricket Committee, believes the rule should be changed and said he would ensure the issue is discussed at their next MCC meeting.
“I would like to think the game has come far enough now for the game to not have neutral umpires,” Ponting told cricket.com.au.
“People might say that with all the technology we’ve got now, it doesn’t matter that much. But it’s not a good spectacle when pretty obviously wrong decisions are made. There’s been a lot a negativity about the DRS over the years, but we’re pretty lucky that we had it last night.
“It’s already been spoken about a lot among the players. If it’s not brought up (at that next MCC meeting), I’ll make sure it’s added to the agenda.
“Surely (English umpire) Richard Kettleborough and the like would want to be umpiring the best series. The best umpires can end up missing out on all the big tournaments.
“It could force umpires into retirement a bit early as well when someone like (former Australian umpire) Simon Taufel is spending most of his life (overseas), which is a bit harder than spending your time in Australia.”
On Smith, Ponting said the 30-year-old’s fighting innings in his first Test since his 12-month suspension underlined the mental strength of the former skipper.
“To be able to do that speaks volumes of him as a person,” Ponting told cricket.com.au after Smith’s innings of 144, which was greeted by some boos from sections of the Edgbaston crowd.
“It just goes to show how strong he is mentally and how good a Test match player he is.
“That hundred he got in Brisbane (in 2017) really set the tone for the whole series and it looks like he’s done that again, when he’s team needed it the most.
“Having been there a few times myself, when your back’s against the wall and your team needs you, they’re the innings that you become most proud of.”
When asked if the innings was the best of Smith’s 24 Test hundreds, Ponting replied: “It doesn’t really matter what anyone else says. In your heart of hearts you know how well you’ve played and how well you’ve done. It was huge for his family and his team as well, it was huge for everybody.
“I’ve been out of the game for a while so I haven’t seen a lot of his really great ones (in person), but I think back to that one in Brisbane, that was as well as I’ve seen him play. And this one was every bit as good as that.”
While Smith remains banned from holding an official leadership position in Australian cricket until March next year, Ponting says the 30-year-old will continue to lead his teammates through his feats with the bat.
“He’s the best player in the world and generally the best players in the world are leaders around the group,” he said.
“Even though he doesn’t have that ‘c’ next to his name, he’s trying to do everything he can to lead Australian cricket in the best way possible.
“He just understands his game better than most of not just the Australian players but better than most around the world. Joe Root is a good example; he’s forging a really good international career, but I’m not sure he knows his game as well as Smithy does, otherwise he would have made more hundreds in his career.
“A lot of things he does are very different, with the way he trains and the way he plays. But whatever he’s doing is working. He’s playing a different game than most blokes at the moment.
“If he keeps trending the way he is, he’ll be remembered as one of the all-time greats that the game has ever seen. He’s going to leave a lot of us old blokes behind, that’s for sure.”
But Ponting has warned that Smith’s day-one heroics will do little to silence the boos of England’s famously parochial supporters.
Ponting has been a key ally to Smith and David Warner in their reintroduction to international cricket this year having worked closely with the pair during Australia’s recent World Cup campaign.
And he said the duo have responded to the hostile atmosphere in the best possible way – by scoring runs.
“(The booing is) not going to go away, that’s one thing we know,” he said. “It might even go the other way; if (Smith) plays like that again, the booing might even get worse just to get inside his head even more.
“If they didn’t start the World Cup well, that would have been just a horrendous tournament for them.
“Smithy has got his Ashes campaign off on the right note and Davey has got to find a way to do that now as well.”