'For a small guy, he carried so much power'
Ricky Ponting exhausted and exasperated many a bowler during his career. Four of them look back at their battles with him
Darren Gough: "He wanted to bully you"
v Ponting: Tests 9, dismissals 8, avg 32.12
You surprise me there when you say I got Ponting eight times, because I always found him really hard to bowl at. The most difficult batsman I bowled to was Adam Gilchrist, and that was purely because he would come in as No. 7, when the ball was old, and he would score so quickly. But there were two top-order batsmen I always found difficult: Michael Slater and Ponting. They wanted to bully me and I wanted to bully them. So as far as the contest goes, those two were the best. I had good duels with Mark Waugh, too, but I knew I could get him if I bowled back of a length. With Ponting and Slater, I never knew where I stood.
The one thing that was always on my mind against Ponting was to try and not bowl short at him, because he was so quick on that pull shot. I knew he was the player we had to get out, because he was a batsman who could accelerate the run rate quickly. Gilchrist did that down the order but Ponting did that early on.
My plan to him was quite high-risk: start with an early dose of pitching a foot outside off stump, which tempted him. In most of my dismissals, if you notice, he was caught at second slip as he was going after balls which any other guy would not have chased. But once he got in, he would murder me all day. Most people looked to bowl straight at Ponting, but I didn't. I knew he wanted to get on with it, hit me for a four, bully the bowlers. So I just tended to bowl full and wide at him, and that is how I did him so many times - nicking it.
He played some wonderful innings [against England], including his maiden Test century, which came at Headingley in 1997. It was a pretty flat pitch, but he just destroyed anybody in his sights.
For a batsman to be great in my eyes, he needs to be able to score off both the front and back foot. That is vital. I knew if I bowled back of a length and shortish to some batsmen, they were never going to affect my bowling figures. But Ponting could score quickly against me. No bowler likes to go for runs, especially being hit for boundaries. Ponting was a run-getter and he got them quick. He always wanted to get on with it. He was in the top three batsmen of all time, for me.
In 2005 I had the opportunity to be on the same team as Ponting during a charity match for the tsunami victims between the ICC World XI and the Asia XI. It was the first time I watched him go about his business and how he prepared. And, oh my word, what an innings he played. It was amazing to see how he prepared, compared to the other players you played with.
Even at a young age he was a powerful character and that is why he became the leader he became, earning a lot of respect. Ponting was part of a great Australian batting order, but it was his attitude, his determination, that made him tower above everyone else. For someone who is quite a small guy, he carried so much power. He was an unbelievable competitor.
He never smiled at you, really. You never knew whether he liked you or hated you. That just sums him up.
Shoaib Akhtar: "He had no fear"
v Ponting: Tests 9, dismissals 3, average 4.66
On his day, even a demon would be scared to bowl against Ponting. This is a guy who never stepped back. I never enjoyed bowling to him because if I could not get him out in the first few overs, then he would make sure I would have to stay on the field for another 50 overs.
He had no fear. The final Test of Pakistan's tour of Australia in 1999-2000 was held in Perth, and I remember bowling at my fastest. It was a good WACA pitch and I was bowling at about 97mph consistently. Justin Langer, Ponting's partner at the other end, was literally laughing, since Ponting could not connect. Ponting made use of my pace to let the balls go by easily. I think I bowled some of my fastest bouncers, which were flying over the wicketkeeper's head, and Ponting just stood there. It was my most unfortunate day, I felt at the time. He took apart a bowling attack that consisted of myself, Wasim Akram and Saqlain Mushtaq and inflicted huge damage with a big century .
He was one of the toughest batsman I bowled against. There were three or four batsmen I felt I should be scared against: Ponting, Inzamam-ul-Haq, Brian Lara and Adam Gilchrist. Ponting's ability to finish games was amazing. But his ability to face fast bowlers like myself and score runs was equally praiseworthy. He was a batsman who could play as well as win games, no matter what the match situation was. A fearless and ruthless batsman. Always a match-winner.
Chris Martin: "I would sit down and follow him bat"
v Ponting: Tests 12, dismissals 4, avg 51.50
As cricketers we don't actually sit down and watch other players play other than when playing against them. So the ultimate compliment I will give Ponting is that even when I was not playing, he was the one batsman in the last decade I would follow on TV.
He had a full array of shots, and that always put the bowler under pressure. In an Australian team full of legends he was the one man you wanted to get out, and a lot of thought went into figuring out ways to do so - not just as a bowler; as a spectator, I would watch how other people bowled at him.
As a top-order batsman he was the most difficult one to bowl to. With the new ball in hand, when you have the most energy to tackle your opponent, you fancy your chances, but Ponting was always capable of picking up lengths incredibly quickly, and he tried to put me on the back foot just as quickly. Guys like Ricky and Sachin Tendulkar, and to an extent Jacques Kallis, always get the best out of the bowler when they are scoring runs. And it was fun to stand up to the task.
In the Christchurch Test in 2005, the ball was reversing and I kept bowling him outswingers. I was successful in keeping him quiet for a couple of overs but I was getting heckled by Merv Hughes, the former Aussie quick, who was leading a tour group. Hughes kept saying I did not deserve to be on the same pitch as Ricky and that basically I was wasting everybody's time. But I eventually turned the ball around and managed to bring it back sharply towards his off stump. It didn't bowl him, but the next ball, similar in line and length, went straight through and forced an edge on its way into the gloves of the wicketkeeper.
When you get someone like him out with a little bit of savvy and nous, you feel good about yourself. But that was an exception to the rule - Ponting was a batsman who definitely had the better of most of our battles.
Harbhajan Singh: "The kind of cricketer, who could win matches on his own"
v Ponting: Tests 14, dismissals 10, avg 22.30, ducks 3
Ponting the batsman did not change much, at least in the first decade of his career. He was a quality batsman, but somehow I always held an edge over him.
Our first duel occurred in our first series together - the 1998 Sharjah Cup ODI series. It was my debut series and I got Ponting stumped after he hit me for a six. Both of us were charged up. I made some gesture and he responded aggressively. The match referee imposed fines on both of us and I sat out a match. It was the first of our many run-ins. In the 2000-01 Test series I got him in all the three Tests, and also in the first warm-up match, in Nagpur. He went for a drive and was caught at short midwicket. In the latter part of his career, he tried to do something different compared to how he batted on his first few tours of India. In those early days he would tend to play across and get out a lot caught at short leg or other close-in positions. Later he looked to step out more and play towards the mid-on and midwicket areas rather than towards cover and mid-off, which were the areas where I wanted him to play. He was not only playing more on the front foot but had also started waiting a lot on the back foot, like in the 2008-09 Bangalore Test, where he got a fine century.
Ponting will be in the top five Test batsmen I have played against. He was the kind of cricketer who could win matches on his own. He was an aggressive captain and had the ability to lift the team from difficult situations. He was the kind of batsman who played all round the wicket and scored runs quickly on any track. He developed the aura of being among the greatest because he performed consistently over the years.
Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo