Ricky don't lose that aggression
Question: What do a snowball in hell and an Indian fan of Ricky Ponting have in common?
Answer: They are both non-existent entities.
Yes, that is an exaggeration. But such hyperbole captures one uncomfortable fact about the Australian captain: he is not popular among many, many cricket fans all over the world. Given that Indian fans make up a majority of the world's cricket fans, it's a fair call to say he isn't a very popular man in the world of cricket. So as a corrective, I'd like to offer a tribute to Ricky Ponting on the occasion of his having surpassed Allan Border's run aggregate in Tests. And I do not for a second think that I'm alone, even amongst Indians, in holding these opinions of Ponting.
The truth of the matter is that Ponting is one of Test cricket's best batsmen of all time, has been one of its most entertaining, dynamic and attacking batsmen for the last 14 years, and is a superb fielder to boot. He has been a classically Australian cricketer: an aggressive, purposeful batsman who loves, besides all the fierce cuts and drives in his repertoire, two quintessentially Australian shots: the hook and the pull, and is a great slip catcher and a quality patroller of any part of the cricket field he happens to be placed in. I have never seen a boring innings by him (yes, I'm including the ones where he has struggled against spin), for Ponting is attacking down to the core of his being when he has a bat in his hand.
One innings that always stands out in my mind's eye was the first one I saw him play in a Test match. It was a little gem of 88, played at Brisbane in the first test of the 1996-97 series against the West Indies. Matthew Elliott had gone early for a duck and Ponting strode out to face Ambrose, Walsh and Bishop for the first time in a Test (it was the fifth of Ponting's career). Taylor and Ponting added 126 runs for the second wicket; Taylor's contribution was 39. Ponting's innings was full of his flashing pulls, hooks and squaredrives; but he had to work for it. There were edges through slips aplenty and some evasion as well. It was a classic, hard-fought session of test cricket which continued after lunch.
The West Indian quicks pressed for another breakthrough but to no avail. I watched it utterly spellbound; Ambrose and company could have broken through that morning and wrested the initiative early in the series but a youngster had resisted and counterattacked.
There was a buzz while Ponting was at the crease. Part of it had to do with his restless, shuffling, body language, one that suggests early vulnerability in his innings (especially when he appears to fall over as he plays across), but which later, is more indicative of a coiled energy waiting to strike. Once he left, Australia buckled to be 5 for 196 before the old firm of Waugh and Healy bailed them out again.
Over the years, Ponting has lived up to his early promise (Ian Chappell was one of those talking up this new Tasmanian Bradman in his debutant days). While small weaknesses have been found by opponents over the years, such as against high-quality swing (but really, who doesn't have a weakness against this?) and offspin, he still remains a quality batsman, one to be feared, whose wicket is prized over any other by the opposition when they play Australia.
He has hit purple patches (like those double tons against India in the 2004 series), he has hit lows (like those off-spinning blues in the 2001 series against India), and as Australia struggles in the post-McGrath-Warne-Langer-Waugh-Hayden era, he has struggled too.
Still, whatever his problems as a captain, and a communicator, and he has quite a few in that regard, I have nothing but admiration for him as a batsman and fielder. I like watching him when he steps on to the field; he is, as he might like to hear, "very good value."
Samir Chopra lives in Brooklyn and teaches Philosophy at the City University of New York. He tweets here