Decade Review 2009

Laughing boy

Like Bradman before him, Ponting turned the opposition into ball-ferriers, delighting in his mastery all the while

Christian Ryan

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Ricky Ponting counterattacks, England v Australia, 3rd Test, Old Trafford, August 15, 2005
Abstinence and violence: Ponting at Old Trafford in 2005 © Getty Images

Near the top right corner of Ricky Ponting's bat is painted the thick black outline of a kookaburra, which is appropriate, for one of the most devastating sentences in all cricket literature goes: "He not only butchered the bowling, he took a cruel delight in his total mastery, as a kookaburra takes a cackling joy in breaking the necks of snakes."

So said Denzil Batchelor of Don Bradman. Add a wad of chewie, a flash of furry, sun-browned arms, then some little boy's teeth peeping out the instant before that happy cackle erupts, and you have Ricky Ponting in excelsis.

That was him, the defining image of a decade ruled by batsmen: Ponting tapping, chewing, smirking, in a helmet and short sleeves, a little man fidgety with energy and always on the move, feet snapping into position, arms flying at the ball, head trusting the trueness of the bounce. Bowlers peering up from the top of their run-ups could detect no trace of softness. One confident stride towards the ball; then, hit hard. Singles, twos and threes he sprinted. On pitches that seamed or spun, before he was quite set, feet and hands thrust so firmly at the ball were sometimes difficult to retract if the ball got closer to him than he'd imagined. But Punter's luck was in. Such pitches were rare. And on flat decks, some days, he turned bowlers into ball-ferriers. Trying to unstick him was futile. "He set out to loosen the bowling, as a stonemason uses wedges to crack rock …" Bradman again, the way Ray Robinson saw him, and a neater line to describe the beginnings of a Ponting innings has yet to be invented.

Runs piled up and up, as happened to Bradman, so high that seeing past them became hard - impossible, in the end, decided the selectors of Cricinfo's Player of the Decade. In 13 countries and three kinds of cricket, Ponting gathered nearly 19,000 international runs. No batsman before him had hit 15,000 in a decade. Dotted among these were 55 hundreds, several containing not a flicker of a chance, some of them scarcely a mishit.

If few were the thrilling creations of all our childhood dreamings, well perhaps that was a little bit Bradmanesque too. Business cricketer, master tradesman, run machine, automaton; some of the labels flung upon The Don clung little less adhesively to Ponting. The pattern of many an Australian summer's day went like this: wake up, telly on, wicket falls, Ponting in, get distracted by the commentary team's spruiking of memorabilia and the wavelike lapping of the run flow, then by coffee and the lawnmower, return to the lounge room in time to see Ponting raising his bat again.

Ponting has his pull stroke - slapped hard and flat off one swivelling leg, from deliveries seemingly too full to clobber - yet it lacks the signature gorgeousness of a Laxman, Lara or Martyn, just as Bradman's cover-drive was scant match for Stan McCabe's. No Ponting innings shines sunnier in the memory than an 88 on a Gabba seamer. It was his fifth Test. Matthew Elliott, in his first, had gone for a duck; Michael Bevan, in his eighth, would soon do likewise. In three and a bit hours of freewheeling impudence, Ponting hooked four frowning West Indian fast men to apoplexy. He did this not last decade, though, but in the previous millennium.

He did it at number three in the batting order. Selectors short of sight and empty of imagination dumped him one Test later. By 1999 he'd played 30 matches for a Test average of 38. In 2002, when Wisden profiled the world's 40 finest cricketers in a booklet called The Best, Ponting was listed not in the category of "the all-time greats", nor even "the almost-greats". They filed Ponting under "the merely excellent".

Finally he was trusted once more at number three. That imp-genius 88 felt long ago. Five years had flown, and been frittered, at numbers six, five and seven.

"I didn't like waiting around" - in the dressing room, he was talking about, not the time it took team honchos to come to their senses. He disliked arriving at the crease "in different conditions with the ball older". Number three was his home as a boy. Going back there felt like the big career turning point. And there was one other thing. In the same year, 2001, that he reclaimed number three, Ricky got to know Rianna Cantor.

That was him, the defining image of a decade ruled by batsmen: Ponting tapping, chewing, smirking, in a helmet and short sleeves, a little man fidgety with energy and always on the move, feet snapping into position, arms flying at the ball, head trusting the trueness of the bounce

"My inspiration. My love." She was something else, too. "No matter what happens on the field, as long as I have you beside me then I know everything in the world is right."

Things happened fast - too fast, if you had the misfortune to be bowling to him. In Johannesburg in 2003, his buccaneering day out, Ponting's last 90 runs of the World Cup final came in 47 balls, one- and two-handed sixes pitter-pattering the roofs of the leg-side stands. At Old Trafford in 2005, his masterpiece of abstinence, a Test match was rescued with exquisitely placed strokes and nowt-shalt-tempt-me no-strokes. Between times, against India, came double-hundreds in a row, and inexorable.

Before long, he was frequently being hailed as one of his country's most significant captains; one of its shrewdest, less frequently. Old Test men grizzled. This fellow couldn't set decent fields, wouldn't try part-time bowlers, didn't tolerate blokes who weren't his sort of blokes, got grumpy, never learnt, grew paranoid about over-rates, delayed declarations too late and gasbagged too long between overs. Also, he kept losing the Ashes. Ponting mightn't like hearing this - and if his eighth and latest book can be believed, he obsesses painstakingly over nearly every word written about him - but his flaws made the drama all the more watchable.

At least one of them - the one about him never learning - can be crossed off the list. Against Pakistan recently, on an MCG pitch built to last a month, he declared 10 overs after lunch on day two, out-thinking everybody, and setting up victory with four hours left on the second-last day of the decade.

He has blossomed, this boy whose interests, team-mates used to protest, ran far deeper than cricket; he was fond of greyhounds, golf and Aussie Rules too. In a way, the more he has learnt, the more his original passion has been rekindled. The Ponting of today is Test cricket's greatest defender, speaking up for its verities and olde-worlde eccentricities, and bucking fashion by choosing five-day cricket over cheesburger cricket. On Test match morning at the Adelaide Oval, where some of the soft, fine curves are being massacred so that more football fans can be crammed in, an idiot local ABC commentator asked Ponting if he was looking forward to seeing the North Melbourne Kangaroos play there. Radio listeners felt the air turn thick. Ponting's irritation was palpable. Why, was the mostly unspoken inference, are bulldozers dismantling paradise? And why aren't you asking me about cricket?

Ponting loves cricket, you see. Once he's done playing, he might yet be a good person to have sitting on the world's cricket boards for the next four or so decades, a bit like another famous Australian who used to laugh in bowlers' faces.

Christian Ryan is a writer based in Melbourne. He is the author of Golden Boy: Kim Hughes and the Bad Old Days of Australian Cricket, published in March 2009


Comments: 93 
Posted by Kushal on (January 17, 2010, 7:57 GMT)

i think kallis was the player of the decade. just because australia ended being no1 team in both formats doesnt mean he is the player of the decade. we r discussing individual performances not team performances. i feel if ponting wasnt in the aussie team he wudnt be as gud as he was. my personal favorite is tendulkar but i feel tendulkar is the greatest because of his consistancy and class but i feel never in his career he has been miles ahead of everyone else. what makes tendulkar gr8 is he just does it day in and day out. ponting i feel wud not do as well against his own bowling attack. he was supect against walsh and ambrose.

Posted by K. on (January 16, 2010, 8:58 GMT)

Though Ponting is undoubtedly a very good batsman ,my abiding memory of Ponting when he retires will be Harbhajan laughing at him...not the other way around.

Posted by Apyboutit on (January 16, 2010, 8:54 GMT)

More like a laughable, boyish, award!! Common! Where are all the pundits! Where is quality reasoning?! Where is seriousness to a cause! Warne, lara, Dravid, McGrath getting poor mentions is a case of "out of sight, out of mind"! Jury, please immediately take part in some good social service activities. Or, take a dip in the Holy ganges! You will need all the goodness from those noble acts to erase the present bad one!! ;)

Posted by Apyboutit on (January 16, 2010, 8:19 GMT)

If Warne and McGrath were still playing, Ricky would have gotten less than half of what he got. His batting performance against spin and quality fast bowling has been shameful. His 206 at Hobart has been an undeserved gift from Pak! His runs during 2000s do not match with the runs of several other players like Lara and Sachin during their "best decades". (Oh pls, I am not suggesting another Ricky-Sachin-Lara battle here - but just placing facts). His performances have been on the back drop of an extraordinarily tough batting and bowling lineup to crack. Once that team broke though, his true colors came out. His batting average and strike rate came down significantly in the last 3-4 years. His captaincy has been one to laugh at. He lost two ashes!! TWO!! He led the most disgraceful of team orchestras - most at Sydney - Twice. Not one to be kind (decent) to hosts, guests, umpires, one! Only age has dulled his"bad boy" image. Lies, damn lies, statistics, ... Punter

Posted by MUTHUSWAMY on (January 16, 2010, 7:55 GMT)

Judging by some of the comments posted by some mindless people on Punter, then Andy Flower should be the best batsman in the world, bcos he played for the weakest team and against the best teams in the world (1-8 teams) can we able to accept the same??????????????

Posted by MUTHUSWAMY on (January 16, 2010, 5:16 GMT)

most of the blokes who wrote in this article, keep asking that warne & mcgrath were main cause of winning % for aus.. well i would like to ask one question, how many time that these bowlers were made to bowl when aussies were bowled out cheaply>?????????????? imagine the bowlers had luxury of 400+ in most of the matches... bcos of that they attacked opposition batsmen??? if aussies were bowled out for less that 200 then the same bowlers will be under pressure?? if the same bowlers had played for Zimbabwe, would zimbabwe been no 1 team my dear foks?????????????? all the aussie bowlers had a luxury of having enough runs to 2003 no warne still aussies won WC. in 2007 no lee /warne still ausies won WC. in SAF 2005 (No mcgrath still aus won series 2-1)

Posted by MUTHUSWAMY on (January 16, 2010, 5:01 GMT)

Well you guys speaks abt sporting spirit, what is that????? if a player given out wrongly then the bowling team should call him right?? have sachin called any player like that????? recently vs SL dilshan going great guns no bowler can get him out. suddenly umpire played his part in that match, given out dilshan wrongly. what sachin did that time??? if he is really genuine then he should have called him... so sporting spirit is not part of him. Against SAF Dhoni gave pitch curator cash for providing rank turner. if that comes in sporting spirit???? Indian players are great... in acting and masters of politics................. all went blast in asking technology after sydney test, once lost series vs SL with technology, now they dont ask for that??? what a great sporting team?????

Posted by MUTHUSWAMY on (January 16, 2010, 4:50 GMT)

poJAYDE6, ponting too faced akram, waqar, akthar, ambrose, walsh, kumble, other leading fast bowlers during his career, including mcgrath, gillespie, lee & warne in aus domestic cricket. first get your stats right. for all who find fault on ponting, i would like to say one thing, if ponting avg in india is a landmark then you should not mention Lara in the list of greats bcos he has not scored test century in INDIA. if avg is the landmark then sachin avg against SAF & PAK is way below is career avg,.PONTING IS THE BEST THE WORLD HAS BEEN IN THE LAST 50 YEARS. BEFORE THAT MR.BRADMAN

Posted by MUTHUSWAMY on (January 16, 2010, 4:37 GMT)

Dear, microsoftinternetexplorer, fyi, Ponting too made his debut in 1995, he too faced bowlers lke, ambrose, walsh, donald,pollock, akram, waqar, aktar,kumble, murali, even mcgrath, gillespie & warney in domestic cricket. (remember aussie domectic cricket toughest in world cricket) who can forget his inns vs pak at perth in 1999 (197). get your stats right before penning. ok

Posted by A on (January 15, 2010, 23:54 GMT)

crazyhead@ I agree with 100%...How can Ponting be called Great when he still is supect to raw pace...we all that his inablility to play Flintoff & co in 2005 ashes, against Ishant sharma, K.Roach and also his average being in low 20s agianst India in India...he is a looooonng way behind Tendulkar, Lara or even S.Waugh.

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Christian RyanClose
Christian Ryan Christian Ryan lives in Melbourne, writes and edits, was once the editor of The Monthly magazine and Wisden Australia, and now bowls low-grade, high-bouncing legbreaks with renewed zeal in recognition of Stuart MacGill's retirement and the selection opportunities this presents. He is the author of Golden Boy: Kim Hughes and the Bad Old Days of Australian Cricket and Australia: Story of a Cricket Country
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