In a class of his own

Ricky Ponting, the ICC’s International Player for two years running, was also voted as Captain of the Year at the ICC Awards in Johannesburg on September 10. Here is an appreciation from Vijay Parthasarathy.

How scary is it that Ricky Ponting is only 32?

Already the Tasmanian has accumulated in excess of 9000 Test runs and nearly 10.500 runs in one-dayers. Barring a case of injury, there is little doubt that he will take his place one day at the top of the run-getters’ tables.

ICC’s International Player, for two years running was also voted as Captain of the Year at the ceremony last fortnight; he was named captain of both the ICC ODI and Test teams. The Women’s Cricketer of the Year award was about the only thing he didn’t snag a nomination for, and that presumably wasn’t for lack of ability.

Notwithstanding the ICC’s decision, there remains a certain element of doubt regarding Ponting’s tactical gifts. While Ponting is certainly not a disoriented leader, he had the good fortune to take charge of a well-oiled machine. On the other hand a mediocre captain could easily have undermined the hard work of Allan Border, Mark Taylor and Steve Waugh. Ponting’s captaincy has at times looked uninspired. Jayawardene emerged from the World Cup as the more proactive tactician, despite surrendering the final, but perhaps the sheer scope of Ponting’s results — a Champions Trophy win, the World Cup triumph and most significantly the Ashes whitewash — weighed in his favour.

Admittedly, over the years, Ponting has transformed from a brash leader into a calmly aggressive one, not without an unexpected conservative streak — for instance, he has discarded Waugh’s practice of employing traditional batsmen instead of night-watchmen at close of play. New Zealand’s Stephen Fleming and Sri Lanka’s Mahela Jayawardene have made optimal use of moderately talented players to pull off some admirable wins; Ponting has tapped into the phenomenal gifts of men like Adam Gilchrist and Michael Clarke to regularly squeeze opponents out of the game. Not surprisingly, Ponting has the highest win-loss percentage among both Test and one-day captains.

The shock defeat to Zimbabwe in the ICC World Twenty20 reflects obvious implications of the game’s latest manifestation: disciplined teams could potentially topple established champions. The neighbourhood principle of hit-out or get-out can carry a team further than one might expect. Captains must focus on dismissing the opposition, not containing it.

Australia had not lost to Zimbabwe in 24 years until last Wednesday. He admitted: “The top three batters (including Ponting) didn’t respect their own game enough. When you don’t respect this game it gets up and bites you.” Ponting said after the match. “They (Zimbabwe) outplayed us. They did most things in the game better than us.”

Exactly two years before, Australia had surrendered the Ashes to Michael Vaughan’s men. Ricky Ponting has now presided over two of Australia’s most embarrassing losses, yet his record is such, he doesn’t quite qualify as beleaguered.

It is as an all-time great batsman that Ponting has sealed his reputation. He has established himself, with unostentatious classiness, alongside Lara and Tendulkar as this generation’s great batting triumvirate. As a modern legend in the making, Ponting’s story is gripping. And, it is far from complete.