By Karthik Parimal
This was coming. Ricky Ponting’s removal from the One-Day International (ODI) squad was something that was going to happen sooner than later. If Ponting was a player from the subcontinent, he probably would have had the luxury to retire at a time of his convenience rather than being forced to exit. However, that is not how the Australians usually work. They do not take decisions based on emotions. When Ian Healy wanted to finish in front of his home crowd, he was told he couldn’t because it was difficult for Australia to persist with him any longer. That ruthlessness still exists. Ponting knew it was a point of no return and promptly announced his retirement from ODIs.
Ponting has achieved all that he could in ODI cricket. However, individual achievements are often a secondary thing for sportsmen like him. They play for the love of the game. Nevertheless, the bomb was waiting to explode after a string of five single-digit scores. He will be disappointed, but not baffled, by the decision of the selectors. Moreover, a player like Ponting will not worry about his reputation if he feels strongly about something. He isn’t going to beat himself up for leaving this matter too late; in his mind he still believes that he can make useful contributions in the ODIs.
His mind is still willing, but his reflexes aren’t the same anymore while batting. Yes, he is still unbelievably swift on the field and better than some of the other young fielders in the side. As Shane Warne once said, “Even now, he is as quick as the best of the greyhounds he owns.” But it’s important to have a batsman who can score consistently at No. 3 in any format of the game, and Ponting hasn’t been consistent of late in ODIs.
One can argue that the decision taken by the Australian selectors was too harsh, especially after Ponting’s wonderful outing against India in the Border-Gavaskar Trophy about a month ago. In that series, Ponting was the second highest run-getter, and was only behind Michael Clarke, scoring 544 runs in six innings - including a double-ton - at a brilliant average of 108.80. Although Ponting still remains an integral part of Australia’s Test plans, one must realise that the decision taken by the selectors to drop him for the limited overs format is justified, considering the fact that Ponting’s performance in the ODIs since the 2011 World Cup hasn’t been stupendous.
Post World Cup, Ponting has appeared in 16 ODIs in which he has scored a total of just 416 runs at an average of 29.71. The fact that he has scored just two half-centuries in these innings is surprising to say the least. This is very uncharacteristic of someone like Ponting, whose career average stands at a respectable 42.03 after having amassed 13,704 runs from 375 matches, with 30 centuries and 82 half-centuries. He no longer has the same effect in ODIs, and keeping the 2015 World Cup in mind and realising that the chances of Ponting playing in it is almost nil, it’s a wise move to groom a suitable replacement.
It’s going to be a humungous task to fill the void created by Ponting’s exit. Statistically, he is the second best batsmen in ODI history, after Sachin Tendulkar. His range of strokes is commendable, and the way he plays the short deliveries is a treat to the eyes. He is arguably the best-ever at the No. 3 position in ODIs. The way he effortlessly rotates the strike in the middle period and scores deceptively quick, and not to forget his ability to up the ante when the situation demands are abilities that made him one of the giants of the game.
Great players lift their game when the occasion arrives. The way he played in the 2003 World Cup final against Indiain Johannesburg was a great example. Winners have the ability to create a helpless feeling in the opposing dressing room even before the start of the match, and Ponting did exactly that by creating awe and terror amongst the Indian players during that game. The fact that he led Australia to successive World Cup triumphs speaks volumes about the man and his quest for excellence.
Not once has Ponting complained, even when things haven’t gone in his or the team’s favour. He always gave the opposition due credit and focussed on lifting his game and the team’s game rather than whining and blaming. The composure of the Ponting-led Australian side aftermath of that 2005 Ashes series defeat is an example. Even now, you will not hear Ponting grumbling about how he was dropped from the ODI side. Rather, he’ll do what he has always done – accept the verdict gracefully. He’ll take it in his stride and probably go sweat it out in the nets. However, his chances of making a comeback in ODIs are probably very bleak.
Nevertheless, Ricky Ponting has raised the bar to dizzy heights, both as a player and as a skipper. Like his former teammate Shane Warne once said, “Whenever a really good young batsman starts to come through nowadays, he is described as being the best since Ponting”
The energy Ponting gets to the field is irreplaceable. The intensity with which he approaches every single match, irrespective of the opposition, commands respect and could teach the current and future skippers a thing or two about the importance of sustaining intensity.
We’ve have, in all probability, seen the last of that amazing cover-drive or the deadly pull shot from the bat of Ricky Ponting in ODIs.
National Selection Panel chairman John Inverarity has said that the team will not be the same without Ponting, but moving on from the omission of players who have been outstanding over a long period of time is the nature of elite sport. He also mentioned that they’d like it if Ponting remains available for Test cricket, but there can be no guarantees. Inverarity’s statements clearly imply that its curtains on Ponting’s ODI career.
Reacting to the sacking, Ponting said: "It's a little bit hard to come here today and say I'm retiring when I've already been left out of the side. I don't expect to play One-Day International cricket for Australia anymore and I'm pretty sure the selectors don't expect to pick me either. I have no bitterness at all about what's happened. I totally understand the reasons why and the national selectors are looking forward to building a team for the next World Cup of which I am not part of their plans going forward.”
Adieu, Ricky Ponting, and thanks for the pleasure you have given all these years to cricket fans all over the world.
(If cricket is a religion and has many devotees, Karthik Parimal would be a primary worshipper. This 23 year old graduate student, pursuing his Masters in Engineering, could be an appropriate example of how the layers of what inspires, motivates and keeps one happy run deeply in our daily lives. He, unlike others, is not too disappointed about not making it big by playing for the country, but believes that he plays the sport every day with his heart by watching and writing on it)