Ponting stands up for embattled Hobart
Sturdy, strident and implacable, the graven image of Ricky Ponting now overlooks the nets at Bellerive Oval. His pull shot is frozen in time as it is in the minds of the millions who watched his storied Test career.
Sadly for Hobart, the place of its Test match in the Australian cricket calendar is nowhere near as certain, with a concerted push for other venues such as Canberra to forge ahead next summer. For Ponting, the unveiling of his statue was thus a moment of bittersweet duality - on one hand the acknowledgement of his many achievements and Tasmania's role in shaping them, on the other a very desperate battle to keep Hobart on the Test match roster.
It is some years since Ponting lived in Hobart. He relocated to Sydney at the height of his international playing days, and in retirement has shifted down to Melbourne, about an hour's flight away. But his memories of the Tasmanian capital, and also his hometown of Launceston in the north of the state, remain exceptionally fresh, and he is adamant that Bellerive should remain a part of Test match scheduling in future.
Moreover, he thinks the ground deserves a better allotment of matches than currently offered. Only then, Ponting thinks, can Hobart's cricket worth be truly measured.
"There will be Test cricket here as far as I'm concerned - I think some of the criticism has been a bit unfair," Ponting said. "What I would like to see is that Hobart and Tasmania get a Test match every year. It's pretty hard to make assumptions on Tasmanian cricket or people coming to watch Test cricket in Australia when there's no continuity about where the games are.
"The Tasmanian public are being judged on Test matches against lower-ranked teams. Let's have an Ashes Test match, let's have a Test match against South Africa, let's have a Test match against India here and then we can start making some judgements and comparisons with other venues around Australia. I've got my Tasmanian hat on obviously, but I think that's really fair. And hopefully the Hobart and Tasmanian public turn out over the next few days."
Part of Ponting's argument is that of the federalists who emanate from Australia's smaller states. Any purely economic argument about cricket scheduling will invariably settle on fixtures in New South Wales and Victoria. Ponting echoed nothing so much as those who argued successfully for each state to retain some sort of representation on the CA board in order to prevent a drain of cricket from Tasmania, South Australia, Western Australia and Queensland.
"I think that's vitally important in Australia," Ponting said. "One of the great things about playing Test cricket in Australia is that you get to sample different conditions in every state - every state has their wicket conditions and characteristics are all different and that's the great thing about the world game. It's the same when you go to India and South Africa, the different conditions in the states and provinces - you've got different pitch conditions everywhere.
"I hear the business side of it but as far as I'm concerned it's more than that, it's about the fabric of the game in our country. And we've got to do what we can to support the more traditional hosts, if you like, around our country. Let's do whatever we can to help them out along the way."
One of Ponting's wider suggestions was for greater consultation of what fans of the game desired in each state and country. "What we need to do is get out there to the public and ask them what they want out of a day's Test cricket. Have we actually done that?" he asked. "Have we been to India and asked them what they want and why they're not going to Test match cricket? I think that's a good starting point.
"We would love to see more people come to this game. And it's not like Tasmanians don't love their cricket, the Hurricanes' Big Bash games they have here are sold out every game. So once again let's get out and ask the public what they want out of a day's Test cricket. Is it lower ticket prices and cheaper food at the ground? Let's ask them what it is."
To that end, the Cricket Tasmania chief executive David Johnston outlined one of Hobart's major problems - unlike Brisbane, Adelaide, Melbourne and Sydney in particular, it lacks a set place in the cricket calendar. So it is that Tasmania and Hobart have an ever greater number of tourists every year, but no sort of cricket pilgrimage tradition as enjoyed by many of the other states.
"In general terms, if we can get a consistent place in the Test match or international programme in November or December every year, we can plan around it," Johnston said. "The Big Bash is very successful, but it's a different market, young families, mothers and children, so Test matches are more for traditionalists, we want to give both markets what they're looking for."
One potential pathway forward is a day/night Test, something the state duelled for with South Australia before Adelaide Oval was awarded the honour. Ponting has been an arch traditionalist in many ways, but in the cause of retaining Test cricket at Bellerive, even his fixed ideas were more flexible about hosting floodlit matches at the ground.
"I think Hobart and Adelaide were the last two for the day/night Test match we've just played," Ponting said. "If that's what it's going to take down here then absolutely. We've heard from Cricket Australia the last few months about the right time, the right place for day/night Test cricket, and if attendances are down the next few days then it might be exactly what Hobart needs.
"We've got unbelievable facilities here now, it's world class with the stands, with the lights, it's what you'd expect for an international cricket venue, so why not?"
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @danbrettig