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Sunday, January 24, 2021

Proud patriot

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Ricky Ponting’s retirement signifies the end of an era of competitive sportsmanship writes RITAM MITRA

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Although cricket has such a long and colourful history, there are few who can claim to have been as gritty and rough-and-tough a specimen as Ricky Ponting, Australia’s second greatest ever player after Sir Donald Bradman. After retiring from all formats of the game at the end of November 2012, Ponting leaves behind a rich and unrivalled legacy to the game.

Ponting was a cry back to the Test cricketers of yesteryear – the type for whom fame was an unnecessary side-effect of putting every inch of their bodies on the line for their country; the type who were relentless in their pursuit for victory, which of course, was everything; and the type who would do anything for their teammates. As tributes pour in across the world for one of cricket’s most courageous warriors, Ponting’s retirement signals the end of an era.

And what an era it has been! Ponting’s individual statistics are sublime enough – but his success as part of a team is nothing short of astonishing. He has won more Test matches than any other player – 108 (of which he captained 48 – another record). It’s been said that he was unimaginative as a captain – and he perhaps was – but even with a team like the one he led, 48 wins is a remarkable effort.

Ponting finishes his career 16 Test wins ahead of the next most successful player; his own weapon of mass destruction, Shane Warne. In fact, the next two most successful active players are Jacques Kallis on 76 wins and Sachin Tendulkar on 66 wins. With those two current legends in their twilight years, it may well be that no one will ever win as many Test matches as Ricky Ponting.

With 13,378 test runs and 13,704 ODI runs, Ponting retires as the second highest international run scorer of all time. He tormented all and sundry – but Indian fans will take special relief in knowing he will never again be up in assault of the Indian bowling unit. Against India, he scored at an average of 54 – higher than his career average of 51 – and made 8 centuries, including his two highest scores of 257 and 242.  Ponting’s breathtaking century against India in the 2003 World Cup final – and his valiant single-handed effort to rescue Australia from India in the 2011 World Cup quarter-final – are two of the finest episodes of the tournament’s history.

A number of cricketing icons have retired in the past year. For Rahul Dravid, time spent at the crease was paramount. For VVS Laxman, firing when no one else performed was his bread and butter. Yet for Ponting, statistics, fame and fortune were all secondary. His was a mind tuned to a mongrel, get-your-hands-dirty dial; whatever it took to win a match, you could be assured Ponting would give it a shot. A favourite highlight for many, which perhaps sums him up best, was his sledge to Javagal Srinath of India. In 1999-2000, when India toured Australia, Srinath bowled a bouncer at Ponting, which the Australian took on the helmet grille.

When on song, Ponting was the most scintillating batsman in the world to watch. He was not beautiful like Tendulkar – but nonetheless exciting. He was ruthless on the short ball – his signature hook shot sent many bowlers back to their marks scratching their heads. He played his straight drives on the walk – normally a sign of imbalance, but with Ponting it seemed like a touch of flair.  His fielding was electric, and he stands shoulder to shoulder with Jonty Rhodes in this respect – although his ability to hit the stumps was perhaps even a shade uncannier.

Upon his retirement, Ponting was magnanimous in his praise of two Indian players. “Sachin was the best I played against, and that’s coming from more of a captain’s point of view as well, knowing he had so much success against us in our conditions and their conditions,” he said in Perth. Perhaps more surprising was his praise of arch-nemesis off-spinner Harbhajan Singh. “Harbhajan’s probably the other one (along with Curtly Ambrose and Wasim Akram) who caused me as much grief as anything. He got me out a lot of times. Those guys through their careers can all put their hand up and say they had my measure,” he added.

Harbhajan paid rich tribute to the man who was his 50th, 250th and 300th Test wickets. “He was a fantastic cricketer, outstanding batsman. Who can forget that knock he played against us in the World Cup final in 2003; I hate him for that! Now that Ricky Ponting has retired I can honestly say that he was the guy we all looked up to. He is one of the great legends of cricket that I have seen and played against. Ponting dominated all around the world and will go down as a legend and a great fighter. I am so glad that I played against him – have a happy retirement, Ricky. The cricket world will miss you,” said Harbhajan.

Although he rated Tendulkar as a better batsman, Ponting may have raised the ire of Indian fans when he said, “The way I judge players has always been on their ability to win games, and win games by themselves. Lara probably more than what Sachin’s done for India.”  But with his record – it’s fair to say he knows a little bit about winning.

“Hopefully my impact and input on Australian cricket has left something behind,” he said. Australian cricket was made all the richer for Ricky Ponting – but he leaves behind a mark on the game that will see him recognised as one of the greatest ever batsmen, one of the fiercest competitors and a truly dedicated servant to the game.


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