Going from strength to strength

International cricket has been enriched by Ricky Ponting’s conquests in different parts of the world. His quality batting has provided the foundation for Ponting the captain to excel. It is to the credit of the talent spotters in Australia that they had detected early a champion in this entertaining cricketer. He has now grown into one with rare authority, writes Vijay Lokapally.

He has a mind of his own. He is not easily distracted on the field; he is made of such stern stuff that nothing, absolutely nothing, can divert his attention from his target. Ricky Ponting sets a high standard for himself and knows how to live up to it — by scoring runs and winning matches with his batting and leadership.

Though people have heaped praises on Ponting in the last few years, the Aussie had gone through a difficult time during his formative stage in international cricket. His critics savaged him for his “poor attitude” on and off the field, and at one point his place in the Australian team was threatened by his unpredictable behaviour. But Ponting survived the crisis and the Australian cricket thrived.

It has been a wonderful decade for this wonderful cricketer. His deeds may not have been extraordinary, but then not many have achieved the heights that Ponting has in his distinguished career. His wicket continues to be one of the most coveted by the bowlers around the world.

From a batsman who had made experts take notice of his skills at a very young age — he made his debut 15 years ago — Ponting has matured into a leader of men. He may have suffered reverses, but the Australian skipper has always believed in setting examples. And such occasions have been plenty from the time he took over the reins of the Australian team from Steve Waugh in 2004.

Modern cricket has not seen a more competitive batsman than Ponting. He is also a rare captain who actually never gives up. When the former Australia skipper, Ian Chappell, rated Ponting above Steve Waugh as a leader, many eyebrows were raised. But Chappell was not wrong.

Ponting has rarely been short of ideas even when the opposition was calling the shots. Those difficult situations brought the best out of Ponting, who dictated the course of the contest with his batting. When leading his strong outfit, the Aussie did not believe in waiting for the batsmen to make mistakes. He liked to plot their downfall. “Early lessons learnt at Hobart,” Ponting explained.

The best of Ponting’s runs were made in exacting conditions. Not the one to complain about the state of the pitches, he is arguably the best batsman when it comes to adapting. Ponting has excelled mostly on home pitches but that shouldn’t take the sheen off his batting which has elevated the art of run-making to a new level.

There is a belief among the bowlers that Ponting can be snared in the early stage of his innings. But then most bowlers also agree that he has the tenacity to wear down an attack with his positive approach. His partners are known to revel in his company, for he makes batting look easy.

Ponting rose in the esteem of his critics as they realised that he was the ideal man to shape Australian cricket once the team lost the services of some of its trusted stalwarts in quick succession. The departure of Shane Warne, Glenn McGrath, Matthew Hayden, Adam Gilchrist, Damien Martyn, Justin Langer and Steve Waugh left Ponting with a relatively raw side. The transition period was the greatest challenge that Ponting faced. And according to the Aussie skipper, it was greater than tackling a Kumble or a Harbhajan on a tricky surface. That Ponting came out trumps is a tribute to his ability to learn and absorb.

His contribution cannot be measured in terms of runs made and victories recorded. Ponting has remained an integral part of Australia’s domination of world cricket and he has only grown in stature with every season. His consistency can be a subject worth analysing for management students. Ponting’s man management has been commendable and it reflects in the results that adorn his captaincy. The support he has found from his colleagues indeed makes Ponting a model leader.

Ponting commands a place for himself in cricket history. Often experts are asked to compare Ponting with Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid. Though most debates revolve around the strength of statistical achievements, Ponting’s cricket deserves more. So does Tendulkar’s.

True, Ponting has fared better than Tendulkar and Dravid in terms of scoring runs and centuries in the last decade, but better only at home. In India, Ponting has aggregated only 306 runs in eight Tests at an average of 21.85. In comparison, Tendulkar, in Australia, has compiled 925 runs in nine Tests at 66.07 and Dravid 908 runs in 10 Tests at 56.75. Of course, Ponting leads the table for most runs in Test cricket in the last 10 years.

Many greats rate Ponting as the batsman most likely to surpass Tendulkar’s mark for most centuries and runs in Test cricket. Accepted, Tendulkar has some more years of cricket left in him but even he would not grudge Ponting getting past him. A few years ago, Lara had paid glowing tributes to Ponting when the Aussie crossed the 10,000-run mark in Test cricket. “He has already gone past 10,000 runs, so it is one of those records that, if you play long enough and you score runs consistently, you are capable of achieving.”

Regardless of who ends up at the summit after retirement, Tendulkar and Ponting have entertained the cricket world with their styles of batting. Ponting, of course, has enjoyed the freedom to bat aggressively for he has not encountered the kind of pressures the Indian master has. But then at no point has Ponting compromised his batting style, making his statement at the crease with his typical pull shots and cuts.

International cricket has been enriched by Ponting’s conquests in different parts of the world. His quality batting has provided the foundation for Ponting the captain to excel. It is to the credit of the talent spotters in Australia that they had detected early a champion in this entertaining cricketer. He has now grown into one with rare authority.