March 25, 2011

A hero even in defeat

Australia didn't bow out without a fight, and the man who was at the heart of their World Cup dominance made the strongest stand

At the end of his final press conference as a World Cup captain, Ricky Ponting was asked if he was the tragic hero of the match. It drew a little a shrug and a wan smile. "I honestly don't know how to answer that," Ponting said, "I'm a tragic hero? I don't feel much of a hero at the moment, I must admit."

It was one of the many touching moments during the press conference. Ponting cut an elegiac figure in the press conference, as he had done most through the match. He answered the questions, even the inane ones, with sincerity, dignity, and the occasional bit of humour. How did he rate India's chances? "Better than ours." Did he consider playing John Hastings ahead of Jason Krejza? "Five fast bowlers? I can imagine what you guys would have said then." But there was no hiding what he felt: he looked gutted.

I had been at his press conference in Colombo after Australia had lost their last league match against Pakistan. It was his first loss as a World Cup captain, and it ended a winning streak for Australia that spanned 12 years and 34 matches. But Ponting had looked upbeat. His form would turn around; the trophy could still be won.

On Thursday, though, his eyes looked glassy, his visage drawn. After enduring a wretched World Cup as a batsman, Ponting had produced his best innings of the tournament, and arguably, the best innings of the match. And though this "wasn't the first time I have scored a hundred and we've lost'', there would be no more World Cup innings for him. Australia and Ricky Ponting, World Cup colossuses both, would be going home the next day. "I feel devastated," he said a few times.

Sachin Tendulkar, the author of many solos during India's days of misery, would know the feeling. Even in this World Cup Tendulkar has scored two hundreds but India didn't win on either occasion. On Thursday, his was one of the three Indian half-centuries and his team got over the line. He would take that over his 100th hundred, which must wait for another day.

Australia have produced an abundance of champion cricketers since Ponting's arrival but very few of them have had their character tested as severely.

It was Ponting's first international hundred in 13 months, and he couldn't have chosen a better match. On a pitch that turned in the first hour, Ponting came in to bat with two offspinners - one of them his old nemesis Harbhajan Singh - in operation, and he built his innings gradually and expertly, playing late, watching the ball and working it into the gaps. Unlike his last World Cup hundred against India, it wasn't a commanding performance, but masterful nonetheless. It wasn't his fault that the Australian innings stuttered and withered away.

"It might take me a while to think about my own innings tonight," he said, "Just how I feel at the moment and the fact that we're going home on the plane. I don't think I'll actually think much about it at all.

"It could be my last World Cup game. If I end up having made a hundred in my last World Cup game, then I guess I can be pretty happy at the end of the day. I've always been one of those guys that's never really reflected on what I've done until a lot later. I've never really been a stats man, that doesn't worry me."

Ponting and Brett Lee were the only two members in the current side who were part of that team in 2003 that had mauled India in final. And both gave all of themselves to keep Australia in the hunt. Lee bowled a sharp and tight opening spell and came back to provide the breakthrough with the wicket of MS Dhoni. He then returned for a final tilt with a bandage over his right eye after a despairing dive ended up with the ball smashing into his head. But there were no last-gasp twists in store for Australia: Suresh Raina lofted his first ball in to the stands, and effectively ended Australia's World Cup reign.

But they didn't go without a fight, and the man who was at the heart of their World Cup dominance made the strongest stand. Australia have produced an abundance of champion cricketers since his arrival but very few of them have had their character tested as severely. Even in defeat, Ricky Ponting has gone out a hero.

Sambit Bal is the editor of ESPNcricinfo

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  • Dummy4 on March 28, 2011, 8:53 GMT

    Superb article... Punter thank you for your contribution to cricket. Your style and attacking strokes are still fresh in mind... You have always been an oustanding captain and player... Now give up the captaincy and just enjoy the game, let others take the responsibillity........

  • Dummy4 on March 28, 2011, 5:51 GMT

    Ponting is not only the Great batsman of this era, infact he is the greatest batsman of all era.... he is not a wonderful captain though but he is one of my favorite batsman because he is look like righthanded Brian Lara..... I really admire Lara, I rate Lara above great Bradman bcoz Lara faced quality fast and spin bowlers, likes of Wasim & Waqar, Warne & Macrah , Donald & Pollock and Murli ..... so tats y i rated Lara above Bradman and also Lara's match winning ability............

  • Dummy4 on March 28, 2011, 4:30 GMT

    sambit.. its a real pleasure to read the article. no doubt ricky is a great hero of the cricket and rules many hearts with his batting abilities. everyday is not Sunday, thats what people say and this world cup was not the sunday for aussies.. i believe that it will take quite some time for aussies to make a mark at the international level now as their weaknesses were exposed by india and pakistan.. now if ricky continues as captain at least for an year then things can get better if not things will get worse. and if he retires then that will be the end of days for aussie cricket...

  • Dummy4 on March 28, 2011, 4:22 GMT

    Good Article. I feel Ponting should be freed from the burden of captaincy. This will let him play "Look..Who is the Boss" kind of innings rather than the one the he played in Ahmedabad.

  • Dummy4 on March 28, 2011, 3:37 GMT

    ricky ponting-best of the best

  • Arosha on March 27, 2011, 16:31 GMT

    Outstanding batsman to say the least. There may have been several greats in recent times such as Gilchrist, Jayasuriya, Shewag, even Saeed Anwar who had very special skills & would turn a game on its head single handedly when the mood stuck them, but if you go for the complete batsmanship with all the charismatic flair & the long term consistency, no one in the past two decades would beat the trio Lara, Tendulkar & Ponting. Hope he would still play for Australia for at least a couple of years. Cricket would be so poor if this man would be no longer around. It's not his fault that Austrailia panicked this time. Sincerely hope that the Australian selectors would not do the same mistake done by WI selectors in '96 who pushed their then captain Richie Richardson to retirement. What did they got in return ? They lost one of their star batsmen & team became in fact quite a laughingstock under the subsequent leaderships.

  • Kameswara Venkatesh on March 27, 2011, 16:09 GMT

    the way he came out of poor form to do so well in a high pressure match...hez just awesome...

  • Dummy4 on March 27, 2011, 9:55 GMT

    A hundred in a losing cause doesn't make Ponting a Tragic Hero. He is a Hero, was n remains forever.

  • Dummy4 on March 27, 2011, 8:18 GMT

    A great article to one of the greatest batsmen of this era!!

  • Dummy4 on March 27, 2011, 7:50 GMT

    Ponting was a successful cricketer and a proud captain. Sadly cricket seems to have no place for pride and confidence. As seen with Ganguly earlier and then Ponting who were both criticized for having the attitude of taking on their opponents and not giving up. Probably this was one of the last of a breed of no nonsense kick ass cricketers. Thanks for everything Ponting!

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