Ricky Ponting reminds me of highlander who is battered and bruised but still has the audacity to walk fearlessly when the blade is no longer the sharpest. He is an intractable who would not walk away into sunset but would call it a day on his own terms.
He is belligerent, which is manifested in his on-field conduct. According to former Australian captain Allan Border, “what you see with Ponting is what you get, and he wears his heart on his sleeve”. Mind you there was never a dearth of skill which is in abundance and its combination with courage is what makes Ricky Ponting one of the finest batsmen of this era. Ricky Ponting is one of the very few Australian former captains who has survived the captaincy axe and is still very much in the scheme of Australian cricket speaks volumes of his abilities as sportsmen & more conspicuously as a leader. At the moment he is living a “Saurav Ganguly” life – post captaincy where every move and innings of his would be dissected and one bad innings would call for his head.
There are two ways to analyze him as cricketer; one being the modern day great batsmen and other being Australian Captain; He is the only Oz Skipper who has a diverse record – the best being part of three time World Champion team; twice leading them to title and worst being leading the side to Three ashes defeat and still be a part of Australian National Team which is one of the rare feat. Surely luck cannot fetch you place in national team; there is something which makes him unique and still one of those players whose run scoring blade has not rusted if not the sharpest; but sadly confidence is dented.
To re-ignite is not everyone’s eminence; but would be illicit to let go before a brutal brawl which would bring him at peace with himself and help me walk into the sunset.
Ponting inherited his test team from Steve Waugh; who in-turn got it from Mark Taylor and Allan Border prior to him. The same team stuck fear in the hearts of opposition & they would loose the game in pre-match practice sessions; such was the work ethic. First 3 years of his captaincy; Ricky Ponting slept soundly at night, safe in the knowledge that regardless of whatever happens on the field, he had as his game covered with Test Cricket’s most lethal combination in the form of Warne & McGrath. He was often criticized for lacking imagination as a leader; but having said that who needs imagination when the team boasted all time greats in his lineup.
As professional he hit a new low with controversy surrounding in 2007-08 season with Sydney gate episode while his arrogance and overconfidence took over cricketing acumen where he claimed catches which were clearly grounded while attempting. As courage, confidence & skill combination is lethal and sure shot recipe of success but abundance of all results in arrogance, for which Ponting was criticized across the sporting fraternity Down Under. This series would remembered as when Ponting learned being humble from none other than Anil Kumble.
Ponting is known for playing wide repertoire shots in his armory while the pull and hook being the trademarks; however he shuffles a lot early in his innings while thrusting his front foot occasionally being the reason for his downfall. He also has questionable technique against quality spin; no wonder Harbhajan has got him 13 times in test cricket. But having said that there is still life in his batting which is the prima facie reason of his inclusion in the team. He is the vital cog of inexperienced batting line up; which has Clarke & Hussey being only two other experienced campaigners. As history repeats itself Ponting finds himself in a similar situation as Allan Border in Mid 80s when rebel series to South Africa in defiance of the Gleneagles Agreement robbed Australia great players. This time around the greats retired and Ponting was at the helm managing the reins of inexperienced team. His way of captaincy by consensus would no longer be handy but need of the hour was to be adaptive during the transition period and his critics were silenced with Victory over South Africa during 2009 – Return series in their backyard.
It wasn’t easy for Ponting as leader during the transition phase which resulted due to the retirements of greats like Warne, McGrath, Hayden, Gilchrist, Langer, Martin and Gillespie. Ponting has taken this transition into his stride and changed his leadership style to accommodate new inexperienced talent and guide them through. Axing of Andrew Symonds was a tough call; but message was driven across the team; as no one is above team and discipline shall not be compromised under any circumstances. Ponting shall render himself as agent of Change; post captaincy Ponting’s leadership extends beyond the playing field; he is there to handhold the inexperienced players in tough situations like the one last month in Johannesburg; where Australia won the second test to square the series; thanks to matured innings by certain Punter at Number 3; surviving brute force bowling from Steyn and Co.
Besides his batting prowess; he is heck of a shrewd leader with a tip or two in his pocket for the captain; when in dire straits. He is the ambassador of the work ethic and culture which has been inherited from the teams of Mark Taylor & Steve Waugh who achieved immortality & greatness. Ponting is conscientious to inculcate all time proven work ethic template in this team as a mentor. He is not the leader who would just sermonize about why McGrath was deadly accurate or why was Warne such a master class, How fearless combo of Hayden & Gilchrist were? & what was the secret of Langer’s calmness; but the one to implant this persona in this team; which converted aforesaid players into legends and the legend of Punter is cardboard cutout for this role.
Players like Hughes, Warner, Cummins, Siddle, Marsh, Khwaja & Doug Bollinger could have long International careers ahead of them. They are without any question at an advantage when legend of Ponting’s stature is around who is a versatile personality and has been part of the great immortal era of being victorious every time team set foot on the battle field.
And as the old axiom goes by “Gambling is a principle inherent in nature & nobody has ever bet enough on a winning horse” Punter would still back himself and has enough drive to bet on his ability to be the derby winner. By now he knows “It’s not the size of the dog in fight, it’s the size of the fight in the dog”. If he is able to characterize the change and acts consequently; subsequently end result shall comprise victory of the Team Vision and not only him as an individual.