Thursday, December 30, 2010

Of Ricky Ponting

It would be a travesty if Australia’s crushing loss to England at the Melbourne Cricket Ground is to mark the end of Ricky Ponting’s Test Match career. Having been ruled out by injury, for the final Ashes game at Sydney, and with Australia playing their next Test Match only in August, we may have to wait for a while to get a semblance of clarity on the situation, but the sense that one gets is that the end may be nigh for Ponting.

For the best part of his career, Sachin Tendulkar notwithstanding, Ponting has been a batsman of unrivalled distinction – between January 1999 and December 2009, Ponting averaged a colossal 58.75 at a strike-rate of 61.31, while Tendulkar averaged 54.78 at a strike-rate of 54.62, scoring ten centuries fewer than the Australian. It is trite, no doubt, to say that Ponting’s job was made easier by the quality of the team that he played in, epitomized no more than by the openers that preceded him, for most of the time, Mathew Hayden and Justin Langer. Yet, there were numerous occasions when Ponting went into the middle, with the ball and bowlers, new and fresh, and batted with magisterial splendour. Never one to shy away from the pull and the hook or on-the-up drives through the covers, Ponting’s batting has always been a thrilling spectacle. Lunging nervously forward, with the highest of back-lifts, one could be forgiven for thinking, just for a moment, of the lumbering technical deficiencies in Ponting’s batting, but when he flashes the blade to make contact with the ball, rarely is the result anything but of resounding primacy.

Statistics, as always, are only partially helpful in expounding on Ponting’s virtues. His contribution as a batsman to the Australian cause for well over a decade has been exemplary. Knocks of utmost quality in the most trying circumstances, turning potentially perilous situations into ones of authority, has been a hallmark of his batting. Nonetheless in recent times, Ponting has been pedestrian, struggling on tour to India – his record in the country will remain a blotch on his illustrious career – and at home against England. Sensing technical faults in his batting, teams have bowled to him with acuity, often getting him early on the hook or the pull – strokes which Ponting has doggedly refused to sway away from – and with the moving ball, to which he has been strangely vulnerable.

But most batsmen, however great they may be, go through the phases of inquests, where their methods are tested to the hilt. Rahul Dravid, a batsman universally renowned as one of the most technically perfect, has been found wanting against left arm seamers off late. Tendulkar, not too long ago, was considered by some to be over the hill, to have lost his imperious aura – he scored just one century at an average of 44 in ten Test Matches between Novembers, 2004 and 2007 – yet he has ascended great heights in recent times, notching up seven centuries in 2010 alone. What sets the great batsmen apart is their ability to iron out flaws and regain an air of invincibility. In Tendulkar’s case, his poor run of form was, perhaps, a product of a glut of injuries – primarily to his elbow and back – which he has overcome to return to his magnificent best. Ponting, though, is a player of supreme physical fitness – even now he remains one of the best outfielders in the world – but the rigours of captaincy and the prospect of another Ashes loss are sure to have weighed on his batting.

His captaincy record – in spite of him being the most successful captain in Australian history – will forever be stained by the three Ashes defeats. His team’s enormous slide in recent times means that he must necessarily face the axe as captain. There is a need for a fresh start, perhaps with an unsullied leader, but a year fraught with numerous struggles aside, Ponting still has much to offer as a batsman. If released from the shackles of skippering the side, Ponting could well enjoy a new lease as a batsman. But Australia aren’t in the habit of retaining sacked captains in their side, and Ponting’s self-esteem may suffer a dent by playing as a mere member of a team that he has captained for over seven years. An exception, though, must be made by all parties.

In their darkest phase since the days of Kim Hughes’s pains, Australia could do with Ponting’s batting nous to guide them through what is likely to be a tricky and turbulent time. The case for him to drop down the order is well argued – Ponting is no stranger to a lower middle order position, having played at No. 6 in the early stages of his career, and Usman Khawaja, who is set to make his debut in Sydney should be given a chance to make the No. 3 position his own. But to relegate Ponting completely to the wilderness would not only be crude justice to one of the great batsmen of all time, but would be ill-advised considering the pitiful state of Australian cricket.


The Reluctant Rebel said...

I respect Ponting for not walking away from the captaincy like Tendulkar did.

Suhrith said...

Ya. Not one to shirk responsibility, is he?

The Reluctant Rebel said...

Nope. But then again he didn't/doesn't have someone like Ganguly to take over from him.

raajs said...

Richy has had all success aganist the side that don't have good spinners leave alone great spinners.He is not an ideal no 3 to bat at any situation.remember 2001 series he played like a novice.ANYHOW HE HAD HIS MOMENTS DUE TO THE FACT HAYDOS AND LANGER TOOK CARE OF THE NEW BALL.Its ideal situation for him to retire. he can be remembered for losing three ashes in a row