Cricket: Greatness assured, Punter deserves to go out with a roar

By David Leggat

An old fashioned scrapper from the wrong side of the tracks, Ricky Ponting's retirement severs the last link to a great era of Aussie teams. Photo / Getty Images
An old fashioned scrapper from the wrong side of the tracks, Ricky Ponting's retirement severs the last link to a great era of Aussie teams. Photo / Getty Images

A favourite Ricky Ponting memory? Eden Park, February 17, 2005 and the debut of a new-fangled one-day version of the game, is hard to top.

T20 arrived that summery night, the first international before a full house and the New Zealand team tarted up in retro style. The Aussies laughed along but the skipper wasn't about to get too frivolous.

Ponting made 98 off 55 balls to set up an easy win. Remember this was at a time when no one knew what a team was capable of achieving in 20 overs.

Reaching 200? Hardly likely. As for a batsman making a century on his own? Forget it.

Ponting did it with cricket strokes all around the outfield clock that night, and it set out the batsmans' stall. Others have surpassed it, including New Zealand's Brendon McCullum, but it was Ponting who demonstrated that night what was possible.

He'll be gone after the final test against South Africa in Perth starting today, his place among the all-time greats assured. Only Sachin Tendulkar has made more test runs; only Tendulkar and Jacques Kallis have more centuries than Ponting.

He should have had a century on debut, also at Perth, 16 years ago, only to be sawn off by a dreadful umpiring decision on 96.

Ponting came into a powerful Australian side. A tough kid from the wrong side of the Launceston tracks, he fitted perfectly into that fierce, combative Australian philosophy.

His style was front foot and aggressive; in his prime no one pulled with the authority and - in bowlers' eyes at least - demoralising precision of 'Punter'. Get the length fractionally wrong and you paid for it. Brilliant hands too.

For many Australians he'll be remembered as the first captain to lose three Ashes series. He didn't take that particularly well.

As a communicator, Ponting was, to these eyes anyway, direct and generally forthright. You can't ask for much more than that, even if you sometimes disagreed with his take on events.

The best Australian batsman since Bradman? Probably. The numbers make that claim, although Greg Chappell, average 53.86 and a classicist in style, would have solid support.

Ponting was a scrapper and didn't go in for handing out even breaks. He played his cricket as if his life depended on it, flinty-eyed and unyielding.

He averaged a tick over his career average against New Zealand, 53.8 in 17 tests, which produced two centuries.

The ticking of the clock for Ponting was sounding louder last season. He did the unthinkable at Hobart as New Zealand won a remarkable victory - walking when Tim Southee and co launched a raucous lbw appeal, so plumb was he.

Disjointed India then gave him a reprieve, after 33 innings without a century, when he made two tons later in the season. Ponting knew his time was coming and there's a symmetry to ending his career where it began.

His ODI career is long gone, but he twice led Australia to World Cup titles.

Ponting is the last link to a great era of Australian teams. He began with Taylor, Slater, Boon, Mark Waugh, Healy, Warne and McGrath. He saw off other notables such as Gilchrist and Lee.

Ponting rated his 100th test victory, against Sri Lanka in Galle last year, as his proudest moment. He was in a winning test team in 66 per cent of his matches.

A genuine great, he deserves to go out with a last defiant roar.

- NZ Herald

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