Continuing with our series on the greatest cricketers of all time, here’s No. 7 on our list.
No. 7 – Ricky Ponting
Ricky Ponting had just only arrived at the academy headed by Rod Marsh. He was 16 years old and there was a lot of banter around about his fearless nature. 20 year-old fast bowler Paul Wilson, standing at 6 feet 6, had the ball thrown to him. Like any other fast bowler at an academy, he ran in at full throttle, overstepped the popping crease by a good 2-3 yards, and hurled a bouncer at the young lad from Launceston who was facing his first delivery. A second later, the ball was whizzing past mid-wicket and Ricky Ponting was holding the pose, as Marsh watched on in amazement.
Years have gone by, conventions have changed, formats have been generated and rules have been accommodated; still, despite the frequency of cricket played these days, longevity defines the greatness of a player. Yes, the milestone number now may be much beyond 100; but if you have made it that far it means you have won the mental battles, held your own, kept up with the ever-so-agile nature of the game and done all that without losing your ability to be a top performer.
Ricky Ponting has done all that and more.
That he was a special one was evident from the fact that he had played most of his cricket between the ages 13-15 at the under-17s and under-19s levels. Of course, there were certain other players from his generation who had done a similar sort of thing. Justin Langer was a fighter, Damien Martyn a personification of calm and Michael Slater brought a good dose of adventure; Ponting offered a buffet of all those qualities.
No surprise then that despite a circumspect start to his international career, Ponting always found ways to bring out his best. For one, being a young cricketer in Australia is not an easy job: you’re only judged by your performances, not by your potential. To add to that, Ponting ran into a bit of trouble early into his career which involved beer, a nightclub and a resulting black eye. His weakness against spin wasn’t a big secret either. Ergo, he wasn’t a regular in that Aussie side for a large part of 5 years after he made his debut in 1995. But that was just phase one.
Phase two saw cricket’s most successful captain ever, Australia’s – and the world’s – highest aggregating batsman of the decade, and a man who simply stood up to anything that came his way. Despite doing extraordinary things like lifting his batting average from 35 after his first 30 Tests to well above 50 in a few years’ time, Ricky Ponting slowly (and ironically) turned into everything that wasn’t associated with him: an inspiration, a steady influence, a level-headed leader. And much as Harbhajan Singh might disagree, he became quite a decent player against the turning ball as well.
Of course, he still pulled and cut the ball off any length against any bowler. He still ran every run hard and hit the stumps from most places in the ground at will; but this was a different Ricky Ponting. He wasn’t just the talented cricketer from Australia anymore: he started featuring in more teams’ pre-match bowling plans than ever. This was a Ricky Ponting sides now feared like they did a Brian Lara or a Sanath Jayasuriya: one that could dismantle you and hit you with your own limbs. Boy, did he do that.
Thirty years ago, a good Test cricketer might have played about 50 Test matches for his country. A great player, maybe 100 games. Sure, the amount of cricket played these days is several times what used to be played back then, but longevity is still what separates a good player from a legend. With 165 Test matches, 375 ODIs, 71 international centuries, 3 World Cups and a definite year or two in cricket still remaining in him, Ricky Ponting is just that. And yet, as is obligatory for any cricketer, he has taken a lot of stick from media and fans all around the world. Not least for the Ashes defeats under his captaincy and, more recently, his decision to continue playing Test cricket.
But the thing with legends is, you cannot keep fulminating against them. At some point, you realize you’re in over your head and need to just stop, relax and enjoy what is left.
So let’s stop, relax, and enjoy……..
And now for the obligatory video clip. In 2003, Ponting went on a run-scoring spree the like of which had scarcely ever been seen before, and will likely never be seen again. The clip below is a highlights package of the first of two double hundreds he scored against India in the hard-fought series played Down Under. This was Ponting at the peak of his powers – batting doesn’t come much more imperious than this.
These are the other players who have made it so far:
No. 20 – Bill O’Reilly; No. 19 – Fred Trueman; No. 18 – Dennis Lillee; No. 17 – Sunil Gavaskar; No. 16 – Steve Waugh; No. 15 – Kapil Dev; No. 14 – Malcolm Marshall; No. 13 – Glenn McGrath; No. 12 – Imran Khan; No. 11 – Brian Lara; No. 10 – Jack Hobbs; No. 9 – Adam Gilchrist; No. 8 – Wasim Akram
Read the detailed write-ups on all the players in this list here: