Rod Marsh, the former Australian wicketkeeper rated him as ‘one of the finest teenage batsman he had ever seen’. But, the boy from Tasmania became a man in his very first innings of Test cricket, when he was unfortunately given out leg before wicket, just four runs shy of what would have been a memorable century.
Ricky Ponting went on to play many such innings, which would not only bring smiles to Australian fans, but also to fans around the world. There is no better sight than to see Ponting quickly rush onto the back foot and play the pull and hook shots with panache and also passionately drive the ball through the covers off the front foot, with his typical high backlift. Besides he remains one of the best fielders in one cricket, even at the age of 37, having quick reflexes which helps him take catches from any position in the 30 yard circle and sharp accuracy which helps him in hitting the stumps directly, causing several run-outs.
He was born in Launceston, Tasmania on December 19, 1974. He started playing domestic cricket for his state at a tender age of 17 and within three years, he made his Test debut for Australia in the home summer of 1995 against Sri Lanka at the WACA in Perth, a few days before his 21st birthday. He was not an instant success in Tests though due to a packed Australian batting line-up and as a result, struggled for the first four years of his career in trying to establish his place in the side.
However, he made his ODI debut in March 1995, against South Africa in Wellington. He did not have much success in his debut series in New Zealand but managed to cement the No.3 spot for Australia in the coming months due to decent performances in the home summer of 1995-96 against West Indies and Sri Lanka, and in no time he was a part of the team which was going to play the 1996 World Cup in the Indian subcontinent. He holds a record he will remain proud of, for being the youngest player to score a hundred in World Cup cricket. It came against the West Indies in Jaipur in 1996 as he scored 102 runs off 112 balls, with the innings also known for Ponting to have worn a cap instead of a helmet as a sign of courage towards the deadly West Indian bowlers. His first World Cup ended him scoring 229 runs at an average of 32.71, as Australia ended as runners up in the tournament, losing to Sri Lanka in the final.
Those were still turbulent times for Ponting due to his inconsistency with the bat in Tests in particular. He was dropped several times despite scoring his first Test century in the 1997 Ashes series that too batting at No.6 and against South Africa at home, he averaged 49.60 in 3 Tests. But in 1998, he was in a rich vein of form in ODIS, having amassed over a 1000 runs in the calendar year but the year also saw a prelude to his misfortunes in India in Tests and more so, Harbhajan Singh. The home summer of 1998-99 was marred as Ponting publicly admitted to be having an alcohol problem and a bar fight in New South Wales resulted in his suspension for three matches.
However, it is said that if you make a mistake, you are human. But if you make the same mistake again, then you are a fool. Ponting proved that he is human, because he was quick to learn from that incident and went on to mature, and his performances from the year 1999 improved so much that the world was beginning to see the ‘real’ Ricky Ponting. It was under Steve Waugh’s captaincy that he began to flourish as a batsman, following a superb World Cup where he scored 354 runs at an average of 39.33 and also being the highest run-getter for Australia in the tour of Sri Lanka, where he surprisingly played Muttiah Muralitharan well enough to end with 253 runs in 3 Tests. While the year ended with a Test hundred against Pakistan and two Test hundreds against India, which helped Australia whitewash both the teams.
In 2001, Ponting was becoming a gigantic name in Australian cricket following his promotion to the coveted No.3 spot in the Ashes Series in England, and he continued from where he left off in 1997 as Australia won 3-1, with his contributions being significant. With the year ending well for him following the home Tests against New Zealand, he was named as Australia’s ODI captain as a reward for his consistency in the format in the last six years and Steve Waugh leading the team into a slump. This was a brilliant achievement considering the fact that the likes of Adam Gilchrist and Shane Warne were prime contenders for the post. But his biggest challenge was to regroup the ODI team for the World Cup 2003, which was just one year away.
Since Ponting wanted to be the captain of the team at some point of his career, it was understandable that he would enjoy the role irrespective of the obstacles. And that is exactly what happened as his ODI colleagues were responding well to him and his first series as captain was a hit as Australia won a 7-match series in South Africa by a massive 5-1 margin and this was the beginning of Ponting showing that his batting is usually not affected due to captaincy, as he finished with 283 runs in 6 matches.
His Test form was also improving as he was in the celebratory mood of being elected ODI skipper, having scored 1064 runs in the calendar year of 2002 in 16 innings, at an average of 66.5 with most of those runs coming against top teams such as South Africa and England in the Ashes series at home. What was to follow were good times for Australia, and basically Ricky Ponting since he had become the ODI captain and by far the best batsman in the Test side.
The Ashes win was followed by an outstanding defence of the World Cup title in South Africa. Australia might have entered the tournament with a tri-series victory at home against Sri Lanka and England, but had to suffer major setbacks. One being, Darren Lehmann facing a ban for racist comments in a match against Sri Lanka. Second of all, Michael Bevan was injured. Thirdly, Ponting faced some flak for coaxing the selectors for the out-of-form Andrew Symonds’ ahead of Steve Waugh. But the biggest of all was Shane Warne being sent back home on the eve of the first group game against Pakistan at Johannesburg, after testing positive for taking a banned diuretic.
The morale of the dressing room must have been on an all-time low and here is where the captain’s role to fire up the team becomes so crucial. Critics often mentioned while rating Ponting as skipper that he was fortunate to have a vastly skilled group of players to lead in the first five years of his tenure, but they forget that leadership in cricket is all about inspiring your players to give it their 100% on the field, regardless of the odds or the situation before or during the match. This is where he was impeccable as Ponting puts the country above anything else and that is exactly what Australia needed, before facing a tough opposition such as Pakistan.
Australia won the encounter eventually by a convincing 82 run margin and much to Ponting’s delight, Andrew Symonds hit a stunning 143 runs off 125 balls, remaining not out which certainly made the world applaud and give the Jo’burg fans a treat. While Ponting on a personal note, started off the World Cup well with a 67-ball 53. After that game, the team was on a rampage as they thrashed their toughest competitors, India by 9 wickets in the next game at Centurion with Ponting hitting the winning runs. Australia topped the group by the end of the matches, not losing a single game on the way.
Their biggest bump on the road to glory was a group game against England, in which they had the narrowest of escapes having won by 2 wickets, after being at 119/8 at one stage. If one individual failed, the other would step up for him. This was the motto Australia played with throughout, and thus it comes as no surprise that they remained undefeated in the entire tournament, despite playing Sri Lanka twice and New Zealand bowling them out for 204 in one of the Super Six games.
Australia played India in the World Cup final at Johannesburg and Ponting and co. took full advantage of Sourav Ganguly’s odd decision to bowl first on a flat track. You could call Australia a little fortunate, but it was Ponting’s day as he played one of the finest innings of all time in ODI cricket, smashing an unbeaten 140 off just 121 balls. He made batting look so easy and a joy to watch as he thrashed the Indian bowlers, who were clearly nervous for the grandest stage of them all. He even took on his bête noire, Harbhajan Singh with aplomb which proved that he can play him well enough if he is more attacking in his batting. In terms of numbers, the knock was huge but what makes a knock great is its impact on the opposition.
India were so drained after the carnage, that they did not feel like come out to bat since they had to chase 360 runs in 50 overs to win the game. And it appeared so in their batting performance with an unlikely top-scorer in Virender Sehwag, who kept some Indian fans interested with an 81-ball 82. But the moment Sachin Tendulkar was out in the first over of the run-chase, it was just a matter of time that Ricky Ponting’s name would go in the hall of fame as captain to lead a World Cup winning team. His encouragement towards his rookie players such as Symonds, Bichel, Brad Hogg and Brett Lee paid off in the end while he himself was rejuvenated to play on the big occasion and won the man-of-the-match award in the final, ending the championship with 405 runs in 11 matches, averaging 50.63.
The euphoria of winning the World Cup lasted for so long that some people thought that it would be the right time for Ponting to take over captaincy of the Test team as well. He had to wait for another year to eventually do so, since Steve Waugh’s last Test was against India in Sydney in January 2004. Till then, Ponting continued to enjoy as a pure batsman in Tests with 523 runs in 4 Tests against West Indies in West Indies, following the World Cup. The home summer started off early as Bangladesh, Zimbabwe and India were expected to play Tests before the end of 2003. He was in sublime form and that was more in sight against India in the 4 Tests that summer.
He scored 2 half centuries in the first Test at Brisbane, which was a fair start for him considering how difficult it was to bat on that pitch. But what followed was a spectacle. At Adelaide, he hit 242 in the first innings to put India on the back foot until Rahul Dravid matched that innings with his own 233. Unfortunately, Australia lost the contest but the stars were aligned with Ponting as he bettered his effort at Adelaide in the Boxing Day Test in Melbourne by scoring 257 and this time Australia won by 9 wickets, which helped them draw level in the series. He was the joint man-of-the-series alongside Dravid, both incidentally being No.3s for their respective sides as he ended with 706 runs at an above Bradmansque average of 100.85.
His Indian joy ride saw him hit 1495 runs in 2003, which was the highest ever by an Australian in a calendar year and he became the first man since Don Bradman to score three double centuries in the period. While in ODIs, Ponting led an injury-stricken Australian team to India for a tri-series also involving New Zealand, to a stunning victory in November 2003 and with the bat, he hit 1144 runs in the year which was a batting double for him and one of his most successful years.
He began 2004 with his appointment as Test captain finally, and captaining the team on the tour of Sri Lanka. Australia played outstanding cricket on the tour, prevailing in the ODIS 3-2 and the Tests 3-0, which was commendable considering their travails in the Indian subcontinent. Ponting had a mixed tour though, scoring 247 runs in the four ODIs he played while in 6 Test innings, he scored a mere 198 runs which was a far cry from his 1999 performances in that country.
But the year otherwise was disappointing for him with Australia losing in the semifinal of the ICC Champions Trophy in England to the hosts itself and he was injured when Australia under Adam Gilchrist won their first series in India since 35 years and when he returned to captain the team in the final Test in Mumbai, the team lost on a minefield of a pitch. Even in his personal life, there was some family bereavement which made him miss a Test match against Sri Lanka at home.
Come 2005 and Ricky Ponting was back at his best. He used the New Year’s Test at Sydney against Pakistan to begin another fine run of form with a superb unbeaten double century which won the game for the Aussies by 9 wickets. Followed by which the team was virtually unchallenged in New Zealand having won the Test series 2-0 and Ponting scoring 293 runs in 5 innings. And in the ODIs, Australia whitewashed the hosts to win the Chappell-Hadlee Trophy, 5-0. But the biggest challenge to come was the tour of England, a place which eventually has gone on to become a thorn in Ponting’s career in Test cricket in particular, and to conquer it is probably the reason he is still playing international cricket.
The entire team seemed out of order with a loss in the only T-20 international played against England to begin with, and then a humiliating upset by Bangladesh in the opening match of the tri-series by 5 wickets. They did make a comeback of sorts, having to settle with sharing the trophy with England after a tied final but just after the series going on to defeat the hosts in a 3-match ODi series 2-1. However, the wheels were about to come off and no Australian fan would have ever thought that the result would not be in their favour come September 12, 2005.
The Ashes began in style for Australia at Lord’s despite being bowled out for 190 in the first innings. Australia won by a thumping 239 run margin and the series was considered to be as good as over. But England staged a tremendous comeback in the next Test at Birmingham with Australia’s morale already low due to Glenn McGrath’s freak injury and despite that, Ponting astonishingly electing to bowl first after winning the toss. England eventually won a humdinger of a game by 2 runs, with Ponting getting out on a duck in the second innings after enduring a brilliant six deliveries off Andrew Flintoff in an over.
As a batsman though, he hit back with a match-saving hundred at Manchester in the second innings, hitting 156 runs off 275 balls. Unfortunately, as captain he was unable to execute his strategies as he had been able to in the past, due to almost all the players being out of form. Therefore not surprisingly, England won at Nottingham with a draw at The Oval being enough for them to clinch the Ashes for the first time in 19 years with Ponting being the first captain to lose an Ashes series since Allan Border. As leader, his behavior too was affected by the team’s performance since he abused England coach, Duncan Fletcher after being run out by England’s substitute fielder, Gary Pratt in the second innings of the Nottingham Test.
The Ashes 2005 defeat may have been one of the biggest setbacks Australian cricket had ever faced in a decade of being world champions, but Ponting made the team successfully follow one of his remarkable qualities as a sportsperson – using a defeat or failure as a motivation to succeed the next time. Australia did emerge stronger from the loss and the first signs were a change in strategy, which involved bringing in a fifth bowler in the team and a seventh batsman as well, in the form of an all-rounder just as England had Andrew Flintoff, who was pivotal in their defeat. Ponting was supportive enough of Shane Watson and Andrew Symonds to play Test cricket and for that matter, Michael Clarke who was considered as Australia’s future was dropped from the team for almost a year.
Australia beat an ICC World XI side at home in all the matches they played, and although the series was a waste of money for advertisers and time for fans, it did help Australia warm up for the home summer and carry out their experiments. West Indies and South Africa were hardly menacing for the team as they won five out of the six Tests played, with Ponting being at his prime scoring as many as five hundreds which included twin centuries against West Indies in a Test match. But even more importantly, he was the first man in cricketing history to score twin centuries in his 100th Test which was against South Africa at Sydney, where he hit an inspiring and aggressive century in the second innings to win a drawn match for his country as Graeme Smith bravely declared, to set Australia 287 to win with not many overs remaining.
At that stage, Ponting had reached 28 Test centuries and broke Bradman’s century tally in Durban in South Africa where he yet again hit two centuries in a Test match. He was also threatening to reach closer to Sachin Tendulkar’s record which was of 35 centuries and with Tendulkar being miserably out of form, 2006 was tipped to be the year Ponting was likely to break his record as well. His runs were like waves of an ocean, almost unstoppable by any opposition and all those runs helped in Australia whitewashing South Africa in South Africa, Bangladesh in Bangladesh and to top it all the team winning the Ashes back from England at home with a 5-0 whitewash as well. These were instrumental in Ponting leading the team to 16 consecutive Test wins which is the same achievement Steve Waugh achieved when he was captain of Australia from the period of October 1999 – March 2001 and the most by any team in cricketing history.
Only Mohammad Yousuf was better than Ponting in the calendar year of 2006, as the Australian captain ended with 7 centuries to his name having scored 1333 runs. While in ODIs as well, he scored 798 runs with two of his half centuries leading Australia to the ICC Champions Trophy title in India, therefore filling their trophy cabinet. The only setback for him and his team was the 2-3 ODI series defeat in South Africa, with Australia being the first team to lose an ODI defending a total of above 400. This was at Johannesburg, and Ponting played an innings which was reminscient of the World Cup final against India three years ago. His 164 unfortunately was bettered by Herschelle Gibbs’ 175.
The year 2007 was also one of the finest in Ponting’s illustrious career. Though it started disastrously as England won the ODI tri-series, defeating them at home in the best of 3 finals by a 2-0 margin. While ‘Punter’ was criticized for agreeing to rest for the 3 match series in New Zealand prior to the World Cup. But he was able to put together a demoralized and more importantly an aging team to yet again win every single game of the tournament, defending the World Cup successfully and Ponting became the second player in cricket history after West Indies’ Clive Lloyd to win a World Cup twice as captain of a team.
The World Cup in the West Indies saw Australia enter without fiery pacer Brett Lee and a team undone by recent performances despite a brilliant 2006. But they got back their confidence quickly with successes in the warm up matches and against minnows Netherlands and Scotland in the first two group games. But a win against South Africa proved why this team can never be underestimated, as fighting hard is in their DNA. Ponting scored a vital 91 alongside Hayden’s 66-ball hundred and that was enough to trouble South Africa, who cannot chase totals close to 400 all the time!
Australia entered the Super 8s and this was expected to be their acid test as they had to play resurgent sides such as Bangladesh and Ireland, Sri Lanka, England and New Zealand who had tormented them before this tournament and hosts West Indies. But all these teams were duly beaten and the team after this round was clearly the favourites to win the title despite playing South Africa once again in the semifinal. South Africa were thrashed by 8 wickets as Australia’s bowlers took centre stage on a grassy Gros Islet pitch. Come the final against Sri Lanka and the team was on an all-time high, and Gilchrist’s 149 showed that a player out of form can perform when it matters the most.
Australia had won another World Cup and Ponting has led the team in this tournament being undefeated in 22 matches as of 2007. Glenn McGrath was given a fitting farewell in both Tests and ODIs, Matthew Hayden and Adam Gilchrist had played their last World Cups, Shaun Tait had stepped up to perform when Brett Lee was out of the team. This shows that how much the players enjoyed their cricket playing as a ‘team’. Ponting individually ended the championship with 529 runs in 11 matches with a century and four fifties to his name.
However, the post World Cup era was to be the toughest for Punter and the team alike, especially in Tests. Besides Justin Langer and Damien Martyn, Glenn McGrath and Shane Warne also retired from Test cricket following the New Years Test win at Sydney in 2007. Ponting had lost only three Tests as captain till then, with all three of them either having no McGrath or Warne playing. It was to be seen if Australia can extend their success in Tests for a longer period of time, although their team spirit easily makes them qualify as one of the greatest cricket teams in the late 90s and 2000s, much like the West Indies was in the 70s and 80s.
The era began well with a home series whitewash of Sri Lanka, as it was a 2-0 series win before the big Indian summer to come up. Australia began confidently, winning the Boxing Day Test at Melbourne by 337 runs. However, at Sydney all hell broke loose when the team won. There were poor umpiring decisions which favoured the Aussies and the team; in particular Ponting was accused of cheating or rather extreme gamesmanship for wrongly appealing for dismissals. Besides Andrew Symonds accused Harbhajan Singh for racially abusing him. Incidentally, it was the 16th Test win for Australia on the trot, but the record was broken in the next Test as India amazingly fought back to win at Perth. Punter was not in the best frame of mind after facing criticism from the majority of the cricketing world who questioned his position as a leader and even with the bat he struggled despite ending the series with a 140 at Adelaide. He was troubled by Harbhajan Singh and the newbie Ishant Sharma in particular at Perth. Australia did retain the Border Gavaskar Trophy but it was a sign for worse to come for the side.
When it came to ODIs, there was not much of cricket after the World Cup but it was in October 2007 that Australia toured India for a 7-match series, which they won 4-2 with Ponting being absent from some of the games due to an injury. But prior to those ODIs, there was the T-20 World Cup to be played in South Africa. Australia shockingly lost to Zimbabwe in one of the group games, but eventually made it to the last four before being knocked out by eventual champions India.
Ponting ended 2007 on a low in Tests, but in ODIs he crossed the 1000 run mark in the calendar year following exceptional performances in the home summer and the World Cup, not to mention two centuries in three games against New Zealand in December 2007. However 2008 was the year which saw his prime beginning to fade away. This was seen instantly, in the tri-series involving India and Sri Lanka with 191 runs in 10 matches, his highest being 124 against India in Sydney just before the finals against the same team. India won the best of 3 finals, 2-0 ending a highly controversial Australian summer and a horror one for cricket.
He turned out for the Kolkata Knight Riders in the Indian Premier League for four matches, until he had to lead the team on the tour of West Indies. Ponting did not look out of sorts, with a weak bowling attack coming to his assistance. He hit 158 in the very first at Jamaica to make an impact on the hosts and finished the series with 323 runs at an average of 53.83. But his batting was likely to be affected as he had to focus more on changing his leadership style, from that of a manager-cum-leader to a mentor-cum-leader due to youngsters filling places in the team and problems occurring in the bowling department as the tour of India was not too far away.
Ponting led the team to India twice, in 2008 and 2010 and lost both the series. He has lost 5 Tests out of 7 as captain, with his batting record in the country being unimpressive. He has scored a Test century though, i.e., in the first Test of the 2008 series in Bangalore where his 123 was critical in the team ending the match in a stalemate. His team lost that series 0-2, with Ponting ending with 264 runs in 7 innings, a much better outing for him than the 1998 and 2001 ones in India. Ishant Sharma continued to trouble him and it showed that he was nowhere near his form in 2006 for instance. While in 2010, it was a worse result with the team being whitewashed, losing both the Tests although Ponting hit 224 runs in 4 innings on this tour, is average being much better than 2008 as well, that of 56 as he had three scores in the 70s.
The end of 2008 was a disaster of Ponting and co. as they suffered a rare home series loss, to South Africa by a margin of 1-2 in 3 Tests despite the captain averaging above 45 in the series. Perth it seemed no longer remained Australia’s fortress as South Africa chased down 414 in the second innings to win the Test match. However in the return trip to South Africa in February 2009, Australia won 2-1 but this time Ponting was appreciated for leading a young and inexperienced team with all his charisma, to an away series win, when South Africa was considering a much stronger side especially at home.
But England was once again in Australia’s agenda and as captain, he returned to a place which is not his favourite. In the World T-20 2009, Australia were unceremoniously knocked out of the first round which prompted Ponting to retire from the format altogether. Next up was the magnum opus of them all, the Ashes series. With the bat, he made a strong statement in the first innings of the Test match at Cardiff with a 150 but unfortunately the match was a draw. England went on to win 2-1 yet again, and Ponting was the second Australian captain to lose 2 Ashes in England.
But it was a good end to the year in the ODI format right after the Ashes, following a 6-1 series win in England and a successful defence of the ICC Champions Trophy in South Africa, with this title being even more special due to it having the top 8 teams of the world competing and Ponting leading a rookie team to the victory. In India, the challenge was worse as several star players were injured yet he was in such fine nick with the bat that he was somehow able to regain his confidence to inspire his troops to pull off an unlikely 4-2 series win.
However 2010 was his worst year as skipper and batsman. It was a major fight for him to lead a sagging Australian side while also taking care of his own form. It also saw Ponting being the first Australian skipper to lose 3 Ashes series to England, with a 1-3 defeat in 5 Tests at home. His captaincy reign in Test cricket, ended with the Boxing Day defeat in the Ashes. While in the ODIs, it was in the World Cup 2011 that saw his end near following a quarterfinal defeat to India despite his painstaking 104, and a loss to Pakistan in one of the group games ended Australia’s unbeaten streak of 27 games in World Cup cricket under his stewardship.
He had been woefully out of form in 2010 and 2011, but he has a bright 2012 to look to after the SCG hundred against India. Depending on Michael Clarke and the Australian selectors, he can look forward to winning Test series in India and England and bow out in style. He has several other records such as being the third highest run-getter and century maker in Tests currently and the second highest run-getter and century maker in ODIs. He is the first cricketer to be involved in 100 Test victories of his nation, an amazing tribute to his longevity. He is also the most capped player in World Cup cricket, having featured in 46 matches.
Here is Ricky Ponting, a legendary batsman, fielder and captain being a 3-in-1. Where comes another?