Friday, 12 July 2013

In praise of...Ricky Ponting

Ten years ago, I would not have been able to write this column.  Ponting was the archetypal Australian cricketer - pugnacious, tenacious and a pain.  His natural talent and combative leadership were sometimes blinded to me by the fact of his nationality, and his ability to score run after run and ton after ton.

However, as he retires from first class cricket today he does so on his terms.  Embattled and crucially undefeated as he walked off the Kia Oval on Thursday 11th July for the last time in his whites with a score of 169 not out as the Nottinghamshire bowlers could not make inroads to the Surrey second innings to bring about a low total to chase.

Ponting found himself with his back against the wall, and he responded with the sort of commitment to the cause you would expect from someone who has scored over 13,000 Test runs.  The stage was set at the close of the previous day's play when Ponting was fed a leg side long hop that he dispatched with his trademark pull to end on 41 not out.  He then progressed to complete his 82nd first class century in his last innings.

The change of opinion in my eyes came through not a masterful innings, but more so the character he showed in defeat when Australia lost the Ashes to England in 2005.  A series full of moments and lore for more than one book, the tone was set on the first morning at Lords when Steve Harmison gave Ponting and Justin Langer some chin music; both required on field treatment.  

In the third test at a sold out Old Trafford, England were primed to take a 2-1 series lead with Australia wilting under a seam bombardment from Harmison and Andrew Flintoff. Yet Ponting, captain of the team stood firm and resolute with an astounding 156 that helped save the match as Brett Lee and Glenn McGrath saw out the vital draw.  England would ultimately regain the Ashes, and Ponting slowly morphed from pantomine villain to plucky loser; in spite of him mouthing off to Duncan Fletcher for utilising specialist fielders like Gary Pratt during the series, an episode that led to Ponting's second innings dismissal for 48 at Trent Bridge.  Ponting was booed, Pratt adored yet Ricky endured.  He scored 8 Ashes centuries.

He recovered from knockbacks with his dogged determination, none more so than during a home test series versus Pakistan in January 2010.  Ponting had not scored a test century since the Cardiff test of the 2009 Ashes series in July, with more single digit scores than half centuries.  The Pakistani pace attack by the then reputable Mohammed Amir had seemed to figure him out, with a golden duck in the previous test at Sydney.  Ponting needed a knock, and he found it at his home ground of Hobart for the third test.  Ponting was helped by a mis-timed pull being dropped in the deep when on nought.  Ponting made Pakistan pay by scoring 209 and then 89 in the second innings.  Ponting had his doubters and he proved them wrong time and time again.

Ponting retires with a test average of 51.85 and 41 test centuries, a mark only surpassed by Sachin Tendulkar a player who is most likely the equal of him.  Yet in One Day Internationals, Ponting was just as adept scoring 13704 runs in 375 games with 30 hundreds, none were better than his knock of 140* in the 2003 World Cup Final in Johannesburg versus India, a knock of power, precision and poise that made it too much for India too chase and started Australia's nine year dominance of the format with three World Cup victories.

Ponting was that mixture of a leader who fittingly led, yet bounced back from knockdowns earlier in his career when his wayward drinking could have cost him his career.  He became the model professional something Andrew Symonds refused to adhere to and which cost him.

Ricky Ponting can enjoy his farewell tour now, ending in the West Indies 20/20 tournament as an overseas and marquee player.  A player of our time - in your face but who could back it up, he deserves his retirement as he can happily rest on his laurels.

Thanks to ESPNcricinfo whose Statsguru was indispensable for this article.

No comments:

Post a Comment