This Ricky couldn't stand being rickety

The bowlers must be celebrating Ricky Ponting’s exit even as they acknowledge their appreciation for a most fascinating opponent. He was really born to cricket. Ponting’s retirement is indeed a significant end to a glorious era, writes Vijay Lokapally.

The bowlers of the world, without exception, united to try and shackle him; only to face embarrassment. He was a remarkably gifted cricketer who played on his terms and often emerged triumphant on big occasions. He knew how to leave a mark, just as he did in announcing his retirement from the game that he served with distinction.

Ricky Ponting, given his character to dominate, would not have spent an extra moment that showed him in poor light in the dressing room. He always had his way. Even in that critical moment when he decided to take a bow from international cricket.

Statistics tend to portray a false picture of many a sportsman. Ponting, 37, did not fall in that category. He made runs and made them in style. There was an imperious touch to his presence at the crease as he would decimate the best of attacks with amazing consistency. His strength came from a belief that he was the master at the crease and all bowlers his students. He brought such dominance to his art of scoring runs.

Ponting made it so simple when he said, “I know I’ve given cricket my all. It’s been my life for 20 years. There is not much more that I can give.”

Runs would have come but not the way Ponting would have loved them to. He made runs when most others failed. He excelled on treacherous pitches, in conditions most unsuited for batting, and often against bowlers who reserved their best for him. It was always a challenge for Ponting because he was always the marked man.

As Harbhajan Singh remarked, “It was a joy to claim his wicket because you had to really work hard for it. You read him but he read you better. He was a champion batsman,” said the off-spinner who dismissed Ponting 10 times, the most by a bowler. Anil Kumble and Ishant Sharma got him seven times each. “I treasure the experience,” Ishant had remarked when recalling his exploits against one of cricket’s greatest batsmen.

An early meeting, in Sharjah in 1998, was quite an explosive one when Harbhajan invited the Match Referee’s attention for a verbal sending off of Ponting. It was the beginning of a fierce rivalry between the two. Ponting won some battles, Harbhajan the most.

Ponting shone in an era when cricket extracted the best from a player in three formats. He was quick in adapting and loved being aggressive. Some of his Test innings were scripted at a pace suited for one-day cricket. Good judgment rarely deserted him when dealing with tough situations. Ponting was at ease on most pitches even though his record in India made dismal reading.

In 14 Tests in India, all he aggregated was 662 runs with a lone century in Bangalore in 2008. But then the Indians would remember him for the two back-to-back double hundreds that he notched in 2003 in Adelaide (242) and Melbourne (257). It did not matter that the Adelaide epic came in a losing cause. He ensured the next one would set up a grand victory for Australia. It was a privilege to have witnessed Ponting at his best in a series that was a farewell for Steve Waugh, another modern cricket great.

Ponting’s contribution to cricket will remain unmatched. He was an inexhaustible storehouse of energy at the crease, looking to dominate, looking to make a statement, a fascinating figure who backed himself to conquer the opposition. Waugh, who passed the mantle of captaincy to Ponting, was lavish in his praise. “He’s been a fantastic player and leaves the game a living legend. You tend to remember the great stuff. A cricket career with such longevity will have ups and downs and I always prided myself on how I came back from adversity and I think Ricky is the same.” That Ponting and Waugh ended their career with 168 Tests each is indeed a pleasant coincidence.

Matthew Hayden believes that Ponting’s departure would leave a “massive hole” in the Australian team. It would also take away the charm of attacking batting in international cricket. It was a sight to watch Ponting play those ferocious pulls and cuts with a pre-determined approach. It can be tricky for most batsmen to adopt such an adventurous approach, but Ponting revelled in it. He always took the first step to signal a combat.

When V. V. S. Laxman described Ponting as an “exceptional player” and Shane Warne described playing with him a “pleasure” you know that Ponting was a special cricketer. He signified the essence of a competitive cricketer who knew his job well. If it required him to battle alone, so be it. He had the temperament, the skills, a wide range of shots and the brave heart to plunge into the arena, always in the vanguard.

Standing in the slips, rubbing his palms as the bowler ran in and then stooping at the point of delivery showed Ponting’s fierce concentration. He took some incredible catches and played some great innings in all corners of the world. The bowlers must be celebrating his exit even as they acknowledge their appreciation for a most fascinating opponent. He was really born to cricket. Ponting’s retirement is indeed a significant end to a glorious era.