Ricky Ponting has some Unfinished Business Ahead of the Ashes 2009 Series
“Aussie Aussie Aussie, Out Out Out!!!” This was the gleeful text message I received in the immediate aftermath of Australia’s defeat to Sri Lanka which sent them crashing out of the T20 World Cup. My thoughts? Ha, yeah well yes. Yes they are out, there’s no denying it. The Australians will not be winning this year’s T20 World Cup. Or is it the 20/20 World Cup? Or the Twenty20 World Cup? Or the Ttwenty… you get the point. Who really gives a XXXX? Ricky Ponting’s post match interview left me in little doubt. The answer? Not them anyway. Not really. Of course he stated genuine disappointment at not having performed as well as we all know they can, of course they would have loved to have won, but deep down there was only one thing on his mind.
The knowing smile and the glint in the eye when Ian Chappell asked about the upcoming you-know-what spoke volumes. Don’t get me wrong, the Australians won’t laugh this defeat off. They won’t be thinking “Fantastic two weeks break, bring back Roy and we’ll have a few nights on the fizz before the proper stuff starts!” No no. Talks will have been had for sure, but they will have been calm, measured, constructive and with a greater prize in mind. The response to my friend’s goading message was simple. “Beware the wounded Tiger.” Make no mistake, the 2009 Australian cricket team are on these shores for one reason and one reason only.
Ricky Ponting made his first Ashes tour to England in 1997 as a 22 year old learning the ropes. But by this stage he had already more or less established himself in the one day side and been schooled as a 20 year old on the 1995 tour to the West Indies, which many, if not most, mark as the turning point in world cricket which derailed the West Indian juggernaut, and signalled the beginning of the great Australian period of true dominance.
Ponting played little on that tour but as a young, hungry cricketer it was the perfect time to learn about he game and the greater significance of the Baggy Green. His time on the sidelines with Justin Langer made them both determined that once they had that cap on their heads, they were not letting it go without a fight. And how right that proved. Yet ten years later there they both were at the Oval, looking on helplessly as England whooped and hollered and drank (and drank, and drank) in celebration of their success in wrestling the greatest prize in cricket away from them. This was not to be allowed to happen again. To read Ricky Ponting’s Captains Diary of 2007 is to read the sporting equivalent of a self help, self motivation, “How to Succeed and Make a $million” business bible. This charts the journey from infamous boot camp to 5-0 whitewash through the eyes of the man who did more than most to make it happen.
One man does not make a team, particularly when that team included Hayden, Langer, Gilchrist, Warne and McGrath, but Ponting was the heartbeat and the drive behind it all. Within the first one hundred pages of that book, while we were still on the build up to the Gabba, days and weeks before Harmy’s (worst) ball of the century, it was clear that only one team was going to win the 2006/2007 Ashes.
The 2009 Ashes, however, are a different matter. Gone are the openers, Haydos and Alfie, averaging 50 and 45 respectively with 53 test hundreds between them. Gone is Gilly, and what do you say about him? Stats don’t even matter (96 matches, 5570 runs at nearly 48 with a strike rate a fraction under 82 and 406 dismissals, seeing as you ask) who can replace him? And then there you have Warne and McGrath. Enough said really. But, who do we have still there?
Looking around wondering where all his mates have gone, perhaps thinking in hindsight that he should have joined them in retirement and allowed Michael Clarke to take over the reigns with a two and a half year lead in period to this years Ashes. Yep, Ricky. He’s still here. 6th Ashes, 3rd as captain, World’s best batsmen (as of 12th June 2009 the official rankings have him at 6th, but if you believe that 5 others, including Gautam Gambir, are better batsmen you’re as deluded as Paul Collingwood was when he thought he could out-sledge Shane Warne) but he has one empty space on his CV. With 10,000+ runs, an average approaching sixty, 37 centuries, 4 Allan Border medals, 3 world cups, a 3 times Australian test player of the year he has already achieved pretty much everything there is to in the game and is set to break all the games batting records before he retires. He is also an Australian Ashes winning captain. But, crucially, he is also an Australian Ashes losing captain, and that is what 2009 is all about.
As 11am on 8th July approaches the question a great many doubters are asking is this, “Is Ricky Ponting a good captain, or is he just a great batsman who had the luxury of a world beating, once in a life time, team?” This is something Ponting is well used to having had to deal with these thoughts ever since taking over from Steve Waugh, who had similar accusations and doubts thrown at him.
To follow Allan Border, Mark Taylor and Steve Waugh is a tough ask for anyone but Ponting has answered his critics with runs, runs, more runs and most importantly, victories. Never has there been a moment where his place has been in doubt. A Test career average of 57.58 increased to 75 since assuming one day captaincy in 2002, and his success ratio as captain is better than any of his predecessors with just 8 more victories required to hold the record for number of test match wins.
The same doubters will argue once more that of course he has these stats as captain with Hayden, Langer, Gilly, Warne and McGrath in tow, but how do they explain this batting average? I’ll explain it, it’s not difficult, he thrives on the captaincy and leads from the front. Cricket captaincy isn’t always all about imaginative field placing or being the guy clapping and shouting the loudest, sometimes it’s just about setting the right example at training, in your attitude and preparation, what you say and how you carry yourself on tour and in the dressing room and, once the game starts, leading from the front with the bat, ball or in the field. It won’t be easy this Ashes series and any talks of 5-0 for either side are ludicrous, but in Ricky Ponting Australia have no better man to lead them in their quest to retain the Ashes.
Shane Warne made no secret of the fact that he would have retired after the 2005 Ashes had they been won, but he stayed on for 18 months to reclaim them down under. Ponting is one year younger now than Warne was in 2005 so this will not necessarily be his last Ashes series, but it will almost certainly be his last in England. So it’s now or never for the man from Launceston to complete the ultimate cricketing CV, and it would be a brave punter that bet against him doing just that.
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