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Cricket's Commanders-in-chief: Ricky Ponting

Some say that a team is only as good as it is led. Others say that a team is a great regardless of who leads it. However, even the latter group admit that a team is more than just the sum of the parts. A team, by definition is one that is united and however great the players are, they still have to work together.

Every once in a while, there comes along a team that conquers all before it; a team, at the very sight of which, opponents lose half the battle before the game even begins. Such a team has, in the history of cricket, been witnessed only three times, or perhaps four. The last team that can truly be called bordering on the invincible, was the Australian team led by a certain diminutive one-drop batsman.

Ricky Ponting burst onto the scene, replete with a French beard and a flashing blade. He soon blossomed into a regular for the Aussies and in 2002, was handled the mantle of Australia’s ODI captain. Under him, a faltering side exceeded expectations and Ponting showed that his selection was no stop-gap.

Soon, he took over from Steve Waugh and a team of brilliant individuals went on an unbelievable winning spree that would make Ponting’s men the most feared outfit in world cricket. He had the likes of Glenn McGrath, Shane Warne and Adam Gilchrist at the peak of their powers, but having stars in the line-up is only one part of the story. The other and more crucial part, is to get them working together and that is precisely what Ponting did.

As a captain, Ponting was always one who backed his bowlers to the hilt and more often than not, set aggressive fields, encouraging them to take wickets rather than just contain. Perhaps it is the latent Aussie killer instinct that kicked in but when Australia, under Ponting, sensed a win, they went for it and this paid rich dividends. As a result, Ponting is one of the most successful test captains in history.

They say that a great leader must command respect and not demand it. Ponting was one such leader. A brilliant fielder, his performances lifted the entire team and an already good Australian fielding side became an impeccable one under Ponting.

It is often said that a cricketer must command a place in his team by the virtue of making himself indispensable. In this regard, through a major part of his time as captain, bar the fag end, Ponting led from the front in terms of quite consistent performances with the bat as well. He might have appeared clueless on the field the day before but with the bat in hand, he hardly ever showed signs of being bogged down by the burden of captaincy.

A tiger on the field, he conducted himself quite well off it too. Yes, there were a few minor instances of cockiness but the line between arrogance and cockiness is a blurred one and for the most part, Ponting stayed on the right side of it. He, by character, is aggressive and sometimes this leads to him pushing, what people call conventional cricket etiquettes. He has had altercations with on-field match officials but by-and-large, his conduct has been above average.

The criticism that many people level against Ponting is that he lacks imagination as a captain. While many subscribe to this view, it may not really be the case. Justin Langer, his international team mate for a long time, had this to say, ‘‘He is quite inspirational as a leader and I just never get all the detractors he has. Whether it’s in the fielding practice, the nets, the way he holds himself off the field — every time he speaks, these young guys just listen, they hang on to every word he says.’’

There are many who absolutely detest Ricky Ponting for his aggressiveness and his, according to them, lack of etiquette. There are others who recognize him as a great batsman but not all that good a skipper. There are others still, who believe that he was a captain of a great team. Most of these people are, for the most part, envious of his success. There can be no doubts about that. However, even they, grudgingly respect him for his achievements. That is the sign of a great captain; perhaps one of the greatest captain. He is, certainly one of the greatest of modern times.

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