July 1, 2014

Ponting's pull

The former Australia captain's recent dissection of his meat-and-potatoes shot made for fascinating viewing
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Ponting's pull was born of the desire to dominate the bowler © Getty Images

A favourite shot is like having a best mate, an old pal always there to get you out of trouble. Robin Smith and the square cut. Sachin and his beloved straight drive. Geoffrey Boycott and the forward-defensive. Viv Richards and the whip through midwicket. Greg Chappell, maestro of the on drive… And rarely in the history of cricket has there been a love as ardent as RT Ponting's for the pull shot. He told the story of it in his Masterclass series that is currently running on Sky Sports, handled deftly by Ian Ward.

It was a rich and complex relationship, a tale of talent and its ceilings, of the origins of greatness. Ponting was a prodigy from the wrong side of Tasmania's second city, Launceston, a cricket obsessive who would sneak into the rooms at Mowbray while the senior teams were playing, to riffle through the kit, weigh the different bats in his hands. There was magic in them; he could feel it.

He was never going to be a tall man, and that was exacerbated by the fact that he was so good from an early age. He grew up competing against kids bigger, stronger and faster that himself. He knew well the feeling of facing up to bowling that should have been too much for him. By eighth grade he had his own bat contract. Soon Rod Marsh was calling him the best 17-year-old batsman he'd ever seen.

Ponting told the story of a drill that Marsh had created at the Australian Academy of Sport. A bowling machine was set to its top speed, 100mph, and angled to pitch the ball short. The idea was to work on evading the bouncer, learning which ones to duck and which to sway. To make it harder, Marsh erected a screen in front of the machine so that the batsmen could not see the angle of its head, and thus get clues on line or length. They began the drill. Ponting danced away from the ball with an ease no one else possessed.

"Just try hitting one," Marsh said to him after a while.

Ponting nailed a pull shot behind square.

"Do that again," Marsh said, wondering if it had been a fluke.

Ponting did, again and again, showing Marsh the full range of the stroke, which he could hit anywhere from mid-on to fine leg, depending on the line of the ball. Marsh instructed the other players to try. None could lay a bat on the ball and what's more, several were struck in the attempt.

The story becomes even more remarkable when experiments reported by the late Bob Woolmer in his book The Art and Science of Cricket are recalled. A team of researchers led by Tim Noakes at the University of Cape Town asked the recently retired South Africa opener Peter Kirsten to bat against a bowling machine that had its speed constantly advanced until Kirsten could no longer hit the ball. For Kirsten, who had faced many of the world's quickest out in the middle, that point came at around 80mph. Noakes concluded that batsmen relied on a complex series of visual clues from the bowler's run-up and delivery to predict the length and line of the ball, and when these were removed, the task became far harder.

From these stories comes evidence of the extraordinary level of Ponting's talent. What he had in his eye and hands could not be taught. Not yet out of his teens, he was doing something that very few people on earth could accomplish. How did it happen?

Ponting himself explained. As a kid, always playing against older, faster bowlers, he'd instinctively found a way to cope. His backlift was made entirely with his wrists, his hands still level with his waist and close to his body. His natural trigger movement was to go back and then step forwards as he cocked his wrists. At the moment the ball was released, his front foot was hovering in the air, the bat acting as a crucial counterbalance. From that position he found it natural to drop the bat onto the short ball, and hit it pretty much where he wanted.

"Through my career, when I got in trouble it was because the movements weren't in sync, and my front foot was already planted as the ball came down," he said.

Ponting used the pull shot to disrupt the bowler, because his batting credo was to dictate. "Every ball, my first thought was four, then three, then two, then one, and only then a dot…" His pull, often executed to deliveries far fuller than most players would contemplate, forced bowlers to pitch up. From there he would drive them down the ground.

"The straight drive was very important to me too, because it was saying to the bowler, you can't be short and you can't be full. Basically I felt that he had a spot of about nine inches that he could pitch on to make me defend."

Nine inches. The pull was more than just a favourite shot for Ricky Ponting, it was the key that unlocked the rest of his game, the entry point of his dominance. A combination of nature and nurture made it uniquely available to him, and he articulated brilliantly what it had meant to his career.

Jon Hotten blogs here and tweets here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • lebigfella on July 4, 2014, 11:59 GMT

    I really like Mark Kenny's square cut... couldn't sweep but his square cut was a thing of beauty...

  • ITJOBSUCKS on July 4, 2014, 5:41 GMT

    Punter was the best when it came to pull shot...no two ways about it!!! Dravid's pull was good against medium-pace bowling not against fast bowling!!! SRT was very good @ pull shot before his back was injured badly in 99 & since 2000 till retirement he played that shot very rarely!!!

  • on July 4, 2014, 3:42 GMT

    @vik56in: I disagree. Dravid was a good puller but I judge the pull shot by how effective it is, not whether it is played in the air or along the ground. Ponting never top edged a pull or misjudged it. He played it against the fastest bowlers like Shoaib Akhtar and it almost always went screaming to the boundary. Of all the players I've grown up with, Ricky Ponting was the best player of fast bowling. Sachin came next, then Brian Lara.

  • vik56in on July 3, 2014, 22:41 GMT

    The player with the best pull shot was Rahul Dravid. He always kept the ball to the ground unlike Ponting, whose pulls were mostly aerial.

  • on July 3, 2014, 15:01 GMT

    Didn't Punter get his elbow crushed trying to pull Kemar Roach? As I recall, Roach dismissed him thrice more in that series. Many people advised Ponting to put away the pull but he insisted on playing it. Sometimes a great strength can also turn into a weakness

  • on July 3, 2014, 13:55 GMT

    Ponting and pull, that was the incredible combination. Punter was a real hero and he would demolish every quick attack ........ but what impressed me the most was strange flexibility of his body ......with that flexibility and many other options in armour other than pulling the ball, punter always left bowlers in confusion becoz they could bowl neither short nor they cud forget his wonderful driving mastery...for balls over-pitched or opposite to short, he would equally disrupt them ,coz he always played with straight bat in those deliveries, so he dominated his era. true legend of the era!!

  • ImonG on July 3, 2014, 10:20 GMT

    Ponting & Gilly are the 2 best batsmen I have seen when it comes to counter attacking the short pitched stuff. Many other great batsmen of the era like Lara DeSilva Sachin Kallis, Dravid Vaughn were good against the short stuff too, but they mixed caution with aggression. Dravid was probably the best defender of the short pitched stuff I have seen, but Ponting & Gilly, they some how were waiting for the fast bowler to bowl short, and used that delivery as an attacking option more often than others. As some1 correctly pointed out Gilly played the Hook more, Punter the pull. But I would like to point out a technical aspect and ask the experts to answer a query. It was written that "At the moment the ball was released, his front foot was hovering in the air..." that's fine against the pacers, but is this trigger movement the reason that he used to plant his front foot to the spinners and caused him big trouble against likes of Bhajji & Murali as he played them across ? Diff speeds may be

  • Cool_Jeeves on July 3, 2014, 6:19 GMT

    Balumekka, Punter never hooked. He pulled everyone and anything to everywhere, but never hooked. The only Aussie of that time to hook was Gilchrist. Gilchrist was every bit as good as Ponting in playing the short ball. See his response to Shoaib Akhtar in the '99 World Cup final. Ponting ducked whenever the ball was head high. Gilchrist hooked.

    Other batsmen of a slightly earlier era who hooked were Inzamam ul Haque, Aamer Sohail, Mark Taylor, Michael Slater, Alec Stewart. All the others pulled fairly competently, but none hooked.

  • ITJOBSUCKS on July 3, 2014, 4:54 GMT

    @RoshanF As always srilankans talk about some sub-standard cricketers from SL & compare them with players such as ponting...what a joke!!!

  • RoshanF on July 2, 2014, 12:35 GMT

    dunger.bob.. I don't know where you got the hallucination that anybody here has suggested, even remotely, that Aravinda was the better batsman. What has been said is that Aravinda de Silva was just as good (in fact I think he was better) as Ponting when it came to the pull shot. Aravinda cannot be spoken in the same terms as a batsman purely because he was too careless, especially until mid-career - in fact some called him "Mad Max"

  • lebigfella on July 4, 2014, 11:59 GMT

    I really like Mark Kenny's square cut... couldn't sweep but his square cut was a thing of beauty...

  • ITJOBSUCKS on July 4, 2014, 5:41 GMT

    Punter was the best when it came to pull shot...no two ways about it!!! Dravid's pull was good against medium-pace bowling not against fast bowling!!! SRT was very good @ pull shot before his back was injured badly in 99 & since 2000 till retirement he played that shot very rarely!!!

  • on July 4, 2014, 3:42 GMT

    @vik56in: I disagree. Dravid was a good puller but I judge the pull shot by how effective it is, not whether it is played in the air or along the ground. Ponting never top edged a pull or misjudged it. He played it against the fastest bowlers like Shoaib Akhtar and it almost always went screaming to the boundary. Of all the players I've grown up with, Ricky Ponting was the best player of fast bowling. Sachin came next, then Brian Lara.

  • vik56in on July 3, 2014, 22:41 GMT

    The player with the best pull shot was Rahul Dravid. He always kept the ball to the ground unlike Ponting, whose pulls were mostly aerial.

  • on July 3, 2014, 15:01 GMT

    Didn't Punter get his elbow crushed trying to pull Kemar Roach? As I recall, Roach dismissed him thrice more in that series. Many people advised Ponting to put away the pull but he insisted on playing it. Sometimes a great strength can also turn into a weakness

  • on July 3, 2014, 13:55 GMT

    Ponting and pull, that was the incredible combination. Punter was a real hero and he would demolish every quick attack ........ but what impressed me the most was strange flexibility of his body ......with that flexibility and many other options in armour other than pulling the ball, punter always left bowlers in confusion becoz they could bowl neither short nor they cud forget his wonderful driving mastery...for balls over-pitched or opposite to short, he would equally disrupt them ,coz he always played with straight bat in those deliveries, so he dominated his era. true legend of the era!!

  • ImonG on July 3, 2014, 10:20 GMT

    Ponting & Gilly are the 2 best batsmen I have seen when it comes to counter attacking the short pitched stuff. Many other great batsmen of the era like Lara DeSilva Sachin Kallis, Dravid Vaughn were good against the short stuff too, but they mixed caution with aggression. Dravid was probably the best defender of the short pitched stuff I have seen, but Ponting & Gilly, they some how were waiting for the fast bowler to bowl short, and used that delivery as an attacking option more often than others. As some1 correctly pointed out Gilly played the Hook more, Punter the pull. But I would like to point out a technical aspect and ask the experts to answer a query. It was written that "At the moment the ball was released, his front foot was hovering in the air..." that's fine against the pacers, but is this trigger movement the reason that he used to plant his front foot to the spinners and caused him big trouble against likes of Bhajji & Murali as he played them across ? Diff speeds may be

  • Cool_Jeeves on July 3, 2014, 6:19 GMT

    Balumekka, Punter never hooked. He pulled everyone and anything to everywhere, but never hooked. The only Aussie of that time to hook was Gilchrist. Gilchrist was every bit as good as Ponting in playing the short ball. See his response to Shoaib Akhtar in the '99 World Cup final. Ponting ducked whenever the ball was head high. Gilchrist hooked.

    Other batsmen of a slightly earlier era who hooked were Inzamam ul Haque, Aamer Sohail, Mark Taylor, Michael Slater, Alec Stewart. All the others pulled fairly competently, but none hooked.

  • ITJOBSUCKS on July 3, 2014, 4:54 GMT

    @RoshanF As always srilankans talk about some sub-standard cricketers from SL & compare them with players such as ponting...what a joke!!!

  • RoshanF on July 2, 2014, 12:35 GMT

    dunger.bob.. I don't know where you got the hallucination that anybody here has suggested, even remotely, that Aravinda was the better batsman. What has been said is that Aravinda de Silva was just as good (in fact I think he was better) as Ponting when it came to the pull shot. Aravinda cannot be spoken in the same terms as a batsman purely because he was too careless, especially until mid-career - in fact some called him "Mad Max"

  • HatsforBats on July 2, 2014, 11:36 GMT

    If I could travel back in time to 2002 and watch the most gloriously prolific 5 years of one of the most talented batsmen ever to grace the stage, I would. But for now I will travel to that other world of online videos for my fix. Punter, stayed too long, gone too soon.

  • PrasPunter on July 2, 2014, 11:22 GMT

    @dunger.bob, how true your words are !! Punter has always been a team-man. Don't think playing n number of tests or finishing before his home-crowd or any other vague things mattered to him. It has always been the burning desire to win that influenced every thing big and small he did. Probably the best during the times !!!

  • on July 2, 2014, 9:14 GMT

    ponting best player of fast bowling over the last 10 years I have followed cricket. He is also a very good player of spin, and the best allround fielder I have seen. be it slips, ground fielding in cover point region, or throwing accuracy from midoff or mid on, he was amongst the best in the world in either of those positions. Ab devillers is the only one who comes close in that regard. There was time when getting a quick single was almost impossible, with ponting, clarke and symonds. They formed a wall on the off side that was also impossible to pierce.

  • Cric_Buzz on July 2, 2014, 8:27 GMT

    Ponting is one of the best, not the best. Lets not forget Aravinda, Gordon Greenidge, Michael Vaughan (Natural Puller), Brian Lara

  • CricketPissek on July 2, 2014, 7:50 GMT

    As a Lankan, I am disappointed with all the comments I've seen so far purely talking about Aravinda de Silva, without even acknowledging the subject matter of Ponting. As a nation, we ridicule our Northern neighbours and their obsession with a certain demi God - how the fanatics seem to just go on and on about him, regardless of the actual topic at hand. Now I see at least half a dozen commentors who now have put us in danger of being put in the same bracket as the Indian fanatics with these monologues on Aravinda's pull and hook shot! Yes, he was the best player of the hook shot I have seen as well, but have the common decency to acknowledge the author's wonderful description of Ponting's GORGEOUS pull shot without going off on a tangent like Bubba talking about Shrimp in Forrest Gump!

  • PrasPunter on July 2, 2014, 4:25 GMT

    Anything about the Punter would make me sit up !! Man I loved that quick and hurried walk to the middle, the mild-jog, the compact stance and the wide range of strokes. And then comes the Pull !! Punter and the Pull-shot are made for each other !! Hats-off Sir !! From a big fan of yours !! Loved the way he knocked the indian bowlers all around the corner in WC 2003. Health and peace !!!

  • dunger.bob on July 2, 2014, 2:54 GMT

    Sometimes I feel a little bit sorry for Ricky. I think people tend to focus on the last 5-10% of his career and disregard all that came before. It's easy to remember the uncoordinated struggler who was falling over when getting bowled and getting hit on the body and head quite regularly. Considering how he used to be, the final part of his career was verging on the pathetic. Yeah, it's easy to recall that but not quite so easy to remember Ponting as the died in the wool match winner he was for the huge majority of his career.

    I don't think Ricky cared much about his personal stats. He couldn't have, the way he used to bat. He was a match winner. Not a match saver or a match setter-upper. He was a winner. He'd take on the bowling. Any bowling. He'd do everything in his considerable power to beat them into submission. And he did it for his team. Not himself, his team. .. He was magnificent and at his best could send shivers up and down your spine with the courage and skill of his battin

  • ww56 on July 2, 2014, 2:22 GMT

    'Robin Smith and the square cut. Sachin and his beloved straight drive. Geoffrey Boycott and the forward-defensive'. Boycott's best stroke gave spectators ennu;bowlers knew they could get in 12 overs for 20 runs.

  • dunger.bob on July 2, 2014, 1:00 GMT

    When I read this article I thought it was about Ricky Ponting. Seems I was mistaken. Apparently it was actually about Aravinda de Silva, judging from the comments. I find that strange because while Aravinda was a competent enough cricketer and probably a very nice bloke, he was barely on the same planet as Ponting when it comes to pure batting skills.

    I see that Aravinda played against far better bowling than Ricky as well. Apparently bowlers like Wasin Akram, Waquar Younis, Allan Donald, Darren Gough and the others that Ricky cut his teeth on were nothing but rubbish when compared to the might of the bowling Ara had to face.

    Anyway, thanks for putting me straight guys. Without your guidance I probably would have went through life thinking that Ponting was by far the superior batsman of the two. .. silly me.

  • rizwan1981 on July 1, 2014, 23:38 GMT

    Ponting occupied the # 3 position most of the time he played for Australia - Its a lot more difficult to bat at # 3 than at # 4 - This is why I believe that Ponting , Dravid , Kallis and Sangakkara are superior to Tendulkar .

    Ponting's 140 in the World Cup Final was on of the finest innings in the history of the game - As a Sri Lankan I think that Aravinda's 107 in the 1996 world cup was marginally superior because , Sri Lanka was Chasing rather than setting a target

  • Balumekka on July 1, 2014, 17:08 GMT

    Yes, Punter was a master of the pull and the hook. Also, I think Aravinda de Silva played the pull and hook even better than Punter. He played that shot against the likes of Imran Khan, Wasim, Waqar, Hadlee, Donald, McGrath, Lee, Gillespie ect..

  • Charith99 on July 1, 2014, 14:31 GMT

    even at the end of his career aravinda never struggled with the pull shot which was remarkable.

  • rizwan1981 on July 1, 2014, 14:14 GMT

    ARAVINDA was one at hooking and pulling - Ponting undoubtedly is one of the best of them all . Of the current lot , David Warner should be the best - The 3 centuries Warner scored ( at a strike rate of more than 90 ) while neutralising the threat of Morkel and Steyn in SA was magical . No wonder Warner was the man of the series and Mitch Johnson's exploits was relegated to second best.

    I always thought Gavaskar was the best defensive player against pace bowling. Among my own countrymen , ARAVIND and SANGAKKARA are the only players who handled the Fast men with aplomb.

  • on July 1, 2014, 13:27 GMT

    Pull Shot was made its own by Ponting.Not that there have been good pullers but Ponting was in a league of his own regarding short pitched bowling. I remember an Aravinda pull distinctly well against England at Manchester in 2002 his last test which handed ENgland the match .Sangakara is fine hooker but not as good as Ponting can ever be. Watch his pull shots against ELworthy at Leeds and weird improvised pull against Langeveldt at Brisbane on quick surface.

  • SLisBestinEarth on July 1, 2014, 13:12 GMT

    Sanga & Mahela are other two legends plays pull & Hook technically very correct... Even in latest English tour they handled bouncers very well..

  • siddhartha87 on July 1, 2014, 13:06 GMT

    Ponting is god of pull shot. I always wonder how did he make so many runs with such a complex tehnique

  • TheCricketEmpireStrikesBack on July 1, 2014, 11:59 GMT

    There have been a few players with a shot that not only defined their careers but also seemed to change the course of an entire match. Artistry but with a touch of violence that took your breath away and seemed to drain the very life from the bowler.

    Ponting's pull shot comes to mind as does Gordon Greenidge's hook.

  • RoshanF on July 1, 2014, 11:53 GMT

    Aravinda de Silva was just as good and at times even better because he did it against the cream of Australia - McGrath, Lee and Gillespie. Just watch a bit of his one-man show against the Aussies in the 2003 World Cup in South Africa when he was two matches from retirement.

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  • RoshanF on July 1, 2014, 11:53 GMT

    Aravinda de Silva was just as good and at times even better because he did it against the cream of Australia - McGrath, Lee and Gillespie. Just watch a bit of his one-man show against the Aussies in the 2003 World Cup in South Africa when he was two matches from retirement.

  • TheCricketEmpireStrikesBack on July 1, 2014, 11:59 GMT

    There have been a few players with a shot that not only defined their careers but also seemed to change the course of an entire match. Artistry but with a touch of violence that took your breath away and seemed to drain the very life from the bowler.

    Ponting's pull shot comes to mind as does Gordon Greenidge's hook.

  • siddhartha87 on July 1, 2014, 13:06 GMT

    Ponting is god of pull shot. I always wonder how did he make so many runs with such a complex tehnique

  • SLisBestinEarth on July 1, 2014, 13:12 GMT

    Sanga & Mahela are other two legends plays pull & Hook technically very correct... Even in latest English tour they handled bouncers very well..

  • on July 1, 2014, 13:27 GMT

    Pull Shot was made its own by Ponting.Not that there have been good pullers but Ponting was in a league of his own regarding short pitched bowling. I remember an Aravinda pull distinctly well against England at Manchester in 2002 his last test which handed ENgland the match .Sangakara is fine hooker but not as good as Ponting can ever be. Watch his pull shots against ELworthy at Leeds and weird improvised pull against Langeveldt at Brisbane on quick surface.

  • rizwan1981 on July 1, 2014, 14:14 GMT

    ARAVINDA was one at hooking and pulling - Ponting undoubtedly is one of the best of them all . Of the current lot , David Warner should be the best - The 3 centuries Warner scored ( at a strike rate of more than 90 ) while neutralising the threat of Morkel and Steyn in SA was magical . No wonder Warner was the man of the series and Mitch Johnson's exploits was relegated to second best.

    I always thought Gavaskar was the best defensive player against pace bowling. Among my own countrymen , ARAVIND and SANGAKKARA are the only players who handled the Fast men with aplomb.

  • Charith99 on July 1, 2014, 14:31 GMT

    even at the end of his career aravinda never struggled with the pull shot which was remarkable.

  • Balumekka on July 1, 2014, 17:08 GMT

    Yes, Punter was a master of the pull and the hook. Also, I think Aravinda de Silva played the pull and hook even better than Punter. He played that shot against the likes of Imran Khan, Wasim, Waqar, Hadlee, Donald, McGrath, Lee, Gillespie ect..

  • rizwan1981 on July 1, 2014, 23:38 GMT

    Ponting occupied the # 3 position most of the time he played for Australia - Its a lot more difficult to bat at # 3 than at # 4 - This is why I believe that Ponting , Dravid , Kallis and Sangakkara are superior to Tendulkar .

    Ponting's 140 in the World Cup Final was on of the finest innings in the history of the game - As a Sri Lankan I think that Aravinda's 107 in the 1996 world cup was marginally superior because , Sri Lanka was Chasing rather than setting a target

  • dunger.bob on July 2, 2014, 1:00 GMT

    When I read this article I thought it was about Ricky Ponting. Seems I was mistaken. Apparently it was actually about Aravinda de Silva, judging from the comments. I find that strange because while Aravinda was a competent enough cricketer and probably a very nice bloke, he was barely on the same planet as Ponting when it comes to pure batting skills.

    I see that Aravinda played against far better bowling than Ricky as well. Apparently bowlers like Wasin Akram, Waquar Younis, Allan Donald, Darren Gough and the others that Ricky cut his teeth on were nothing but rubbish when compared to the might of the bowling Ara had to face.

    Anyway, thanks for putting me straight guys. Without your guidance I probably would have went through life thinking that Ponting was by far the superior batsman of the two. .. silly me.