08 December 2012

Ricky Ponting, not the individual but the team player

It's been difficult to sit down and write this article.
Many may find it is the thing to do when a player retires, to write an article about that specific player and the legacy they leave behind for the game. Some may do it for formality, others do it to share their memories. Either way you look at it expression comes in many ways but it isn't always easy.

I started this site close to five years ago as a way of expressing my pride in the Baggy Greens through writing. There were no clear aspirations behind it. I just wanted to write about my pride for the team, the individual players and this great game. It's given me personal motivation and helps shape a positive outlook on many things in life.

Through it I have networked with many talented writers, met some awesome, crazy cricket fans over the world but also brought some good mates into my own world. One of the people I have met, who has since become a good mate, was kind enough to arrange for me to go watch Australia at a training session with him last year and chat with some of the players.

Screen shot I took of Punter back in the
1996 Cricket World Cup final.
The early years.
Having met one player in particular on two different occassions, somewhat briefly, this time was even more meaningful as I got to see him working off the field which many haven't had the opportunity to do so.

Ricky Ponting will always be my favourite cricketer and the reasons go well beyond what he did on the cricket field.

If you have followed the site for a few years you will have read many articles about him, usually in a highly supportive manner. The reasons are clear and despite the struggles I never stopped backing the maestro.

So, standing by the nets last year at the training session looking on from the side, Punter was the first to show up and was padded up in no time, working on throw downs with Justin Langer. The process was repetitve and tedious. They went on and on, with brief pauses where Punter and JL would discuss a thing or two and carry on.

This would then expand into a more thorough net session and despite being focused on his own practice, Punter would take the time look at the batsmen in the other net with him and share a tip or two based upon what he was doing. In this case it was Phillip Hughes - now set to step in to try fulfil the possible role at number 3 in the Test side which Punter occupied for the majority of his career.

The lengthy practice session came to an end.
Many of the players had come and gone in a relatively short time frame just to have an intense bowl or a quick batting session. However, the last man to walk away was Ricky Ponting with Usman Khawaja and Justin Langer along side him. He was the first to be there and the last to leave.

You often hear the commentators mention this commitment but to see it first hand was special and it was just one of the few reasons Ricky Ponting will forever be one of the best I've seen. His work ethic was solid.
With the Urn in 2006/07. 5-0 win!

Reading many players books you find plenty mention of Punter and it's rarely in a negative light.
In fact it is always positive with heavy emphasis on Ponting - the great team mate and dedicated employee.

He was a team player and this was most evident reading Matthew Hayden's autobiography.
In other books you will read that Punter was always the first bloke up in the morning to prepare for the day ahead and was strict with the cut off time when personal time converts to team time, meaning get to bed!

The pressure he must have been under as a captain of a great side couldn't have been easy, especially during the transition phase. Yet he remained focused and dedicated to the team and his own preparations. When a player needed to vent or have a private chat, Punter would be there, and when a player stepped out of line, Punter would step in to pull him back with a defense against a media frenzy, organisational red tape and emotional strain.

You never read about Punter complaining about it.

By 2009 most of his team mates had retired, mates from a side that was the greatest since The Invincibles and close to the excellence of the West Indian greats. This transition period was hard on Australian cricket with mixed results, a massive void left by great players and a decline in Punter's own game.

Despite it all he kept on going and to have grafted for 17 years in a cut throat profession is quite amazing.

The pull shot. One of many executed.
When he took a ball to the face in the 2009 Ashes series, he merely spat out the blood, brushed it aside and got on with the job which had been a tough one to live up to.

When he was a batsman on his own mission during the Boxing Day Test in the 2008/09 series loss against The Proteas he didn't point fingers at his fellow batsman who'd struggled. He took the loss like a man and wrote off his own batting input because the side did not win, and after being knocked out of the 2011 World Cup he bit his lip, realised the result for what it was and accepted his century would be in vain as Australia would not lift a World Cup title for the fourth time in a row.

There were many low points during the final years of the Ponting era and that comes with the territory in such a lengthy career. Rarely do the greats bow out on a high and leave with five gold stars. No, this game is harsh and knocks you down to earth very quickly when having an epic time on cloud nine.

The thing is that there is no reason why the low points should be looked as things that tarnished Punter's legendary career. These "low points" defined his legacy and shaped his career to the point where he was characterised by these, for a better word, challenges.

It proved what a tough bloke Punter was, a guy who fought like a wounded dog on the field and never wanted to show any signs of weakness, not just physically but mentally as well when in the heat of the battle.
He became a gladiator of soughts walking out in front of the massive MCG crowd for Boxing Day Test matches and he was also an addict for the big stage when the side needed him most.

The match saving innings during the 2005 Ashes series, which saw the Urn painfully handed back to the English, goes down as a classic but there were many victorious ones, and how bloody spectacular where they? Unbelievable, unforgettable.

The 2003 ICC World Cup final century was right up there for me as the best I saw, but his twin centuries in his 100th Test, maiden Test century in England, 2009 Semi-final century in the ICC Champions Trophy and opening the 2006/07 Ashes with 196 also stand out as strong memories.

I believe cricketers who play for the team go down as the greatest.
You could have all the accolades but if the team never pulled through what is the purpose of it in a team sport? It is meaningless in the bigger picture.

When you think of the great Australian decade from the mid-90s to 2000s, you will remember Ricky Thomas Ponting as a batsman who is right in there, who got the runs when they mattered and was up front with his team, giving the Australian supporters entertainment and memories we will not forget.

That is just the basics behind the legacy, merely the surface level of memories but for you personally, well, you will have memories within your own mind.
We talk about sportsmen sometimes to a point where we make them out to be larger than life caricatures. Fact is they simply play a game and that is it.
In some countries they're seen as Gods, in some they're seen as products for marketing purposes. It is the nature of sport in the modern world.

"One of Australia's most exciting prospects..."
An image in a cricket journal I received as a gift.
I was 9 years old and this was my introduction to
Ricky Ponting. Here he is for Tasmania in 1994/5.
Punter is a guy who never liked the fuss, never liked the hype and rarely remembers his own personal achievements by the statistic or the year achieved. It's quite amusing but it's another sign that he loved the game for what it is and the team element is what made it contagious. If he could contribute in that way and give himself purpose within the bigger picture, it was a job well done. He just loves cricket.

It's hard to elevate an easy going man like him to such great heights or make him out to be some cricketing rock star.

This is how I will remember him on a humble level.

I was inspired by his leadership and proud of his selfless approach to the game. It emphasised the importance of the word "team" and the value of contribution.
I strongly believe this is what many of the current Australian cricketers will miss, and Michael Clarke has made this perfectly clear.

Having said all of this he was just a mighty awesome batsman and he almost patented some of the shots we were entertained by season in, season out. His job was to score runs and help win games for the Australian team, which he did. He played 168 Test matches and 375 ODIs to shred his talent and show off his trade against some insanely good bowling attacks.

He was fearless and when he came out to bat the body language expressed the simple fact that he meant business and was up for the battle, no matter what the match situation. A tough campaigner.

In the field he was a demon and to put him up there with Jonty Rhodes is fitting. In fact, Punter's versatility in the field makes him one of the best ever fielders I have seen.
He could field anywhere and still raise eyebrows as the years rolled on by, with sharp insticts, quick movements and bizarre enthusiasm. Some of the catches and run outs he executed were unreal in a real time.

He made fielding look fun and as a youngster I took to his energy in the field with a lot of interest and it helped me double my efforts as a fielder to the point where I prided myself on it.
A small way Punter inspired me when I played cricket. I wonder how many others out there had just as much, if not more, inspiration for their own game having studied his?

As a captain he stood up to the challenges and took a lot of criticism that many players wouldn't have had the guts to face and simply folded by standing down. Punter didn't do that.

Many criticised him for being a poor captain and he offered no value with captaincy when he had the greats like Glenn McGrath, Shane Warne, Justin Langer, Matthew Hayden and Adam Gilchrist.

The is null and void. Why?

Quite simple, he knew how to execute their skills and how to keep them focused on the job at hand. He still contributed incredibly to the side whilst juggling all that went into the job.
He grew up playing alongside these guys all around the world and knew their games inside out. He knew how to manage them and lead. He did perhaps lack a bit of creativity and may have appeared to be stagnant with tactical elements in the overall approach of the job but he knew how to be a strong leader.

When the greats like him retired he had to take on a new side, with players not as good as those he'd grown up around. Not easy. Once again he didn't complain. As his own game started to suffer he still put the team first and marched on. Losing two Ashes series and the World Cup title he still looked for the positives to keep going for his own sake and the teams.

The 2009 ICC Champions Trophy was a big win and of course the 2009 Test series win against The Proteas. Punter rates these as special achievements in his career and a big reason would likely be because it was a middle finger to the media criticism and a testament that the team was still competitive and good enough to win, but the transition would still take time. It is still unfolding.

Punter stood by the young players during this period and the fact that during his final interview after the 3rd Test on Monday he could recall the debutants in the 2009 Test series versus the Proteas with ease should give indication he was a fixated team player and saw the value within the Baggy Green cap, you don't forget who gets there.

He is also the last player of the golden decade.
That chapter is now offically closed and the current players have a big responsibility ahead that I think will hit them like a ton of bricks. The void left by Punter is huge and I honestly don't think we realise it yet but I am sure the boys will regroup strongly moving forward.

I do hope that Punter's hunger for the game will not subside and that he will get pulled back into the mix. In fact I hope he stays connected to Australian cricket while he still has the focus and knowledge to share with the side. It's invaluable experience on offer.

I could go on about the statistics, the milestones but you can read that elsewhere.
It's all there for public viewing and I am sure you all know it by now.

It is only fair to write though that these stats at the very end are special, the summary, numbers with stories and memories attached.
Read them and if you have played this great game and lived it under the scorching sun, you will realise that to do this for a living and achieve these stats is incredible:

168 matches, 287 innings, 13,378 runs, HS 257, 51.85 average, 41 centuries, 62 fifties, 196 catches.

375 matches, 365 innings, 13,704 runs, HS 164, 42.03 average, 30 centuries, 82 fifties, 160 catches.

It's been hard to accept he will no longer wear a Baggy Green cap and watching the highlights package of his final innings is still rather emotional, which I do find to be a bit silly but I guess we get moved in different ways by different things. Sometimes it's music, nature, movies or family and mates. In this instance it was a cricketer and what a great player he was.

In an article written last year following our exit from the World Cup I stated the following:

"He's (Ricky Ponting) made sacrifices, dealt with testing situations and has gone out there game after game to do his job and give us something to cheer about, something to admire, something to recall when we're older.

Having been a modern legend of the game we can one day say, "That Ricky Ponting bloke was a bloody incredible cricketer, as was that side!"
That attachment alone between Punter and the brilliant Australian side he was a member of, is a testament that he was a team player, with that simple association many people make, be it haters or loyal supporters

With the curtain closed I can proudly say Ricky Ponting was a bloody incredible cricketer.

My favourite cricketer has retired but the special memories and great emotions that go with it won't fade away, as it was for me when Brian Lara, Steve Waugh, Glenn McGrath, Curtley Ambrose, Gary Kirsten, Matthew Hayden and Justin Langer retired and walked away from international cricket.

Thank you Punter for the entertainment and I hope you can catch up on lost time now with your family and mates. Hope to see you back in the mix of Australian cricket in the not too distant future.

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Matt McCracken said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Matt McCracken said...

very well written. very sad for me to see him go and I know I'm not alone.

Sylvester said...

Certainly going to take sometime getting use to Aussie cricket without him, great article to sign off on his career.

Marie John said...

great write up on Ponting. the ashes will be a different game all together without him.

Ramakrishnan Laxman said...

I was humbled by what I saw in yesterday's IPL match and paid my tribute to Ricky Ponting on my blog