Gabba intent, and Ashes aura
196 v England, Brisbane, 2006-07
The opening day of the 2006-07 Ashes is best remembered for Steve Harmison's wide to second slip from the first ball of the morning. It should not be forgotten that it was also the day of one of Ponting's finest innings. This was a captain who had given the Ashes back to England the previous year. The reputation of his captaincy, as the ESPNcricinfo report of the day's play stated at the time, "rests entirely on his success in this campaign". He finished the first day on 137 and was finally dismissed on day two for 196. It was an innings full of his trademark pulls and back-foot drives, and an innings that declared Australia's intent to crush England. Ultimately, it was an innings that set Australia on the path to a 5-0 Ashes triumph.
104 v India, Ahmedabad, World Cup quarter-final, 2011
For the cricketer involved in the most wins in the history of the game, my favourite moment of the man came in the wake of defeat. Ricky Ponting the cricketer I had always admired, but in later years, as he matured and mellowed, and as Australia began to lose their aura, an endearing and personable man emerged. I never got to know him personally, but even the sterile settings of media conferences provide glimpses into character, and as I watched Ponting at the press conference after Australia's loss to India in the World Cup quarter-final in Ahmedabad last year, the cricket lover in me found a deeper connection with the man.
Ponting had played his best innings of the tournament, and the best innings of the match, a carefully crafted 104 on a pitch that turned pretty much from the beginning, only to watch his team make its earliest exit from the World Cup since 1992. He was asked if he felt like a tragic hero.
"Do I feel like a tragic hero?" Ponting mulled the question. "I don't
feel much of a hero at
the moment, I must admit." The rest of the interaction followed in much the same
vein. Ponting carried himself with dignity and grace, and with a
touch of humour. His Test career would end
the same way as his World Cup career: after winning three World Cups, he
signed out with a defeat. But he had gone out a hero.
v England, Old Trafford, 2005
For the first decade of his international career Ricky Ponting did not have to save many matches for his country such was Australia's dominance of the world stage. But in 2005, against England at Old Trafford, he produced one of the finest rearguards you could imagine. It was not the longest back-to-the-walls innings, but for the context it was an epic. On the back of the famous two-run win at Edgbaston, England had bossed the next Test and set Australia 423 in just over a day. Justin Langer fell to the seventh ball of the final morning and in strode Ponting; he did not depart until 24 balls remained of the Test. For more than six hours he defied the strongest England pace attack for a generation as wickets fell steadily around him. As ever with Ponting, he scored, too, never letting the situation stifle his natural instincts. Every England supporter was willing an edge, or an lbw or, frankly, any legal dismissal. When it finally came, four overs from the end, with a gloved pull, the ground erupted in celebration but also in appreciation of a wonderful innings. For the home support, the perfect outcome would have been one more wicket, but Glenn McGrath and Brett Lee hung on. Ponting cheered the draw. England knew they had Australia. Ultimate Ashes cricket.
62 v South Africa, Johannesburg, 2010-11
After more 15 years as an international cricketer, it seemed Ricky Ponting's end would come in Johannesburg in November 2011. He was under immense pressure from the media and in sorry form, similar to the one that brought the curtain down for real this time. With memories of his 2003 World Cup final century still fresh in my mind and his penchant for scoring against South Africa, I thought he would have something special in the tank. In the first innings, he was out lbw to Dale Steyn for a duck, playing across the line to one that angled in. It was to end badly, I thought. But with Australia 19 for 2, needing 310 to win the match, the expected stepping up came. It began with two of the most confident pull shots I can remember. No matter how much he was struggling, the mastery was still there. He still knew how to rock back and roll them out, and even though the rest of his innings was mostly a show of patience instead of pleasure, I will remember Ponting for his resilience, determination and what seemed an evergreen ability to keep going.
v India, Mohali, 2010-11
Ricky Ponting was formidable in victory, but he was at his most human in defeat. Australia's decline gave him plenty of opportunities to experience the pain of a loss, but he was never less than candid and even-tempered in speaking after one. The 2010 Test in Mohali was one of the most galling of all. Australia's unfancied side gave everything, losing by a wicket, and might have won had Doug Bollinger not been forced from the field with a side strain, having had only two days to recover from playing in the Champions League in South Africa. Ponting mused on the game, VVS Laxman's sorcery, the implications of Bollinger's injury, and the courage shown by the substitute fielder Steve Smith in throwing at the stumps in a run-out attempt for the final wicket that instead went for four costly overthrows. "There's no blame at all towards Smith for having a shot at the stumps," Ponting said. "If that was me, I would have done exactly the same thing."
v England, Trent Bridge, 2005
Bill Andrews, one of the more rebellious cricketers to play for Somerset lived on the story of how he once dismissed Don Bradman. He even called his biography The Hand That Bowled Bradman. Little did it matter that the Don had made 202 at the time and allowed his stumps to be hit. Move forward from 1938 to 2005 and the run-out of Ricky Ponting in the Trent Bridge Test by England's little-known substitute fielder, Gary Pratt. Ponting was incandescent, sensing foul play. England supporters revelled in his discomfort, the conviction growing that England really could win the Ashes. Ponting had the misfortune to skipper Australia in three Ashes defeats, but as much as England crowds loved to bait him, everybody surely recognised him as a formidable cricketer: rugged, uncompromising and richly talented. They certainly baited him that day. From the hand that bowled Bradman, the story had moved to the hand that ran out Ricky. It will never console him, but there are few finer accolades than that.
v India, quarter-final, World Cup 2011, Ahmedabad
In Indian hearts, Ricky Ponting's finest against India produced an amalgam of open-mouthed awe and woeful helplessness. Like 140 not out in the 2003 World Cup final. When India and Australia met in the 2011 World Cup quarter-final, Ponting had not scored an international century in 13 months. But we knew only this belligerent blaze of a batsman could vaporise his recent past and reshape the present. Almost predictably, Ponting produced a century (104) of creativity and composure. India's nemesis, with the face of a five-year-old, the feet of a dancer and the ruthlessness of a butcher had once again stamped the occasion. In a simmering Motera, dread and optimism arm-wrestled in the interval. India chased clinically, though, and Australia were out of the World Cup for the first time since 1996. Ponting said he was "devastated", and this time awe and woefulness resided in the same. It was to be his last international match in India. He should have been given a standing ovation. Boy, he was tough, but man, was he brilliant.
v India, 1999-2000
The new and mellowed Ricky Ponting has endeared himself to many but me, I always liked my Ponting angry and unreasonable, with the over-my-dead-body attitude. There was this one time, in Australia in 1999-2000, when Javagal Srinath did him in with a bouncer. It was a good delivery, rearing from short of a length, Ponting was already on the front foot, and was a little late into the pull. The top edge crashed into his helmet, and Srinath seemed to walk up to check on how Ponting was.
So sure was Ponting of himself, so invincible in his head, so quick to write off he had been beaten that he went after Srinath. Even before removing his helmet to check if he had a cut on his face, or how bad that hit hurt, Ponting shot back at Srinath, waving the bat at him, telling him to "go back and f****** bowl". When at his best, Ponting never showed a hint of weakness, even if there was one. And why would he? He won more Tests than any other player.
I wonder how Ponting felt when on his final day in Test cricket he was given a guard of honour. This, just before his second-worst Test series and just before his second-biggest Test defeat (by runs). That's the weakest Ponting moment I have seen. The Ponting I liked would have told that guard of honour, "We'll have a beer afterwards boys, but this is Test cricket. Go back and f****** bowl."