Ricky Ponting : a misunderstood great
Ricky Ponting has had a decorated career playing for Australia that has spanned 16 years. He is widely regarded as the second best batsman to represent Australia after Sir Donald Bradman. Considering the batting stalwarts that Australia has produced, that is a high accolade to receive. When he does decide to call time on his career (or should the selectors make the call), it will be as Australia’s top run getter in both tests and one day internationals. Ricky Ponting has also had the most successful career as a captain. Record number of test wins as captain (48), equalling the most number of consecutive test wins (16), two world cups wins (both undefeated), couple of champions trophy wins and one stat that will be very hard (if ever) to be equalled, let alone beaten – Ricky Ponting is the sole member of the club of 100 test wins as a player. It’s a result of being part of an era where the Australian team were nigh impossible to beat. While captaining the side Ponting also ensured that his batting stats were as good as when he was just a player ( admittedly this wasn’t the case in the last couple of years of his captaincy). He remains the only captain to have scored two hundreds in the same match, thrice. One of those instances came during his 100′th test match (watch the two innings here : 1′st , 2′nd ) . A unique feat in itself.
Mystifingly though, for a player backed up with such impressive stats there is only a grudging respect. It’s one that is unfailingly accompanied with words that don’t always paint him in bright colours
It probably didn’t help Ponting that early on his international career, he had to front up to the media sporting a shiner and having to admit to an abuse issue. It is to his immense credit that he publicly announced he had a problem which he intended to front up to and deal with. He remained true to his words and post the media conference in 1999, there hasn’t been one further issue involving Ponting. Early impressions though are hard to overcome, and with his on field persona of someone not willing to budge an inch, it’s an image that has stuck with him throughout his career. Being part of an Australian team that won a lot more than they lost, losing was not something he took to kindly. A prime example of Ponting’s standards that he aimed to keep for himself came during the epic Kolkata test in 2001. The moment is captured by Prem Panicker in his 4th day report after the Laxman/Dravid show:
“And Ricky Ponting ran around, from a very wide midwicket to square leg, dived headlong, just got his fingertips to the ball and when he saw it cross the ropes, banged his hand on the ground in frustration”
That one moment, fairly early on in his career defined Ricky Ponting the fielder. He rivalled and quite comfortably outshone his main competitor Jonty Rhodes in the fielding stakes. What Ponting projected on the field was reflecting the ultra aggressive Australians who didn’t believe any cause was lost. While the rest of the team were praised for their ‘never know when to give up attitude’; for Ponting it was deemed to be a sign of his arrogance. It’s an image that never justified him. For all of his ultra competitiveness on the field, praise for the opposition from Ponting was never far away. How many folks would recollect that Ponting refused the joint man-of-the-match award with Herschelle Gibbs at the end of that match in Johannesburg; stating that he didn’t deserve it? That was a gesture that spoke volumes; in that he found the wits to recognise a stupendous effort amidst the horrors of his team not being able to defend a total that was scarcely believable in the first place.
When one talks of Ponting’s captaincy reign, the time post the retirement of McGrath and Warne is brought up as a counter weight to temper praise that he truly deserves. While he did have the luxury of turning to the two legends of the game during the first half of his tenure as captain when things were tight, what is overlooked is the fact that Australia still remained competitive post their retirements. Admittedly the success levels dropped, but Ponting must take some credit for ensuring that a free fall like what the West Indies suffered didn’t occur. That is not to say he didn’t have his fair share of mistakes, most notably the Nagpur test in 2008, the Cardiff test in 2009 being two prime examples. His worst moment as captain of the Australian team came during the acrimonious Sydney test in 2008 and looking back it’s probably one test he wished he had handled better. It also led to an article written by Roebuck that got its fair share of publicity since it pandered to a common (albeit overtly exaggerated) image of the team Ponting was leading.
A lot has been said about how unimaginative a captain Ponting had been and how he often suffered from tunnel vision. What is not acknowledged is that aside from Mark Taylor and to a lesser extent Stephen Fleming, imaginative captaincy has been in short supply for the best part of two decades. But why give Ponting the leeway other captains seemingly are offered? If it’s a story that could be run ad nauseam and appealed to the masses, then why change it? It’s a sad indictment of his entire playing career, an image built up early on, that people refuse to budge from. Admittedly Ponting hasn’t always helped his cause, but to single him out amongst the rest is a touch baffling.
Ricky Ponting is coming to the end of an outstanding career and it’s time we give him the praise that he truly deserves. When you glance over the records that Ponting will take into his post retirement life, one could say he has had the most successful career as a player. Let’s praise it without any add ons, for players like him do not come often.
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