Ricky Ponting, one of the greats of the modern era. He, along with Tendulkar and Lara, was considered the best batsmen of his era. In fact, for much of his career it was believed that he would overtake Tendulkar as the leading run getter in test matches. He was mostly neck and neck with Tendulkar, until Tendulkar got a second wind towards the end of his career to pull some distance away from him. Still, Ponting ended up with 13378 runs (second behind Tendulkar) with 41 test centuries ( third behind Tendulkar and Kallis) in his 168 tests ( joint highest) for Australia at an average of 51.85. He is the only player to have been part of over 100 test wins for his country.
In ODI cricket too, he was a dominant batter and was one of only 3 players to win 3 consecutive world cups, 2 of them as captain. He is also the player to be part of most ODI wins for his team at 262 wins.
He was also one of most successful captains of all time with 48 wins in 77 tests.
He is currently the player ( as of March 2019) with the second most international hundreds (71) and runs (27483) behind Tendulkar
He was often compared with Tendulkar and in the minds of the media and public alike they both competed for the right to be called the best batsmen of their generation. It was perhaps for this reason that he did not have the fan following in India that the likes of Steve Waugh and Shane Warne enjoyed in India. Deep Down somewhere we knew, that on his day, he could be (almost?) as good as our God. We didn’t like that this brash, aggressive, gruff Aussie was compared to the ‘incomparable’ Tendulkar. We wished he didn’t do well, but he often did. We wished he didn’t score much against us, but he did when it mattered most.
Early on – A precocious Talent
A man who made his international debut at the age of 20 ( against South Africa on February 15, 1995) must have impressed from early on and Ponting surely did.
Born in Tasmania, he wanted to emulate his fellow statemate and senior, David Boon into the national side. Such was his talent that at the age of 17, the batting coach of the Australian cricket academy, Rod Marsh reckoned that he was the best 17-year-old batter he had ever seen. At age 17 and 337 days, he became the youngest player ever to represent his state in First Class cricket and subsequently became the youngest Tasmanian to score a century at age 18 years and 40 days. He also became the youngest player in first class cricket in Australia to score centuries in both innings of a match. His impressive start to the game and string of performances soon made him a part of the Australia Under 19 team and also part of Australia A teams regularly. He kept his impressive domestic performances going and within a couple of years there were talks of promoting him to the national side. Such was his talent that former Australian captain Allan Border remarked in 1994 about him “ He’s just an outstanding prospect. The thing I like about him is he’s very aggressive, he plays all the shots and he’s equally at home on the front foot as the back foot…”
He did get his opportunity soon enough and played ODI cricket in February 1995 and scored his first half century in his third game for his country against India. He was soon selected for the team to tour West Indies in 1995 though did not get a game in the test series.
The Test Debut and a sedate start… to a long career
He made his debut against Srilanka in December 1995 and got off the mark with a nervous poke past slip for a boundary, however, he settled thereafter to compile an impressive 96 before been given out LBW to a delivery that looked to be missing the stumps. He followed that score with a 71 in the next test match to announce his arrival on the international scene. In the ODI tri-series that followed the test series he compiled his maiden ODI hundred against Srilanka scoring 123.
He was also selected as part of the Australian team for the 1996 world cup where they reached the final.
Trouble cementing his test spot…
While Ponting was settling in nicely in the ODI team, he was yet to cement his spot in the test side. On the team’s tours to India in 1996 and 1998, he struggled to come to grips with the low bounce and turn and kept getting dismissed cheaply. He also was part of the team that toured Pakistan in 1998 but did not set the field alight so to speak. In between the tours to the subcontinent he was also part of the Ashes team to tour England in 1997. While he did not get an opportunity in the first 3 tests, when he did get it, he scored his maiden test century scoring 127, batting at no. 6. But the subsequent tepid performances in India and Pakistan, prevented him from cementing his spot.
In fact, it was during this period that he was involved in a brawl outside a pub in New South Wales , which caused him to admit that he had a drinking problem. To go with issues he had faced in another night club, this time in Kolkata earlier in 1998, Ponting was getting a bad boy reputation which could have endangered his career.
Making the test berth his own
While his test form was patchy and he kept rotating with the likes of Darren Lehmann, Ponting always found himself in the squad, even though he was behind the likes of Justin Langer and Greg Blewett in the pecking order. The selectors backed him to come good because of his immense talent. He was selected for the West Indies tour in 1999 behind them. An injury to Blewett before the third test allowed Ponting an entry into the team and he scored a century to buttress his case for a permanent spot.
The 1999 World cup followed, Australia won it in an incredible come from behind tournament for the team until they totally dominated the final. It was to be Ponting’s first cup Triumph.
The team travelled to Sri lanka after the world cup and Ponting was the man of the series scoring 253 runs in 3 tests with one century and 2 fifties.
He took this confidence with him to the home series against Pakistan in 1999 and scored a mammoth 197 in the third test of the series and continued his form against India in the next series scoring 375 runs in three tests with two centuries.
His good form continued in the ODIs and it was around this time the Steve Waugh said that he felt Ponting could easily be the best batsman in the world.
Ponting had a miserable tour to India in 2001 scoring just 17 runs in three tests. But he had a decent Ashes series of 2001 and it was during this series that he was elevated to no.3. A position he held on to for virtually the remainder of his career.
ODI Captaincy, World cup win as Captain and a Purple Patch to dream off
It was in 2002 that Steve Waugh was dropped from the ODI team and Ponting was appointed captain of the team. He had a fantastic Ashes series of 2002-2003 and the team won the subsequent ODI tournament under his leadership. He was also captain during the 2003 world cup where having got to the final, a Ricky Ponting special in the match ( he scored 140 n.o.) simply put the Australia total out of India’s reach to hand Australia the cup. It was during this time soon after he was given the ODI captaincy that Ponting scored 18 centuries in 92 international innings between Jan 2002 – December 2003. He was at his best during this time and it came as no surprise that he was selected test captain on Steve Waugh’s retirement in 2004.
70.19, 100.2, 41.0, 67.1, 88.9 read his year by year test average from 2002-2006.
A mixture of Ups and Downs as Test Captain
He did not quite enjoy the same success as Test captain that he was used to as an ODI captain. It started well enough for him as captain though, his team swept aside Srilanka away and home and also blanked Pakistan and New Zealand at home. Before the series against Pakistan, Ponting had gone 8 tests without scoring a century. He ended the Pakistan series scoring over 400 runs in 3 tests and his first century as captain in the series and scored 293 runs against NZ in 2 tests.
It was during the 2005 Ashes series that questions were asked about his captaincy, under his watch, an Australian side lost the Ashes for the first time since 1987. He himself was not his fluent self during the series and some of the other stars like Gilchrist and Hayden struggled too. However, redemption was sweet and 18 months later, the Aussies won the 2006-07 Ashes 5-0, which was one of the high points of his test captaincy. The momentum from that series win propelled the Australians to win the World cup in 2007 which was a few months later and thus he won his second cup as captain and third consecutive cup overall.
However, soon thereafter, his prowess started to fade. After averaging 88.9 in tests for the year 2006, he averaged more than 40 in only 2 of his final 6 years of cricket. There was the odd brilliant innings and no one will quite forget his hundred against India in the 2011 World Cup QF in what turned out to be his final world cup match, but such innings were few and far between in the last 5 years or so of his career. This decline in year on year performance during the last 6 years of his career allowed Tendulkar to get far ahead of him on the run getter’s charts. From averaging in the mid 50s, his lean last 5 years lead to a drop in career average to 51.85.
When he batted he always planted his front foot forward, thus relied on his hand eye coordination and judgment of length to get the better of the bowlers, it particularly helped him to just rock back, rather than go on the back foot, to play his cuts, pulls and hooks. With time, those powers waned and so did his scores.
But Ponting stuck around, and played on for his country manfully because he had something to offer, and he did. While the greats like Warne, Margrath, Hayden and Gilchrist retired around him, he realized he needed to be there to rally the young side that was left. Two further losses as captain during the Ashes of 2009 and 2010-11 and the loss to India in the 2011 WC prompted him to resign from the captaincy under immense pressure. He retired from international cricket in 2012.
A career of lost tempers and controversies
We elaborated on his early troubles with Alcohol leading to scuffles off the field. He also got into tussles with opposition players on the field too throughout his career. Be it Harbhajan or hurling abuses at the England coaching staff during the 2005 Ashes series or the ill tempered series against India in 2007-08, Ponting was always in the middle of it. He always had that bit of edge to him, that made him such a competitor.
Acclaimed mentor cum coach
Being so young when he made his international debut, he knows well what a young cricketer feels at that level and thus has worked well with cricketers on his retirement. Be it coaching the Mumbai Indians to the 2015 IPL title where everyone spoke of how he backed the young players to come good. This trait is evident even in his role as coach of the Delhi Capitals team which has a group of young players like Prithvi Shaw, Rishabh Pant, Shreyas Iyer and Kagiso Rabada as its nucleus. His inputs are also very valued in Australia and he is one of the assistant coaches of the team. A backer of raw talent when he sees it, its not surprising that he has backed Rishabh Pant to be an integral part of the Indian team for the 2019 World cup.
He ended his career as the leading run getter for Australia in tests and ODIs. Its not surprising that he is often thought of to be in the reckoning to be Australia’s best ever batsmen behind the DON.
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