Michael Jeh January 14, 2010

Ponting pulls ahead of the rest

As he nears the end of a brilliant career, Ponting will need to decide if he will go down in flames, hooking and pulling like a man still in his pomp, or whether he can shelve the ego and grow old gracefully (in a cricketing sense)

Ricky Ponting’s instincts, footwork and eye make him a magnificent sight when taking on the short ball © Getty Images

Let’s get one thing straight up front. Ricky Ponting will forever be remembered as one of the greatest batsmen to have ever played the game. That much will never be questioned, regardless of what he achieves in the twilight of his career. He has also been one of the best attacking players of short bowling; not just competent at avoiding it like Steve Waugh, Allan Border, Rahul Dravid and others, who generally eschewed the hook and pull strokes, Ponting’s instincts, footwork and eye make him a magnificent sight when taking on the short ball.

What will be interesting to see is what old age will do to Ponting. Or put differently, what will Ponting do with old age?

I write this post just as Ponting was dropped on nought on the hook shot (again) and then promptly played an ambitious pull a few balls later. Clearly, ego, instinct or his own unwavering self-belief will not allow the older Ponting to put those shots away early in his innings, despite recent failures and much commentary on that very issue. A young man he is no longer but perhaps someone forgot to tell him. Or perhaps he just won’t listen.

As he nears the end of a brilliant career, Ponting will need to decide if he will go down in flames, hooking and pulling like a man still in his pomp, or whether he can shelve the ego and grow old gracefully (in a cricketing sense). He will be defying just about every other great modern batsman before him if he chooses to take the road less travelled, the path that will see him continue to attack the short ball, regardless of pitch conditions, age or field placements.

Players like Steve Waugh, Sachin Tendulkar, Richie Richardson, prolific players of the hook and pull shots in their prime, faced similar conundrums as age crept up on them. All three chose a more conservative approach, either playing the shot judiciously (Tendulkar), virtually giving it away (Waugh) and crashing spectacularly (Richardson). I can’t recall what Viv Richards did towards the end of his career but like Border, he did drop down the order in the fading years.

Matt Hayden probably kept playing those booming pull shots all the way to the end but his technique was essentially different to Ponting. He didn’t hook instinctively but he tended to muscle his pull shots, sometimes off the front foot, sometimes even in the arc between midwicket and mid-off. To him, it was almost a deliberate statement of intent, of domination, of complete contempt rather than Ponting’s instinctive swivel.

Ponting clearly has no intention of going quietly. Not for him, the gentle drop to No. 5 or 6 in the order and a career that finishes off in quiet accumulation mode, still as efficient as ever but lacking the rollicking strokeplay of youth. Tendulkar is very much in that mode now, almost more reliable than he ever was but happy to let the memories speak for themselves. Brian Lara was heading that way when he pulled up stumps and other instinctive players of these back-foot shots like Aravinda De Silva and Inzamam-ul-Haq certainly found themselves too slow or too wise to keep having a crack at every short ball as they neared their inevitable retirements.

If you can think of any other great batsmen who voluntarily changed their game to cope with advancing years (especially if they gave away their pet shots), please write in and tell us. I'm sure there will be some fascinating histories to mull over.

As I conclude this post, Ponting is still at the crease on 10 not out, still playing the shot with mixed success. No doubt, Pakistan will continue to pepper him for the duration of his innings. It was always a high-risk strategy, bowling short to Ponting. Only time will tell if the risk premium has now swung against Ponting for the first time in his life.

As for my money, I’m still not prepared to bet against him. Having missed him early, I reckon he might just go on to make them pay. Whatever happens, his wagon wheel in the fine leg to midwicket area will have plenty of lines on it I daresay.

(Note: The article was sent in by the author well ahead of Ricky Ponting's century during the first day's play between Australia and Pakistan in Hobart.)

Michael Jeh is an Oxford Blue who played first-class cricket, and a Playing Member of the MCC. He lives in Brisbane

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • testli5504537 on August 25, 2010, 5:59 GMT

    It was rather interesting for me to read the blog. Thanx for it. I like such topics and anything that is connected to them. I definitely want to read more on that blog soon.

    Kate Smith

  • testli5504537 on January 23, 2010, 23:44 GMT

    "Let’s get one thing straight up front. Ricky Pnting will forever be remembered as one of the greatest batsmen to have ever played the game." - Which is why one keeps needing to say it?

  • testli5504537 on January 20, 2010, 20:03 GMT

    It is very difficult to disagree with the comments of Michael Jeh about Ponting's undoubted mastery over the hook and pull shots.I feel that he has derived a significant percentage of his imposing run aggregate from these shots.However, it is difficult to understand his weakness against spin bowling,specially off spin bowling, given his long and illustrious career.In marked contracst is Michael Clark with his aggressive and decisive footwork and better reading of the spinners.If,at the very end of Ponting's career,any criticism can be made of his technique,the criticism will,surely,revolve around his surprising meekness against the spinners,even the lesser accomplished ones.A peculiar paradox in an otherwise masterful batsman!

  • testli5504537 on January 20, 2010, 2:12 GMT

    Cricket is a team game. The aim is to win. In test matches that is achieved by scoring runs quickly and DISMISSING the opposition TWICE in the limited time. Sachin and Ponting scored fast, thus helping the bowlers. Kallis did not. But sub-continental cricket followers forget that there are three components to cricket - batting, bowling and fielding. Sadly all sub-continent cricketers think their job is done when they score a bag full of runs or fill a bag with wickets. The dominance of Australia through the 90s and 00s was due to their fielding. Positions in the Australian team over that era have been based on excellent fielding as well as being able to bat or bowl. Tight fielding by Australia has strangled opposition batting and made their bowlers appear better than they really were. Fielding gave Australia a record success rate in tests and made possible their world cup wins. Ricky Ponting is one of the best fielders of all time. Imagine if India could field.

  • testli5504537 on January 18, 2010, 13:14 GMT

    I was surprised to see Punter take the title-so I looked into it.Surely the panel of world players & judges must know what they are talking about.Well,having examined stats,my memories, & articles I believe he's a worthy recipient.What a player and why would the rest of the world want to deny the title going to an Australian when they have been so far and away the team of the decade?Think about it.Any team over the past decade would take a series win against Aust over any other and the most prized scalp in any innings would be that of Ricky Ponting.My only comment is that there is an intrinsic favoritism towards batsmen over bowlers (let alone keepers!)in this sort of award. McGrath was the best paceman-longevity & fitness amongst his awesome attributes of control, bounce & subtle movement.We saw perhaps the best offie (Murali)& leggie(Warne) ever;but what does a keeper have to do to win?Gilchrist reinvented the role. Top keeping to Warne & McGrath & match-winning & devasting batting.

  • testli5504537 on January 16, 2010, 12:45 GMT

    Andy V - what are you on?! You pull out your selective stats just because you don't like Ponting?? Pontings overall away record is excellent. Why don't you talk about his test strike rate which incidentally is quite a bit higher than Tendulkar and monumentally higher than Kallis and Dravid. Give me a match winner any day over one that bats for his average! Give us all the facts next time.

  • testli5504537 on January 16, 2010, 8:32 GMT

    Andy V I don't know where you get your stats, but your comments are completely wrong.

    "of his 32 100s in this decade over 25 has come in aus"

    In fact, of his 32 test hundreds this decade, 17 have been in Australia and 15 outside of Australia. In OD matches, he has 11 centuries in Aus and 12 elsewhere.

    "Outside of aus (WI, SA, Eng, SL & india) his average is very meagre in comparison to tendulkar/kallis or others"

    Ponting has a better test record than Tendulkar in SA, WI and Sri Lanka this decade. Tendulkar shades him in England. He beats Kallis in SL, WI and England. Kallis wins in India.

    I use these wild things called statistics instead of repeating what I got told by mates at the pub that sound good. You should try it, thankfully the people who vote on awards like Player of the Decade actually do this.

    Go ahead, challenge yourself.

  • testli5504537 on January 16, 2010, 1:47 GMT

    As Ian Chappell said Lara was the one true great who never compromised he was still playing the same way in his last full series against pakistan at 37 3 tests 448 runs at 89.60 including a double that left Danish kaneira awestruck and another ton that was at the time the 9th fastest ever in tests at 23 in his first full series he got the famous 277 of which Allan border commented "that has to be in the grand final of the greatest innings" incidentally who else ever got a double ton in their first FULL series and their last FULL series nearly 15 years apart I have to agree with Geoff Boycott who in over 50 years in cricket said that he has only seen 3 absolute geniuses Sobers,Viv,and lara and sachin next in 4th remember for the last 16 years of his test career Sobers batting average was 63

  • testli5504537 on January 15, 2010, 22:03 GMT

    Hi Larry,

    Sorry. I did not mean in the sense of 'inventor of the shot'. He has used the upper cut as an alternative to a short ball without being dismissed till date.What I find worth appreciating is Sachin plays the upper cut to the ball coming on to his face! (if you can watch his video on youtube to the deliveries bowled by Brett Lee and Ian O'Brein). Brett lee being exceptionally fast,I would say thats one attribute of batsmanship which is to watch the ball till the last nano second.I am also interested if any batsman of any other era delayed playing a particular kind of shot.The current generation has not much seen cricket of the older generation!

  • testli5504537 on January 15, 2010, 16:37 GMT

    Shriram mate show me one player wit a perfect record?Tendulkar and dravid both average in mid 30s in bouncy south african wickets does that shows they cant play the bounce?Who gives jack about pontings average in india against harbhajhan when he averages over 50 in sl against murali.Off u go

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