Ricky Ponting lead Australia ably for seven years as test captain and nine years as one day captain. He also broke a trend where the Australian captain would retire and not continue playing under the new leader which happened like in the cases of Mark Taylor and Steve Waugh.
Ponting had the guts to carry on and risk being ridiculed and shunned off if he was poor. Australians are harsh with their past greats even when they are captain. How would Ponting be mocked if the public so decided, there was no saying. Ponting has never been one to back down because he could be ridiculed though.
Night club and bar escapades in Kolkata and Sydney questioned Ponting’s commitment. Worse still, when he became captain, people openly questioned his cricketing brain. If people were going to lay the final dagger and question his batting prowess, why would Punter shy away to maybe protect himself from that.
If you wanted to watch Ponting, the craftsman, the 2011/12 Australian season has to be definitive. In six tests, Ponting scored 643 runs at a little over 80 runs an inning.
I watched the entire first test between Australia and New Zealand last year. Ponting scored 78 in that test while Clarke scored 139, both at almost identical strike rates of 55. Which innings was more worth cherishing though cannot be expressed by stats. While Clarke pushed and nudged, Ponting’s inning was effortless. He touched the ball and it would go to the boundary. He commanded the ball, as it were, to go, run to the fence. It was as if the bat was a magic wand. The ball touches it and zips across to the boundary. Clarke had the same powerful bat. However, he couldn’t make the ball go off like that. While a Tendulkar and a Lara possessed style and artistry, Kallis and Dravid have the obsessive dedication about them which is loved, Ponting’s greatness has been how effortless he makes the whole thing look.
When Ponting bats, it is easy. It is as if the bowlers become poor and the pitch becomes a road. How many batsmen can you say that about? Lara and Tendulkar had great careers and for longevity, Tendulkar’s might been greater. However, it was Ponting who was the undisputed cricketer of the Decade when Cricinfo announced it for the first decade of the 21st century. As Rajesh expresses it statistically:
During that eight-year period between 1999 and 2006, Ponting averaged 50 or more against all opposition except Sri Lanka, against whom he averaged 47.09 in seven Tests. He was especially unstoppable at home, averaging 73.76 from 47 Tests. He wasn’t quite as prolific overseas, but still averaged an outstanding 56.55 in 40 matches.
You could bring any run machine from cricket history, Ponting would stand tall against all of them in his prime.
Ricky Ponting’s international career started in 1995. Australia had just become the world champions in test cricket a few months prior to that defeating the West Indies in their own backyard. While some players dream of becoming champions, Ponting started off part of the best test team in the world, already a champion in a way. The first test Australia played at home versus the West Indies in 1996, it was a young Ponting who scored 88, more than any one in the middle order at an impressive strike rate of 58 for that era. Take that 88 away, and you could have been looking at a different test and series.
Ponting helped Australia remain champions in test cricket for as long as they did. There were many other players. Warne, McGrath, Waugh, Hayden, Gilchrist and every one else. However, without Ponting, they were nothing. Steve Waugh couldn’t carry out his policy of attacking test cricket where Australia scored at 4-5 runs an over as a routine. It isn’t a coincidence that Australia’s fortunes as a test team has declined with the decline in Ponting’s batting.
Now, Clarke has been scoring truckloads, and another era has come.
When Ponting goes out to bat one last time, it is time to salute not just Ponting, but also a great era of test cricket and bid it good bye. They were the other Invincibles. There can be no greater tribute than that.