Ricky Ponting has retired from international cricket.
And though we knew it was coming, we took a sigh when he announced it, in an uncharacteristically emotional yet pragmatic press conference. The sigh – perhaps of relief that we did not need to see the great man struggling against lesser bowlers – was also because we knew we would now see him only in record books, YouTube videos and numerous articles written on him. And that shall always talk of the glory days of Australian team under him.
Cricket fans are a bunch that grows up feeding on statistics. Sometimes overfeeding… But statistics is what makes cricket interesting. Most bar-talks among cricket fans are centered on that, after the contest between bat and the ball is over. The debate about Punter – as he is nicknamed – being the greatest of his generation or not would continue for some time in the bars across Mumbai to Melbourne.
That is perhaps the biggest folly Ponting has ever had. No bowler during his heyday was able to present him the challenge that statistics posed him. After all his record, he is still known to be the second best batsman Australia has ever produced – after the revered Sir Donald Bradman. His comparison does not end there. Ricky Ponting ends his career as the second highest run gatherer in Test Cricket – after Sachin Tendulkar; the second highest run getter in ODIs – again after Sachin Tendulkar; the man with second most number of catches in Test matches – after Rahul Dravid; the man with second most catches in ODIs – after Mahela Jayawardhane; the second man with two world cup wins as captain – after Clive Lyod.
Yours truly would always remember the Test match between Australia and Sri Lanka, in the summer of 1995 – down under – when two men, one of 20 and other of 27 made their test debut. One was Punter, all at 20, having made a disappointing 1 run in the debut One Dayer earlier that year. The other was Stuart Law. It wasn’t clear which one of them was replacing Steve Waugh, a heavyweight then, who was out due to injury in that match. Both did well. Law made 54 not out and never played Test again, and became the batsman without average in test matches. Ponting was out for 96 – many believed wrongly – and returned to dressing room in a fit of emotion. That was perhaps the last we saw him getting emotional about his score. The newbie had scored exactly as much as his captain, Mark Taylor made in that match. And following that, he showed calmness almost comparable to Taylor, especially during his captainship days.
Yet statistics do not tell you the complete story. It does not tell you the authority he made Australia as a captain. Whenever team led by him played, we always tried to speculate the runners-up, exemplified by the world cup titles in 2003 and 2007. Not to forget his first captaincy series was a 3-0 sweep in favor of Australia. And that is something statistics never explains.
Most sports writers are often tempted to use the term ‘end of an era’ as players with significant records hang up their boots, to let another youngster take over the reins. And it shall be said again and again, as we are about to see the post-Ponting era. This is where yours truly differs, Ponting’s era ended with his loss of captaincy, as Australia became a team that could be beaten. That is perhaps exemplified by Ponting himself becoming susceptible to trouble against the short ball, as West Indies kept him in check in the series of 2009-10. Once, the best player of pulls shot in his generation no longer looked comfortable doing that. It was like seeing Mike Tyson being beaten by James Buster Douglas, kayoed by a thump. The newcomer challenging the champion is not a great sight in sports. But till then, Ponting looked unbeatable. And that’s a sight one loved to behold.
As with life, nothing remains forever. Not even the greatest of them all. However, what remains is the memory. And with Punter, it’s a train of memory. Flashes of pull shots, hooks and cuts, along with drives along the ground… That’s how he will be remembered. Doesn’t matter if he was named as second best to Brian Lara or Sachin Tendulkar, even during his prime…
(PS: This write-up appeared in Yours Truly’s weekly column in The Kathmandu Post – OFFSIDE – on 1st December, 2012)