Three - yes, a whole three - cheers for Dominic Lawson's article in the Independent today. He is right: booing Ricky Ponting is disgraceful. There may be a cartoonish element to it all and perhaps the Barmy Army will signal this by cheering the Australian skipper to the echo at the Oval when, we assume, he plays his final test innnings in England, but that's still not quite good enough. For the time being, too many England cricket fans - not to be confused with supporters of English cricket - seem to have decided that Ponting is some kind of villain.
True, he's been in trouble with the ICC in the past and true his comments in the immediate aftermath of the draw in Cardiff were ill-advised (even if they were also, let us be candid, entirely correct) but let us also remember that he took his side's defeat at Lord's with grace and, by Australian standards, some class. It would have been easy to point out that England had enjoyed the rub of the green and that this had been an important, even vital, part of the difference between the sides. But Ponting refrained from doing so. That's cricket was all he would say and it wouldn't have mattered if we'd batted better.
Alas, there's a mindless quality to some of the Barmy Army these days. The booing of Ponting is the kind of thing one might expect at a football match, not a cricket contest. What might - though you could disagree - be appropriate, or at least acceptable, in a football stadium is not kosher at a cricket ground. At least, that used to be the case.
In the case of Ponting, however, it is especially myopic. Rather than boo the Aussie skipper we should celebrate the opportunity to thank the finest Australian batsman of the past 60 years for all that he has done for the game and for all the pleasure - albeit sometimes experienced through gritted teeth - he has given over the years. His has been a remarkable innings. The best since 1948? Yes, I think so. Better than Border or Chappell or Harvey? Yes, again, I think so. That deserves respect and applause, not churlish boos.
And, from a neutral rather than partisan perspective, it's hard not to feel some sympathy for Punter. He, the lone player of indisputable greatness in the series, is under the most appalling pressure. No Australian skipper since Billy Murdoch (in 1884 and 1890) has lost two Ashes series in England. That's quite a historical burden to shoulder. Add the sense, fair or not, that anyone could have skippered a side including Glenn McGrath and Shane Warne and the pressure on Ponting to prove himself as a leader, even as a man, in their absence as he leads this inexperienced Australian team to England, becomes even more intense.
In some sense it is ridiculous that Australia's leading run-scorer should be playing for his reputation in England this summer. But he is. At least for the time being Ponting the skipper looms larger than Ponting the batsman and, in England at any rate, is how he will be judged and remembered in the short to medium term at least. This too is unfair, but that's the nature of the game as well. No-one in either side this summer faces stakes as high or daunting as Punter. For that, fair minded folk might feel some sympathy. If he makes it through the series without cracking up completely he'll have done pretty well.
So: only morons boo the Australian skipper. The rest of us should tip our hats to a man battling for his team, his country and, oddly, his reputation.