February 21, 2012

The facts of Ponting's ODI life

In the manner of his departure from ODIs, he has mirrored the relentless and single-minded way in which he played them. No fluff, just facts

In the film Moneyball, Billy Beane and his assistant Peter Brand act out the conversation between a baseball club owner and a player he is cutting. Playing the owner, Brand attempts to move Beane on by sitting him down and talking sensitively about the situation, but his careful words are rather more effective in enraging than placating Beane's sacked player. Demonstrating his own, matter-of-fact approach, Beane sums it up: "They're professional ball players. Just be straight with them. No fluff, just facts. 'Pete, I gotta let you go. Jack's office will handle the details' … would you rather get a bullet to the head, or five to the chest and bleed to death?"

The end of Ricky Ponting's incomparable ODI career came with a swiftness that Beane would have been proud of, after a phone call from John Inverarity to indicate that the national selectors were moving on. In that moment, a journey of 375 matches, 13,704 runs, 30 centuries and three World Cup wins was ended, and ended in a most unsentimental way. Inverarity said there was no room for sentiment in the world of elite sport, and a day later Ponting agreed with him. He still felt he had something to offer the ODI team, but had no problem with the clear-headed and clearly spelled out decision to let him go.

Ponting has been a professional cricketer all his adult life, and has seldom stood for ceremony. Matters of legacy or image have invariably run a distant second to the matter of how Australia might best win cricket matches, and for 17 years Ponting has pursued Test and ODI victories with greater thirst than any player to have played the international game. He did not seek a farewell match - even though Australia's next was in his hometown, Hobart - nor a farewell tournament. In the manner of his departure from ODIs, Ponting has mirrored the relentless and single-minded way in which he played them. No fluff, just facts.

Limited-overs cricket was the avenue by which many saw Ponting for the first time. Before Australia he represented Australia A in the 1994-95 World Series, showing plenty of the poise and balance at the age of 19 that had led the then national academy coach Rod Marsh to make plenty of bold predictions about what Ponting could achieve in the game. He would go on to debut for his country during a one-day series in New Zealand in February 1995 and a month later toured the Caribbean, playing in the ODI series lost by Mark Taylor's tourists, then served as a reserve batsman while they shifted the power-base of Test cricket by unseating the West Indies at home.

Soon promoted to No. 3, in those early days Ponting would often bat in a cap for Australia, irrespective of whether he was facing Sri Lankan spin or West Indian pace. A bold century against the West Indians in Jaipur during the 1996 World Cup provided an early taste of how good he would be in the format. Later in that tournament, the Australians faced Richie Richardson's men a second time, in a white-knuckle semi-final in Mohali. Years later, in a demonstration of his keen memory but also the value he placed on each international appearance, Ponting would recall how the glare of the sun on the pitch made the early going difficult.

Difficulty accompanied Ponting at times through his formative summers, and it was during the triangular series of 1998-99 against England and Sri Lanka that he had to face up to alcohol and behavioural problems. Sporting a black eye from an eventful night out at Sydney's Bourbon and Beefsteak hotel, Ponting spoke frankly of the issues he had to address, having been suspended for three matches by Cricket Australia. He emerged from the episode a more focused and mature cricketer and young man, and within a year Steve Waugh had begun to speak of him as a potential captain.

Most laudable was Ponting's belief in Andrew Symonds, and insistence that he be included in the 2003 World Cup squad. Up to that point, Symonds had demonstrated only sporadic bursts of his undoubted talent at the top level, but Ponting persisted with him

At the time, Ponting's fielding was the source of almost as much inspiration and awe as his batting. For a time he was undisputed as not only the best but also the most predatory fielder in the world of ODIs, as seldom a match went by without a Ponting direct hit. There was a pattern to it. A batsman would chance a quick single and, responding to Adam Gilchrist's cry of "Punter!", Ponting would swoop from midwicket or cover to field and throw in a whippet's motion. Side on or facing three stumps, bowler's end or batsman's, Ponting's eye was deadly, and he turned more than one match with his swiftness.

There were catches too, of course. One flying dive to claim a screeching Sanath Jayasuriya cut at backward point during the 1999 triangular series in Sri Lanka was so startling that it sent a commentating Tony Greig into paroxysms of delight usually associated with his reactions to the feats of Australia's opponents. While the likes of Shane Warne and Mark Waugh still occupied the slips, Ponting was free to roam the in-field, and prevented many a run simply by being there.

By 2002, Ponting was ready to assume the ODI captaincy, and it was bestowed on him for that year's tour of South Africa after Steve Waugh had been removed from the post by the chairman of selectors Trevor Hohns. He relied heavily on the advice of Darren Lehmann early on, developing a captaincy style that had his own performances with the bat to rely on, but also showed signs of imagination at times - often moreso than his Test captaincy.

While he was surrounded by players of high class and even higher confidence, Ponting wrought outstanding displays from a succession of solid workers also. Andy Bichel, Brad Hogg and James Hopes were among those who would never join Glenn McGrath, Shane Warne and Adam Gilchrist alongside Ponting as undisputed greats, but at times their contributions were all the more critical.

Most laudable was Ponting's belief in Andrew Symonds, and insistence that he be included in the 2003 World Cup squad. Up to that point, Symonds had demonstrated only sporadic bursts of his undoubted talent at the top level, but Ponting persisted with him, even after the preceding triangular series in Australia had shown precious little evidence the muscular allrounder was ready for it. That decision was the first episode in the most meritorious passage of Ponting's ODI captaincy, and perhaps the finest in all his days with Australia.

The squad was stunned soon after its arrival in South Africa by the news that Shane Warne had tested positive for a banned drug, and was to be sent home. Minds were racing as they faced up to Pakistan in the tournament opener, and positively sprinting at 4 for 86. What followed was an innings of the highest quality from Symonds, the man and the moment meeting perfectly, and Ponting's team would gather strength with every subsequent match.

In the final, Ponting crafted his masterpiece, a brutal 140 that featured eight sixes swung without fear or favour into the arc between square leg and long-on. The Wanderers stood unanimously to applaud at the end, as Ponting had given his team a total that not even the Indian team of Sachin Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag and Rahul Dravid could threaten.

Reflecting on his career in the aftermath of his removal, Ponting said that tournament remained the peak of his experience. "To play the 2003 World Cup, to go through that undefeated and to have some success in the final was amazing," he said. "I said then that that was the best moment of my cricket life and to date it still is. Some of the things we've achieved in the one-day team since I've been in the team have been pretty remarkable."

Remarkable, and past. There was a vast contrast to be found between the Ponting of Johannesburg 2003 and Brisbane 2012, as he scratched around for 26 balls before delivering an outfield catch. In that moment he may not have known the end was coming, but he understood completely when it did a day later. While some pondered the suitability of the circumstances in which Ponting's ODI days had ended, the man himself was not one of them. No fluff, just facts.

Edited by Kanishkaa Balachandran

Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Damien on February 24, 2012, 23:42 GMT

    Rhodes may have been slightly better (only slightly) than Ponting in terms of fielding, but Ponting was miles in front when it came to hitting the stumps. The only memorable Jonty Rhodes run out was when he demolished the stumps diving at them. Yet the number of times Ponting hit the stumps is too many to remember. The difference between a great fieldsman and a legend. And it is for that reason you'd choose Ponting over Tendulkar every single time. Very little between them in terms of their batting, but Tendulkar can only dream of the standards Ponting sets in the field.

  • Diloosha on February 24, 2012, 19:08 GMT

    Nevertheless an outstanding player & stats to back himself up and probably be the only cricketer to be apart of such a team ever...hats off...to "punter"!!!

  • Diloosha on February 24, 2012, 18:53 GMT

    He was a good cricketer no doubt, an outstanding batsman & a fielder for sure...BUT was LUCKY enough to have the world's most lethal combination of players in a single team...Still they(Aussies) might have not achieved 2 WC finals except 2007....thinking about those semis in '99 & '03 I bet you can argue with me only with little facts to prove me if I'm wrong...A tie in '99 & a missed stumping of Symonds if my memory was right before making 212 altogether and with the thunderstorm approaching SL might have won that according to duckworth & Lewis method if they had been more focussed...same goes with SA with that silly RUN OUT...when you back track, you find it some times hard to believe but true enough...But FACTS don't always support the true situation folks...never will...!!!

  • Randolph on February 24, 2012, 13:28 GMT

    Ponting is the greatest ODI player of all time. Perfect captaincy record. 3 world cups. Unbeatable average and performance when it counts. No need to even argue Tendulkar, he isn't even in the same stratosphere.

  • Naveen on February 24, 2012, 10:36 GMT

    @Meety well some are just tooooooo good against weak oppositions and average against stronger whereas some remain consistently great against all of them and the rise or fall in their performance does not depend on the opposition but on their own form and fitness. i prefer the latter ones to the former ones. u might not. no issues.

  • shiva on February 24, 2012, 7:40 GMT

    I think no captain had achieved such a great thing in both formats of the game what ricky did for past 10yrs. He managed the pressure of captainship and as a no.3 batsman extraordinarily well. sachin is a gretaest batsman but a poor captain, lara achieved in test, but in ODI not like ricky, a better captain for not more than 5yrs. so as a batsman and as a captain ricky is the best. why not as a fielder.

  • Andrew on February 24, 2012, 6:09 GMT

    @nav84 - yet he had the best batting average during that period & nobody else cashed in as well????

  • Rajaram on February 23, 2012, 12:07 GMT

    To me, Ricky Ponting is the greatest cricketer ever. Batsman and Captain combined, here is noone ho comes even close. My scrap book of articles and pictiures of Ponting in ODI will reduce, but the Test Cricket section will contiunre. The steely glint, the impish smile, and the hard as nails winningest captain EVER, will remain as memories forever.

  • Naveen on February 23, 2012, 8:21 GMT

    (2/2) continues.... also coincidental is the fact that his great captaining skills just vanished once Warne, McGrath, Gilghrist, Hayden retired and eventually he became the first australian captain to lose 3 Ashes, 2 of them back to back. A great player nevertheless but i would mostly remember him as a five years (2002-2007) wonder.

  • Naveen on February 23, 2012, 8:19 GMT

    what a coincidence that ponting's best years as a batsman (2002-2007) were actually the years when the level of bowling all over the world was at its lowest low. Pakistan lost wasim, waqar and saqlain. WI lost ambrose and walsh. SA lost donald. India never had an attack other than kumble who too was lethal only at home and guess how ponting performed in india. Even SL attack of murali and vaas was great only at home and guess how ponting performed in SL. NZ lost cairns, nash and got a bond who was mostly out of the side. However just as when the level of bowling began to rise again (Steyn, Morkel, Philander, Zaheer, Anderson, Broad, Swann, Aamir, Asif, Ajmal, Malinga etc) his form dipped again and he had to depend on a helpless indian bowling attack to retain his place in aussie test team. i am sure he'll again struggle against better bowling attacks. (1/2) tbc...

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