This year has been excruciating for ardent lovers of the game. Some of the best players have called it a day, leaving a void that could take ages to fill. Although it was expected that the crème de la crème would soon make an exit, it’s a hard pill to swallow when the moment truly arrives. Ricky Ponting, one of the legends of Australian cricket, has felt that his time at the highest level is up. And as he bids adieu to the world of Test cricket, one cannot help but feel a sense of sadness. After 17 years of playing for his country, Ponting will bow out after the Perth Test against South Africa.
Just like his stalwart contemporaries who’ve recently headed into twilight, Ponting has enjoyed a truly remarkable career. He has featured in 108 Test victories – a feat second to none, and has three World Cup titles under his belt. To emulate Steve Waugh’s success as a captain was always going to be an arduous task, but under Ponting, the Australians have scaled peaks in One-Day Internationals (ODI) that no other team can possibly surpass in the near future. That Ponting will no longer don the national colours is hard to imagine.
Grit and tenacity are something the Australian cricketers are often associated with. Every captain, from Allan Border to Steve Waugh, ensured that such qualities were embedded in their cavalry. When Ponting took over the reins from Waugh, he never lowered the bar and, just like an able leader, formed a unit that made Australia a force to reckon with in the international arena in the ODIs. They became a champion team. They won half the battles even before the matches commenced, simply because they instilled a sense of fear in the opposition. Agreed, he skippered three Ashes losses, but the way he led a fight during those series despite not having the best of the resources at his disposal is something that will never be forgotten.
Ponting was voted “Player of the Decade” when he scored 9,458 runs in 107 Tests at a magnificent average of 58.38 from 2000 to 2009. The fact that he was bestowed with such an honour ahead of players of the calibre of Jacques Kallis, Adam Gilchrist, Muttiah Muralitharan, Glenn McGrath, Sachin Tendulkar and Shane Warne speaks volumes of his class. A winner’s mindset is what he always possessed, and perhaps that’s what made numerous highs in his career possible.
In the January of 2010, Ponting, who was recuperating from an elbow injury, hit a lean patch during the series against Pakistan. However, he never once used that as an excuse. “I’ve had a poor game and I’ve had poor six or eight games. So I’ve got to go to Hobart and I’ve got to prepare well and I’ve got to start making some runs. I put my hand up and said I’m right to play and I’ve got to get out there and make runs. That’s my job,” Ponting said. When the skipper sets such standards, the rest of the team invariably follows suit.
Such an attitude is the hallmark of true champions. One can seldom see a Rahul Dravid or a Tendulkar, Kallis or a Ponting make excuses whenever things don’t go their way. They do whatever it takes to conquer their inner demons. Ponting might have acquired such traits from his predecessors, but there is no doubting the fact that he’s passed the virtues to the ones after him. The Australians haven’t hit rock-bottom in their transition phase, and that is largely due to the towering presence of Ponting in the side during such a testing phase. His wisdom has certainly held them in good stead.
It’s a well-known fact that the Australian head honchos are ruthless once a player starts to underperform, regardless of his reputation. Ian Healy wasn’t allowed to bow out in front of his home crowd, and even a stalwart like Steve Waugh was asked to relinquish his captaincy. But seldom was Ponting told what to do, simply because he never let his game drop to appalling levels — despite a lean patch. It’s his undying passion and love for the game that has helped him collect 27,471 international runs – next only to Tendulkar in the list of leading run-scorers.
Apparently, some members of the Australian squad wept when Ponting broke the news of his retirement to them. That was how well he was respected and loved. For a man who has given cricket his all since the last 17 years, that was a befitting gesture.
May you end on a high at Perth, Punter!
(Karthik Parimal, a Correspondent with CricketCountry, is a cricket aficionado and a worshipper of the game. He idolises Steve Waugh and can give up anything, absolutely anything, just to watch a Kumar Sangakkara cover drive. He can be followed on Twitter at https://twitter.com/karthik_parimal)