By Madan Mohan
On a good day, Ricky Ponting courts controversy with his demeanour. When one such day is succeeded by a day on which Sachin Tendulkar walks *gulp, gasp*, Ricky-bashing spins out of control. It is time to douse the fire and cool tempers. People, love him or hate him, you have to respect Ricky Ponting.
Thanks to his petulance, it’s often said that Ponting loses respect he deserves for his achievements as a great Test batsman. But why? Is this a congregation of holy men we are talking about? No, these are international cricketers, who compete hard on the field for the sake of glory. Some look graceful in doing so, others get ugly. But do the latter not deserve respect for their achievements as players? I guess the Fairplay award doesn’t count for more than the IPL trophy, or does it? Would you pay to watch cricket of utterly abysmal quality and intensity conducted in the most becoming manner?
Cricketers are selected to represent the team for how well they play the game and not for being in everybody’s good books. Would you rather they go North and South to please all or spend that time honing their craft? Where exactly you’d place Ponting in the pantheon of great batsmen of the game is a matter of debate, but he’s at least one of the greatest batsmen of his generation. And as captain, he may have lost the Ashes thrice, but he also handed a whitewash to England in the 2006 edition and has presided over two successful World Cup and ICC Knockout Trophy campaigns.
Without even going into a lot of detail, it is easily established that, whether you like it or not, he belongs to an illustrious club. In short, one would kill to be as good a cricketer as him. And is there anything else that really matters? Oh yes, match-fixing and the like. And is Ponting guilty of those?
Leaving that aside, I am not even convinced Ponting’s reputation has entirely to do with his misdemeanours (if we actually construe not walking as a misdemeanour, that is, a position I don’t subscribe to). He did not accept money to divulge weather forecasts nor was he accused of drug abuse. How then is it that Shane Warne actually enjoys much more goodwill than Ponting? Is Warne a more brilliant cricketer than Ponting? In my opinion, yes. But, more pertinently, he’s also more likeable and charismatic, though there’s nothing to show he’s much more of a gentleman than Ponting. And that is the crux of Ponting-bashing. It’s so easy to hate him because he’s so hard to like. But, in the final analysis, it is very harsh on the poor chap to condemn him for that which he’s not done.
While is it human tendency to feel turned off by a repugnant and arrogant personality, we should not take perception to be reality. Things aren’t necessarily what they seem, as demonstrated above, so let’s not assume Ponting is a bigger cheat than everybody else in the game just because he’s hard to like. I can assure you that had the match-fixing scandal never surfaced, Hansie Cronje would quite comfortably be more liked than Ponting.
I am not insensitive to the reactions his behavior arouses and it has irked me on several occasions, too. It’s very, very hard to adore Ponting, particularly for neutral cricket watchers. But his unpleasant personality cannot be sufficient reason to suppose he’s plumbed new depths in bringing the game to disrepute. A more impartial examination will reveal that while there’s no smoke without fire, he was not much worse nor much better than many of his contemporaries. They only didn’t have that scowl to go with it.
Let’s look away from that scowl and respect, if not celebrate, the greatness of Ricky Ponting the champion batsman. Because there may not be another that awesome for quite some time.
(Madan Mohan, a 25-year old CA from Mumbai, is passionate about writing, music and cricket. Writing on cricket is like the icing on the cake)