RICKY PONTING

Ricky Ponting was the best batsman produced by Australia since Don Bradman
and a highly capable leader of their side. He led them to two World Cup wins
but will also be remembered as the first Australia captain in almost 20 years to
lose a Test series to England. It was an experience he ended up enduring three
times, but after the defeat in 2005 he could not have supervised a more emphatic
response than the 16 Test wins his side then produced off the reel, including a 5–
0 whitewash of England in which he personally weighed in with 576 runs. He
was unlucky that his final years coincided with the decline of a once-great side
but he always conducted himself with dignity, even when English crowds took
to treating him as a pantomime villain on the 2009 tour. He was utterly selfless.
He was hardly the conventional choice to succeed Steve Waugh, first in onedayers in 2002 and then in Tests two years later, but it proved an inspired
decision. Growing up in public as a precociously talented youngster is not easy
and Ponting, the wild boy from Tasmania who was only two months past his
20th birthday when first capped by his country, needed to learn some early
lessons along the way. There was a well-publicised incident in a Sydney
nightclub which left him with a black eye. But his response was impressive. He
apologised to his teammates for letting them down and focused on channelling
his competitiveness in the right direction. The respect of your teammates is a
vital thing in cricket and Ponting earned it with his willingness to change and
improve, as well as his sheer class as a player. Good judges in Australia were
predicting great things for him at a very early stage

As a batsman, Ponting in full flow was a beautiful sight. He was always very
positive and quick on to the ball. His attitude was that the ball was there to be
hit: his instinct was to look to score before he thought of defence. The swivelpull off the front foot was a trademark shot of his, as was the straight drive down
the ground to balls full on off stump. He was as adept at one-day cricket as he
was in Tests. He scored more than 13,000 runs in both formats, putting him, at
the time of his retirement, second on both lists behind Sachin Tendulkar (also the
only player with more international hundreds than Ponting’s 71).
In many ways, he was almost ridiculously eager to get on to the front foot,
certainly for an Australian, and therefore I suspect the helmet was a vital part of
his equipment. That certainly does not mean that he was in any way short of
courage and he didn’t shrink from taking on the fast men, even when Steve
Harmison gashed his cheek at Lord’s in 2005. Three games later he played one
of the finest – if not the finest – innings of his career by batting throughout most
of the final day for 156 to save the Test at Old Trafford against Harmison and
Andrew Flintoff when they were near their peaks.
If he had a flaw it was that because he was coming forward all the time he
was vulnerable early in his innings to balls just outside off stump, and if he was
not moving well then to straight deliveries as well. This was probably why he
averaged in the low 40s in Tests in England where the new ball can nibble
around. In Australia, where the new ball does less, and for a shorter time, his
record was immense – more runs (7,578) and centuries (23) than anyone else has
ever managed, at an average of 56.97. Once he was in, there was very little
shifting him. He had problems too with Indian spinners Harbhajan Singh and
Anil Kumble in their own conditions, in which he scored only one hundred, but
he is not alone in discovering that Asian spinners in Asian conditions are harder
to combat.
Ponting naturally led from the front. He started out in the lower middle order
but he found his niche at first wicket down, a position he held – amazingly,
given the sheer volume of cricket involved – for ten years from the England tour
of 2001 until he dropped a place or two after Michael Clarke took over the
captaincy from him in 2011. For all that time, he was the rock on which the
Australian batting was built. Number 3 is a position that demands great
versatility, sometimes playing like an opener when an early wicket falls, at other
times driving home an advantage if the firstwicket pair have given the side a
good start, which of course Matthew Hayden and Justin Langer often did.
The captaincy could hardly be said to have had a detrimental effect on his
batting, which is to his immense credit as he held the Test job for almost seven
years and the one-day post for ten. He averaged 52.18 in Tests when he was not
in charge and 51.51 when he was. If Old Trafford 2005 saw the best of him in
defensive mode, Adelaide 2006 was him at his attacking best. There he delivered
a stirring speech to his men on the third morning of the game to the effect that
the match could still be won despite England scoring 551 in their first innings.
He proceeded to score a hundred, Australia got close enough to England’s score
to put the pressure back on them, and Australia duly pulled off a miracle win. In
the World Cup final of 2003 in Johannesburg, his unbeaten 140 off 121 balls
provided a masterclass in how to accelerate through a one-day innings, and put
the game beyond India’s reach.
Perhaps his positive thinking occasionally got the better of him, such as the
time he put England in to bat on a good pitch at Edgbaston in 2005, a decision
that arguably marked the turning point of the series and has been roundly
derided since by Shane Warne, but generally his approach fitted Australia’s
ultra-attacking style of play and brought about far more good than bad. He was
also an outstanding fielder: a fine catcher, and a brilliant interceptor in the covers
or at midwicket, from where he brought about many run-outs.

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