Ponting: The man who fiddled with pressure, with pleasure
‘Single-minded determination to win – to win within the laws but, if necessary, to the last limit within them. It means where the ‘impossible’ is within the realm of what the human body can do, there are Australians who believe that they can do it – and who have succeeded often enough to make us wonder if anything is impossible to them. It means they have never lost a match – particularly a Test match – until the last run is scored or their last wicket down.’
Glenn McGrath. Brett Lee. Adam Gilchrist. Shane Warne. Any of these would fit in as the perfect synonym for the term ‘Australianism’. They often weaved their magic at the cricket field. While they thumped their opponents when they clicked together as a unit, even if they didn’t, one of them would live up to the expectations and turn the tide in the team’s favour. They all were legends of the game. And someone had to be incredibly special, to lead a team which ruled the world cricket for a decade. That itself defines Ricky Ponting’s caliber.
I am a diehard fan of Tendulkar. But every now and then, when people asked me whether Ponting could handle pressure better than the Little Master, I would just change the topic. But I confess I have always relished Ponting’s batting in all formats of the game. He is a rare phenomenon, someone who has dealt with pressure all throughout his career, setting landmarks one after the other. It was a pleasure to see him bat under dire circumstances, something which the Aussies weren’t used to under his captaincy.
When India made it to the 2003 ICC Cricket World Cup, where they were to meet the Aussies, the entire cricket fraternity predicted how close the final would be. The Ganguly-led side had Tendulkar, Dravid and it was the team which could spoil anybody’s party. The Indian media hailed the way our boys had made it to the finals and even before the match began, we were over confident that if ever there was a team that could decode the Aussies in the final, it was India.
The match began and by the end of the first over bowled by Zaheer Khan, India were under pressure. The Aussies were not new to a crucial final. Gilchrist was at his brutal best, as he added 105 runs with Hayden in 14 overs. In came Ponting, for whom batting well in big matches was a routine business. He took his time and then suddenly changed gears after the 38th over. He thrashed all the Indian bowlers and for some of the eight sixes he hit, he didn’t even use his two hands as he scored an unbeaten140. The Indian fans begged for the innings to end and by the time it did, Aussies had posted a mammoth score of 359 runs. The match that was predicted to be a ‘close encounter’ is more fondly remembered as a World Cup final where Ponting alone made a mockery of the Indian bowling attack to give Australia their consecutive World Cup title.
For his unique quality of delivering under pressure, Punter received enormous respect from his teammates and the Australian media. The likes of Warne, McGrath, Gillespie, became legends but their glittering careers wouldn’t be the same if they didn’t have Punter who always encouraged them. For instance, he always encouraged Lee to bowl as fast as he could without bothering about the line and length or the swing. Binga, who lived for pace, wreaked havoc after getting the license to kill. Moreover, whenever Australian innings went in a state of shock, Ponting brought something special with the bat that would once again inspire his bowlers to do well.
Apart from his elegant batting, Ponting’s fielding is a treat to watch on YouTube. I wonder if any cricketer has the amount of direct hits he has to his name. Punter was a master when it came to playing the pull shot and a short ball was the last thing you would want to bowl, with him at the strike. In case if you did, he would spin his body on his right leg like a machine and would dispatch the ball behind the boundary. He would do that to you all day. In case if you went full, he would drive you through covers, between the gaps, would come down to the crease with that wicked smile as if asking “What’s next, mate?”
The life of an Australian cricketer is too short. Because being human, they tend to fail at times. And if you fail in two series, being an Aussie you know your career is over. For Ponting, it was just the ongoing series against South Africa where he has scored 20 runs in three innings. The 37-year-old has seen a number of players who have hung their boots just at the right time. I reckon the selectors wouldn’t have dropped him before Ashes as Australia aren’t at their best at the moment, but Ponting knew he wasn’t doing anything substantial, and staying at the crease would only lead to criticism. Perth was the place where he began the beautiful journey and that’s where he ended it.
You have to be ruthless, aggressive, clever and dominating to lead Australia to 34 consecutive undefeated World Cup games. You got to have nerves of steel to lead Australian cricket for a decade at its pinnacle. In short, you have to be Ricky Ponting.