A Retrospective on Ricky Ponting, from the USADavid Mutton |
I love my wife for countless reasons but not least because she, born and bred in Springsteen country, is now an ardent devotee of cricket. From our first outing at Lords in the summer of 2007 to a test match in Bridgetown earlier this year, she has become a disciple of this once strange and unfamiliar sport. She has even been known to trumpet, in a reasonable impersonation of Geoffrey Boycott, that T20 matches pale in comparison to the real slog of test match cricket. But on one issue, and one issue only, has her initial impression been impossible to change: Ricky Ponting looks like George W. Bush and is a bit of a tool.
Most English fans would agree. They are correct, at least in that there is a passing resemblance between the former Australian captain and the USA’s 43rd president. However this comparison goes beyond facial similarities. In this reading they both led with a simplistic swagger. Successes were thanks to the skills of subordinates and defeat was met with graceless sulking. At the heights of their powers both shared an arrogant smirk that suggested a bully assured of victory because of the overwhelming firepower at their command. There was also a common strategic mind-set that was all too often rigid and created an inability to handle setbacks (in one case Iraq, in the other Gary Pratt). The superficial similarities even include youthful alcoholic indiscretions.
But if Ponting’s captaincy, with its three failed Ashes campaigns, may be judged harshly by history then nothing has become the man like his senior statesman role. Over the past two years a new Ponting has emerged into the public consciousness. This version is aware of his responsibilities to the game that he has served for nearly two decades. His love for the game radiates with a simple purity, as seen in his abandonment of T20’s big bucks, putting his wallet on the line in a way most players and administrators have not dared.
Released from the strictures of captaincy Ponting has spoken freely. His opinions are measured but focus on maintaining the game’s core values. Batting is emphatically not, according to Ponting “going out there and facing two overs and then being told that you had to go and stand in the field” but such are his fears for the upcoming generation. He has also spoken passionately about the importance of clubs in the Australian cricketing infrastructure, and last week voiced his fears of the Adelaide Oval becoming another “concrete jungle.” In an era of big hitting and bottom lines the working class kid from Launceston has become the conscience of Australian cricket.
No, Ricky Ponting is not George W. Bush. But he may just be Jimmy Carter. Both men oversaw a decline, real or perceived, during their terms of office. When Ponting took over the captaincy from Steve Waugh he could call upon Shane Warne and Glenn McGrath to rake through the opposition, while his own exceptional batting was supplemented by nuggetty fighters, brawny bullies and elegant strokesmen. It was probably the most perfect team I will see in our lifetime. By his last match as leader, against England in December 2010, he led a rag-bag team of flawed youngsters, misfiring seniors and a hefty dose of mediocrity that lost to the old enemy by an innings and lots
Carter was also plagued by events outside his control. The Middle East energy crisis led to gas shortages and increased prices at the pump while double digit inflation corroded salaries. As the Iranian hostage crisis dragged on for months the president appeared powerless to save the lives of innocent Americans. The man who won the election by portraying himself as an honest, hardworking peanut farmer from Georgia appeared unable to control the course of his presidency, and even declared a “crisis of confidence” in the nation. By 1984 the nation preferred the sunny optimism of Ronald Reagan.
Since 2008, when his second term came to an end, Bush has moved back to Texas and maintained a low profile. There has been a memoir and some handsomely paid speaking gigs but little else. After Carter was thrown out of office he established the Carter Center. In the past three decades it has improved millions of lives by almost eradicating river blindness, strengthening public health capacity across the economically developing world, and observing 81 elections in 33 countries. Carter was recognized for this work with a Nobel Peace Prize in 2002. A Nobel might be ambitious for Ponting but on this, his last day in cricket whites, I confidently predict a retirement in the Carter mould: jam-packed with service in the greater good of the game that he loves.