Team player?: Australian captain Michael Clarke. Photo: Getty Images
Rarely has a knife thrust been subtler. Ricky Ponting has just delivered the final act of every modern cricketer's career - the autobiography - and the best bit skewers his successor, Michael Clarke.
''It never worried me if a bloke didn't want a drink in the dressing room,'' writes Ponting, himself a reformed boozer. ''But I did wonder about blokes who didn't see the value in sticking around for a chat and a laugh and a post-mortem on the day's play.''
Ponting's book serves as an informative postscript to an Ashes series in which Clarke was lauded for funky and imaginative field placings, despite losing 3-0. Alastair Cook, by contrast, was derided as a by-the-numbers captain.
Captain's past and present: Ricky Ponting and Michael Clarke. Photo: Getty Images
Yet there is more to life than conjuring tricks. Clarke may be a friend to the commentators filling airtime on TV, grateful as they are for the chance to whip out the digital pen and circle the man at short midwicket. But he is understood to be less highly rated by his Australian team-mates.
As Ponting's comments emphasise, the rest of the Baggy Greens do not believe that Clarke is a team man at heart. And for all his abundant batting talent, a growing lobby would like to see Aussie one-day captain George Bailey - a much more clubbable character - take the reins across all formats.
For all Clarke's imagination, it is a myth that a good captain can transform a team's performance on the field. A wicket snared via an unexpected silly mid-on might look clever, but in the long run you are always better off with good bowlers. Glenn McGrath could have been effective with eight men on the park.
There is a parallel here with the myth of the football manager as saviour. In their excellent book, Why England Lose, Simon Kuper and Stefan Szymanski show that Premier League teams' performances are determined almost entirely by their wage bill.
Managers, meanwhile, are the most disposable part of the operation. ''They appear to add so little value that they could be replaced by stuffed teddy bears, without the club's league position changing.''
Are Kuper and Szymanski exaggerating for effect? Perhaps a little. But their point is valid. While all those half-time substitutions and 3-5-2 formations might seem important on the day, they even out over the long term, just as clever field placings do.
This is not to say that the Aussies should simply shrug their shoulders and say ''Clarke or Bailey - what's the difference?''
A captain's contribution to any individual match might be limited, but his leadership qualities are crucial in the long term, especially on those character-building three-month tours. It is he, far more than the coach or manager, who shapes the culture of the dressing room.
No one doubts that Nasser Hussain changed England. When he was appointed in 1999, the players were notoriously divided and selfish, but he sorted out the trouble makers and introduced a sense of pride. Then, when Hussain's control-freakery began to stifle the team's creativity, Michael Vaughan took over and won the 2005 Ashes with a more ambitious, free-spirited brand of cricket.
So, while you cannot blame Clarke for the fact that his team-mates keep missing full-tosses or bowling wides (at the moment, Australia's playing resources are nowhere near what Ponting enjoyed as captain), you can point to the numerous rifts and mutinies that have plagued the team this year, and ask whether they are pulling together when it matters.
A sense of trust and loyalty - something Cook clearly engenders among his charges - may not be as easy to spot from the commentary box as a quirky formation in the slips cordon. But it matters a hell of a lot more in the long run.
The Daily Telegraph