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December 4, 2012

Australian cricket

Growing up with Ricky

Jarrod Kimber
Ricky Ponting pulls on the way to a century, Australia v New Zealand, CUODS, Melbourne Cricket Ground, January 21st 1998.
Vintage Ponting  © Getty Images
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My emotional development as an adult seemed to run parallel with Ricky Ponting's career, as he was the cricketer who took me from my teens into my 30s. When he started playing in the sickly green of Tasmania, I was just a dorky teenager; when he walked off the WACA for the last time, I was holding my newborn son in my arms.

Ponting was, for better or worse, the player of my generation. The player who was always there as a young kid or an old bloke. The one whose game I knew as well as the Marge v the Monorail episode of the Simpsons, or the Epping Train line I grew up on. I obsessed over Ponting's batting like you do when you're a teenager. I told my friends he would became a great No. 3 for Australia. I tried to bat like him. I supported him when he played against Australia for Australia A. He was Tricky Ricky to my friends and me, and we all waited impatiently for him to become a great.

Most Australians guys of my age wanted to be Steve Waugh. Yet most of them were more like Ponting. Quick to anger, slow to mature, unforgiving, prickly, uncomplicated, aggressive and honest.

So honest that his face would tell you everything you wanted to know. A Ponting press conference was often redundant, a series of close ups throughout the day had given you everything you needed to know. Ponting gave great face from the time he was a cocky young kid who was one of the last to give up the helmet, until he walked out onto the WACA trying to pretend it was business as usual to bat one more time.

As a batsman, and fielder, Ricky was something I just instantly fell for.

His batting was also easy to read. His shots were crisp and final. The ball was delivered, the ball was hit. The only time his batting looked fussy was when he spent time playing with the pitch. The delicate way he could pick off some loose bit of grass that only he could see. The double hand slaps he would give at anything that had floated onto his surface. Or the double tap at the pitch he would do with his right hand. His fielding was just as final as his batting; everything he did was final and clean, and often brilliant. In the field he also had the spit in the hands followed by a deep rub together, like his saliva was somehow more adhesive than everyone else's. And considering his fielding, maybe it is.

That's what you notice when you see a guy as a young man, and you follow him until he becomes an old man. You don't get that with a player you first saw when you were 8, or 28. It's different then.

I was old enough to get cricket when Ricky came around, and once he came around, I knew this was a player for me. Forget that his drives looked like gut punches and his pull shots were balletic artistry. It was what his batting stood for. Ponting didn't bat for records, milestones or adulation. He batted to win.

The great batsmen are often selfish creatures who would run out their children if it meant they get to continue doing what they do best. That wasn't Ricky. When people talk about him being an all-time great, and comparing him to Lara, Tendulkar or Kallis, if it's done purely on stats he can't compete. Lara batted for the adulation of the masses, Kallis because it's what he does and Sachin Tendulkar just bats because he loves batting. Their batting selfishness is what makes them great players.

Ponting bats like a team player. His style was closer to self-immolation than selfishness. If Ponting had to play a big shot to get things going, then he played it. It was simple, and very Ponting like. The team comes first, second and third, so that the team only comes first.

When Kallis moved down the order to No. 4, he did it because it would produce more runs for him. Four is an easier position to bat at. Lara stayed at No. 3 because that is the ego seat. Ponting stayed at three, for as long as his skills allowed it, because at three he had the most say in the game. That is why he batted.

Every time Ponting entered the field he had to control the game. He had to make sure his team was in a better position than they were before. He had to win.

All professional athletes like to win. Most love to win. But for players like Ponting, it was almost a sickness. At its best it drove him to be one of the best batsmen of a generation, and one of its greatest cricketers: a hard-nosed professional with the skills of a champion and the fight of a battler. At its worst it made him a sulky brat who couldn't understand why he ever had to go through losing.

Winning and losing also define him far more than the other greats. No one ever blames Kallis for South Africa's underachievement. Ponting won more Tests than any other human being, but by the end it were the losses that defined him.

In batting he channeled all that rage to become a great. In captaincy the rage ate him up and he became a bore.

As a captain I never liked Ponting.

Captains are like politicians, you either intrinsically feel like they're right for you, or you don't. And I spent years moaning or mocking Ponting as captain. I moaned at 13th men annoying him in the Ashes, misuse of bowlers, the team Australia bubble, his part in the Monkeygate Test, and when he almost had a mental breakdown in the middle of the MCG during his last Test as captain because he thought he could see the hotspot mark from 120 metres better than an umpire staring at a screen inches from his face. I've called him the hairy-armed troll, been so angry at him I could have broken a change-room TV and hurled abuse at him from beyond boundaries in three continents.

Our one-sided relationship was never at its best when he was captain, only when he was batting.

Yet in the wider world, the angrier and grumpier Ponting got, the more iconic he became. A hero and leader under pressure to those at home, a villain and bully to those away. A very Australian cricketer.

Ponting could have played on even with his bad form. The selectors may have given him a Test against Sri Lanka to prove himself just because of who he is. And against a failing one-man attack like Sri Lanka's he might have made enough runs to make it to India, his batting Hades. But he seemed to know that he just wasn't good enough to help Australia win matches anymore. And that would have been worse to him than knowing his skills were on the wane.

Ponting announced his retirement the day my son was born. While my wife was in agony, I was thinking about how I would explain an entire lifetime of living with Ricky to him.

I'd definitely tell him about his scratchy 88 batting at No. 3 against Courtney and Curtly, every detail of being at the Wanderers for the '03 final, the last over of a List A game I saw him get smashed for 21 runs, that everyone said he was a good footy player, that he once was the face of Milk in Tasmania, watching him make a half-century in his first Test knock at the G, the 257 he produced there years later, and the many f***-you hundreds he made when he was at his most angry at the world. But mostly I'll tell him that despite how I loved Ricky as a batsman, and hated him as a captain, that he was the player I grew up with.

Not my favourite, but the player that was always there. And when my son gets bored of me going on about this old cricketer he's never seen, I'll just play him a collection of Ponting's pull shots that I've found on the internet.

Every generation has their own players, and while I may prefer Trumper, O'Reilly or Harvey, Ponting is mine. To me his batting says more about Australia than the flag, national anthem, Australia Day or even the baggy green.

Ponting is the Australia I grew up in. But it's now just a memory that an old man will tell a young boy.

Jarrod Kimber is 50% of the Two Chucks, and the mind responsible for cricketwithballs.com

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Keywords: Retirements, Tributes

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Posted by Haris on (January 17, 2013, 9:24 GMT)

Nice article Jarrod. But the fact that Ponting is a far better player than Kallis, Lara or Sachin doesn't quite fit the norms. Lara you say that he played for himself and for the crowds, Is it true if we say that Lara played as a match winner during the early times of his career when he had a winning unit and didn't play for his team when West Indies lost the charm in their bowling? I don't think tht's a fair enough analysis for a person who played for West Indies and scored runs on a high note. Kallis and Ponting can be matched for runs but their style and technique were quite a lot different, Kallis was a much slow paced player than Ponting was but this doesn't mean that Kallis was not a match winner for South Africa in all his career. Sachin scores not because he loves batting but he works hard to achieve those runs. Ponting cannot match the consistency Sachin has shown in his career, it was only that India never possessed a bowling lineup like the one Ponting had.

Posted by saurabh chaudhry on (January 4, 2013, 6:55 GMT)

Cont.SCG crowd applauded you, even this guy from India did on that very day. People tends to remember your great innings when you have scored 100's, but for me one inning that stood out was of GREATEST MATCH EVER PLAYED in ODI's ( SAF vs AUS~2005'06)Your 164 was not just runs it was each and every shot that went out through your blade that was astonishing. You went against selectors and took Andrew Symonds to 2003 WC showed the confidence and man he delivered.Your learning through Taylor,Waugh made you the best man for Australia and not to discount your closeness to Geoff Marsh. No wonder why people put your name with Steve Waugh,Mark Taylon,Michael Slater,Daimen Martyn,Gilly,Haydos,Langer, Sachin,Lara,Dravid,Ganguly,Chanderpaul,Sangakara,Jayawardne,Gramme Hick,Atherton,Vaughan,Smith,Kallis, laxman,Flemming,Astle,jayasuriya etc. but your legacy will remain in Green threads of Australia. 25 Years which you have given to cricket will solely be missed,see you soon in commentary box.LEGEND

Posted by saurabh chaudhry on (January 4, 2013, 6:41 GMT)

cont..You can show his fielding tapes to all youngsters, current crop of players they will certainly acknowledge it and learn from it. how beautifully he takes the ball and aim at stumps with such control that you are certain that it will hit. sometimes diving hurt back as well, remember the final at MCG against england when he hurt-ed his knee against boundary wall being carried in golf cart to standing ovation of crowd just showed the momemt has arrived for acceptance from Australian crowd for their new captain. Certainly when Steve Waugh left International stage and Warnie controversy, this man took over the dis-mantled team and gelled them into top-top sports team. In early part of last decade i always had in mind how come player of this caliber had just 196 as his top score, but again you make me prove wrong. Your batting flourish, captaincy was proven and you made tonnes (Tons as well) of runs. Making century in both innings of 100th test was just awesome. Cont..

Posted by saurabh chaudhry on (January 4, 2013, 6:29 GMT)

First of all thanks for writing this masterpiece for the one of the Australian great. While going through it i felt Ricky playing in front of me.True to the up most respect, Ricky has been a legend to a game beyond borders. Each corner of world has a soft side to him. No matter you always love to hate him ( talking about opposition teams). I can say with this proud that i have grown up too with Ricky career. Remembering the French beard guy who started in yellow jersey in 1996 World Cup in India, This man was pulling balls with his cap on(everybody else wore helmet) and chewing perfetti's. The glaze in his shows that he was a Captain material and future of Australian cricket. He answered the selectors,doubters, viewers in best possible way. He was one of the best fielders ( Jonty Rhodes the other one) of the modern game and had even best hit rate than Jonty.Run outs n Catches win matches was so true. cont...

Posted by Sri on (December 24, 2012, 4:09 GMT)

Ponting was majestic in that 2003 world cup final against India in South Africa. Australia who batted first were just over 100 for 2, both openers were out in quick succession. Martin joined Ponting who was on about 5. Martin raced to 50 before Ponting. At the end of 50 overs both were there with Ponting 140 not out and Martin on 88. India had no chance after that over 300 total.

Posted by Shamalka on (December 6, 2012, 10:55 GMT)

The greatest cricketer I've ever seen! Without him, the game of cricket is incomplete...A LEGEND! He deserves nothing less than a knighthood!

Posted by Praxis on (December 6, 2012, 9:45 GMT)

One of the best of his generation, won matches more than any other cricketers. I'll agree with the writer here, Ponting was definitely the most selfless among the contemporary batting greats. He just wanted to win.

Posted by Tony on (December 5, 2012, 19:49 GMT)

Greate batman, very good fighter. Only problem is arrogance but it nature so u like it or not u have accept the fact.

Posted by Qamruzzama Khan on (December 5, 2012, 19:36 GMT)

oh, the Article is so well written, it made me nostalgic.....

Posted by Woodsy on (December 5, 2012, 19:21 GMT)

Dash, if Tendulkar truly played for the benefit of the team I can't see any justification in the fact that he is still playing. Dravid and Laxman have had the decency to move aside to allow new talent to prosper, and prosper it has, look how Pujara has performed of late. I just wonder if Tendulkar is in danger of holding on to long when there might be someone else that can take his place, and win test matches for India.

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