This comparison might be totally superficial, so those who know more about cricket please disagree all you like, but: how similar are Ricky Ponting and Brian Lara? Both were the outstanding batsman of their generation in their own country and were/are considered among the world’s leading batsmen during substantial periods of their careers. In fact at one point or another I’m sure each of them was considered the very best batsman in the world – although of course they both overlapped so much with Tendulkar that that title could never have been theirs uncontested. They have very similar Test batting records – averaging 54 (Ponting) and 53 (Lara), although Ponting has the distinct advantage of not having played against Warne and McGrath in Tests (further stats geekery: Lara scored double centuries away to each of Australia, Pakistan, South Africa and Sri Lanka, while Ponting got an away double only against the West Indies).

However, both have somewhat troubled records as captains. Certainly, Lara had a more turbulent captaincy – he gained and then lost the role three times, whereas Ponting has remained captain of Australia ever since Steve Waugh retired. Ponting has also accumulated more Test wins as captain than any other player, but even before the current Ashes series began I don’t think anyone considered him a truly outstanding captain: two series losses in England and a home loss to South Africa make for a mixed record at best. There’s no doubt that captaining their countries was (is) a source of immense pride for both players, but it leaves them with a troubled legacy: you can’t look at the batting feats without having the iffy captaincy at the back of your mind. Tendulkar gains an edge over each of them simply by never having been India’s permanent captain (although I’ve a feeling he stood in as captain a few times).

I’m not sure that there’s anything in particular behind this – you can talk about how supremely talented people tend to make lousy leaders because they can’t empathise with those lacking natural flair, but I’m sure there are plenty of counterexamples (Michael Vaughan?). I just haven’t seen this comparison made before. As mentioned above, an ideal third comparator is Sachin Tendulkar, whose amazing batting record comes without the baggage of his having had to lead a whole team.

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