West Indies v Australia, 2nd Test, Antigua, 1st day May 30, 2008

Ponting's genius ignores numbers game


Ricky Ponting's 65 pushed him into the most elite group of Test run-scorers © Getty Images
 

Records seem easiest for the people who are the least concerned about them as thoughts of milestones don't sit annoyingly and teasingly in their minds. Years ago it seemed unbelievable that Ricky Ponting didn't know how highly history rated some of his deeds.

Whenever he walked in after play to discuss his latest hundred and was told of the great name he had just passed for runs or centuries, he'd look straight back and say: "I've never been one for stats." Usually he didn't know about the mark until one of the support staff had told him. It happened so often it had to be true. A man who has been ribbed by his team-mates for reading the Sydney grade cricket scores never knew when he was about to pass Waugh, Gavaskar or Bradman.

At the start of his career Steve Waugh was playing under the coach Bob Simpson, who would alert the players to any new milestones they had achieved. Under Waugh's captaincy history became a strong influence, pushing the team to smash records instead of breaking them. During the reign Australia achieved 16 wins in a row, Matthew Hayden raised a then-best 380 and Waugh finished his career in second on the list of Test run-makers with 10,927.

The sense of numerical occasion didn't pass to Ponting. Calculations don't bother him as much as winning or spending a long time in the game. And in cricket there is always someone who is better - or more compulsive - with statistics. So the only reason Ponting knew he needed 61 runs in Antigua to reach what was once the fairytale of batting achievements was because one of the extended squad members had mentioned it.

When Ponting started his Test career only Allan Border and Sunil Gavaskar had reached five figures and 10,000 carried a magical quality. It was such a big deal to Border that in the same year he got there, with a single to mid-on off Carl Hooper at the SCG, he released his Beyond Ten Thousand autobiography.

Batsmen didn't get that far by mistake or by merely being good. Longevity was essential - Border and Gavaskar both played for 16 years - but so was regular, heavy run-scoring. Averaging more than 50 was a must. Ponting has done both in becoming the seventh player to the number.

He began with 96 on debut in Perth in 1995 and it took 13 years and another 117 matches to join the group. A two to cover from Ramnaresh Sarwan's occasional legspin lifted him out of the 9000s, but there was little fanfare. While Ponting said at stumps it was a nice milestone, he is happy letting everybody else make the fuss.

Ponting is more proud of the many years he has spent in the national side, but in the quiet of his room the size of numbers must make him smile. In his public world, and in a team sense, Simon Katich's unbeaten 113 was more important than the captain's 65 on the opening day. Without Matthew Hayden, Australia needed a solid contribution and Katich provided it, allowing Ponting to leave for the hotel pleased with the side's position.

Despite Katich working impressively on his first century since 2005, his innings will be overlooked by those outside the squad. Ponting, the newest 10,000 man, is now standing at an altitude reached only by the super elite.

Peter English is the Australasia editor of Cricinfo