Ricky got all emotional at his farewell speech. Clarke could not really find words and would have cried at the slightest provocation when asked by press about Ponting’s retirement. The guard of honor by Graeme Smith and his men for Ricky on his last walk with the bat to the middle was a fitting gesture. Smith said that Ricky was the most competitive cricketer he has played against; it is really important the best of the best hold you in high esteem.
The name Ricky Ponting registered in my mind as I was making my journey from an pimple-faced teenager to a young adult. It must have been the 1995-1996 season when two guys with goatee made their test debuts for Australia. One was a slightly stocky guy who I came to know was Stuart Law. With him in the photograph was this guy who looked cocky enough even then leaning on his bat. The goatee must have only helped with this air about him at this point in time.
Over the years, Ricky has come to epitomize what is essentially the Australian way of cricket – aggressive and sometimes hostile and the desire to win at any cost. He was usually good with the sledging bit of cricket and he must have expected the same from the opponents when he came to the crease. Even in the best of form 3 to 4 years ago, Ponting would be tentative at the beginning of the innings. The commentators always gave the bowlers a chance in the first 10 to 20 balls Ponting faced. He would miss a few and on a few occasions he would get caught in front of the wicket with his trademark initial movement.
It was when he launched into the attack that Ricky looked the best after surviving the first few minutes. The pulls would come and the cover drives would come a-flowing. Ponting’s attitude as a ‘mate’ in the team was never in question, and I am sure he would like to believe that he amassed those mind-boggling number of runs on his way to set up the team for a win or pulling the team out of danger by the skin of his teeth on countless occasions!
Of late, Ponting’s reputation as a No.3 was on the wane and he had to pass the mantle of captaincy to his protege Michael Clarke after the World Cup loss to India and the Ashes debacle. I don’t know which one started first, the misfortune as a batsman or as a captain. Even at his swan song, I was hoping that the Ricky of old would take over, that he would shake off the demons when questions were asked about his batting and go on to make a magnificient contribution for Team Australia as he did numerous times. I was waiting for those drives and the great pulls to flow from his bat once he got the measure of the wicket, gauged the bowling, and got over the pressure of just being Ricky Ponting. Alas, it was not to be – he finished on 8 trying to force the pace. Only a couple of days ago, he got out in an embarrassing manner to a Kallis delivery. It was as if Ricky knew from that moment on that the writing was on the wall – his reflexes were not as they used to be and he had to go.
Ricky had retired from ODIs some time back. It was a huge loss for ODIs, but it was almost a consolation that he was in the Test team and not to be missed from cricket altogether. From 2000s through to the present, as an avid follower of the game, Australia went from strength to strength as a cricketing nation. It was all about aggressive captaincy, making 4 plus runs per over in a day, declaring at the right time for results, intimidating the umpires to some extent. People could say if this was Australian for cricket, Ponting was the big daddy. On the field, he was usually the shortest man in the baggy green compared to giants like McGraths, the Haydens, the Gillespies . He was angry, arrogant, never minced words, sledged like hell; people sometimes called him outright dishonest and at other times a sore loser. It was like he was the antithesis of the so called ‘spirit of the game.’ But you would never get the feeling that this man was faking all this in front of the cameras. Ricky was all what you see is what you get – the bravado, the swagger, the aggression, the competitive spirit – it was all part of the persona. This was what made Ricky Ponting the great Ricky Ponting.
Usually test cricket in the subcontinent is a boring affair with the home team making 600 plus runs and later grinding the opposition’s nose in the dust bowl. Cricket in South Africa, Australia, England was always interesting with the tennis balls bounce and the aggressive bowling tactics. It was always fun watching a team go down for less than 200 runs. Ricky was one of the reasons I watched test cricket; Gilchrist was the other. The game is poorer by their absence, especially Ricky’s.