It was strange watching Australia involved in a game at Bellerive Oval without Ricky Ponting. Ever since the early nineties when he caught the attention of Rod Marsh, the head coach at the Academy, Ponting’s been a favourite son at the picturesque Hobart ground. He regularly received a standing ovation when he walked out to bat, as he graduated from scoring sparkling centuries for Tasmania, to become one of the World’s leading stroke makers. He also went on to captain his country with distinction. In that capacity he’s had many glorious moments, and whilst he was a mighty successful Test captain, he was at his best leading in the One-Day arena.
No dearth of glory
Two World Cup winning campaigns without losing a game is testament to his expertise. In attempting to become the first captain to win three Cups on the trot, he went down kicking and screaming, as his team faded. He scored a belligerent century that stretched India to the limit before his team eventually exited at the quarterfinal stage.
He finished as a World Cup captain the way he started, fighting adversity. On the eve of his first campaign in South Africa he lost his best bowler, Shane Warne, to a drugs suspension. He didn’t just battle on gamely after that devastating blow, he destroyed the opposition. To cap off a remarkable campaign, Ponting won the man of the match award in the final after scoring a century that contained some mammoth sixes to put the final nail in India’s coffin.
Throughout the bulk of his ODI career Ponting has anchored the Australian innings from number three. There were times when he enjoyed the luxury of batting behind Mark Waugh and Adam Gilchrist, then Matthew Hayden and Gilchrist but Ponting has been a constant, always reliable in the good times and the bad. When Australia won the Champion’s trophy in 2009 he played a memorable knock at the Wanderers. Facing a good West Indies attack on a lively pitch he put on a batting clinic while the rest of the Australian top order struggled. In the end the solid foundation he laid allowed the lower order to blossom and post a winning target and from there his team went on to claim their second successive Champion’s Trophy.
Obstinacy may cost dearly
The same stubborn streak evident in that fighting knock, eventually led to his omission from the ODI side. It’s impossible to expect Ponting to be obstinate on the field and then pliable off it; he knew he was at risk of being dropped when he retired from the captaincy and opted to continue playing. However, his eternal self-belief (another important ingredient in his success) means he’s convinced he’s not finished at the highest level. Despite this strong-willed approach, to the point of occasional stubbornness, Ponting is more likely to avoid a humiliating departure from Test cricket, the game he’s always held dearest.
The Indian parallel
Sachin Tendulkar was also missing from the game at Bellerive. For years this pair has dueled for the title of best stroke maker in the game; suddenly they’re just battling to prolong their career.
In his last innings against Australia at the Gabba it was clear that Tendulkar was unsettled by the pace and bounce of the Australian new ball bowlers. Even allowing for his injured leg, his innings was a strange mixture of frenetic stroke play and self-destructive shot selection.
Tendulkar’s time is near but the difference between him and Ponting is he won’t be sacked by the Indian selectors. It’s easy to understand Tendulkar’s desire to score that elusive hundredth century because, for a while now, he’s looked to put such a statistical divide between him and the next batsman that the difference will never be bridged.
Like Ponting, Tendulkar won’t want to embarrass himself by playing on too long. The key for all top-class cricketers is to have a standard below which they will not fall. Both Ponting and Tendulkar are close to reaching that point.