When asked whether he would be returning to England for the 2013 Ashes, Ricky Ponting joked that he would probably need a wheelchair. At the age of thirty-four, with five hard years as captain already under his belt, it is highly unlikely that the battling Tasmanian will be touring England again.
A pity then, that so many spectators chose to boo him on Sunday evening as he made his way to Edgbaston crease for the final time. Such pathetic behaviour towards one of the game’s greats, who only two days previously had become the third highest Test run scorer of all time, should embarrass all cricket lovers.
Indeed, anyone who took part in the booing should ask themselves whether they really love cricket at all.
Ponting is the best Australian batsman since Donald Bradman. Only Brian Lara and Sachin Tendulkar lie ahead of him in the list of all-time Test run-scorers. The impression is sometimes given in cricket circles that Lara and Tendulkar are on a higher plane than their contemporaries.
Yet Ponting’s average is superior to both of theirs. He is the equal of those two greats and it is entirely fitting that his name rests alongside theirs in the sport’s annals.
He is a compelling batsman. Two aspects of the Ponting game will long be remembered. Firstly, in an era when it has become unfashionable to praise batting orthodoxy, his driving to the off is as correct and controlled as anything executed by Peter May.
Secondly, there is his trademark stroke: a pugnacious swivel-pull off the front foot that can take all the wind out of a bowler. Technically orthodox, respectful of the traditions associated with wearing the baggy green cap, he is nevertheless, a thoroughly modern batsman, always on the attack and rarely pinned down.
It is fair to say that he is not a natural captain. His tendency to lose his cool in public must be as disconcerting to his team as it is helpful to the opposition. Like many modern cricketers, he is torn between having to mouth well-meaning platitudes about the spirit of cricket whilst pushing the limits as far as he can on the field.
But much of the criticism he has received, from the carping of former Aussie cricketers to the hysterical article calling for his resignation after the Sydney Test of 2007, has been over the top. Ponting has become a lightning conductor for much that is wrong in the sport and a convenient punch bag for lazy journalists.
He was cast as the pantomime villain a long time ago, particularly in England and India, and any other opinion struggles to get a fair hearing. He is a shy man, likeable and self-deprecating to those who know him.
But this rarely comes across to those of us who are unlikely to spend much time in his company. Not as self-controlled as Steve Waugh nor as laid-back and jovial as Mark Taylor, he has not found a public persona behind which to hide, on the field, or off it.
He is himself; nervous, edgy, sometimes prickly, but essentially a hard-working, immensely talented sportsman who believes that his scores and his team’s results should speak for themselves and is frequently bemused when they don’t.
His captaincy will be remembered for two negatives: his tendency to lose his cool and his regular embroilment in controversy. He can’t erase these impressions; they are etched on the popular imagination as deeply as the finger-wagging confrontation in Faisalabad that came to define Mike Gatting’s captaincy. But he can add other aspects to his reputation.
Australia are currently 2.0 to retain the Ashes. If he were to lead his inexperienced, injury-hampered team to such a success, it would divert the attention of future generations away from the tantrums and the diplomatic incidents and towards the solid and undeniable facts of his time as leader: that he is the second most successful Australian captain of all time.
Reproduced with permission from betting.betfair.com. Ã‚Â© The Sporting Exchange Limited
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BIOGRAPHY: Georginio Wijnaldum