So long Ricky. And thanks for all the bad memories.
One of cricket’s finest ODI innings ever played was one every Indian fan wishes was never played in the first place. For on March 23, 2003, a certain Ricky Ponting took it upon himself to single-handedly annihilate a billion Indian dreams. For solace, we keep returning to Sachin’s masterclass from the same tournament where he greeted Shoaib with a six and treated the rest with disdain. To me, the 2003 world cup ended there. I want to blank out that final. All thanks, again, to a certain Ricky Ponting.
To an Indian supporter, praising Ricky Ponting is akin to siding with Pakistan in an Indo- Pak encounter. But Ricky Ponting could have all too easily been a fallen hero, someone who burned out far ahead of his time. Cricket is littered with such tales of supreme talents that placed mammon and the bottle before the game, when all they while it should have been the other way round. The fearsome Andrew Symonds comes to mind, his career having derailed over the last couple of years. Closer to home, Vinod Kambli is an example of someone who could have graced the arena with his shots but instead graces our screens in deplorable reality television programmes. Unimaginable, but Ricky Ponting could have found himself on the list if not for the right intervention.
Sometime in 1999, he appeared at a press conference with sunglasses. But the press conference wasn’t held on a sunny beach where the heat caused one to squint ever so often. And then it tumbled out that he had found himself in a bar brawl and returned to his hotel room with a black eye that sure as hell wasn’t present when the night began. But some soul saw what potential could do when channelled. Ever since, his game has only grown leaps and bounds. His closest completion being arguably one of the game’s best exponents and ambassadors – Sachin Tendukar. For having made his debut in 1995, this achievement is no mean feat. 30 ODI centuries and 39 test centuries speak volumes of what he has achieved, considering he made his debut six years after his closest competitior.
After losing the ’83 world cup to India and returning to thrash India 5-0, Viv Richards was asked if that offered him some redemption. He simply said he would gladly forfeit the 5-0 victory for the world cup. When Sachin won the man of the series for his splendid run in the 2003 world cup, he said he would have been happier if he had lifted the cup. That is what the world cup means to these men. To think, Ricky Ponting led his team to two of those coveted cups. Many point out that he had the best team. Ahem, but have we all collectively forgotten that cricket is a team game? That individual glory can bring you the records but not always victory. Of course he had some of the best players, but what stopped other test playing nations from scouting and training the best talent?
At the time when Australia started to lose some of their legends, their dominance began to slip from their grasp. This cannot be easy for any captain. From having the assuredness of wizardry on your side to mere mortals can be frustrating. Which is why the latter half of his captaincy found him wanting on many occasions. The 2007 Syndey match was test match cricket at its lowest ebb, when he signalled to the umpire about a catch being cleanly taken when it showed clearly that it wasn’t. It showed his players increasingly not being able to back up their ‘mental disintegration’ with prowess. It found him losing thrones that had been bequeathed to him for years. The final nail in the coffin after the loss in the Ashes was the world cup loss.
No one knows for how much longer before he hangs up his boots. But no doubt, he’ll retire as one of the greats. Whatever be the grudges, he is one of the games greatest exponents.
When he pulverised the Indian attack in the 2003 world cup final, everybody hoped for an encore from Sachin. Sadly, that didn’t happen. Surely, that knock has been giving millions of Indian fans nightmares ever since.
All thanks, again, to a certain Ricky Ponting.