Ponting Plays a Ton

Is Ricky Ponting the best Australian batsman
since Sir Don Bradman?

The very fact you can ask this question is proof enough that the young man from Tasmania is in the all time top echelon of Australian batsman to don the baggy green.

Ponting can be compared with; Neil Harvey, Greg Chappell, Allan Border and Steve Waugh, as a post war-great but with a better average than the rest, and still only 31 years of age, Ricky Ponting is set to re-write a number of Australian and World batting records.

In the third Test versus South Africa Ricky Ponting became the ninth Australian and thirty sixth cricketer to play one hundred Test Matches. In typical Ponting style he became the first Australian to celebrate the milestone with a hundred, the 27th of his Test career, and in the process became just the fourth Australian to score 8,000 Test runs, joining Allan Border and the Waugh twins in passing this landmark.

Ricky Ponting was earmarked for greatness as a youngster. Something of a batting prodigy; he received one on one coaching from an early age, his first serious coach being Ian Young the father of talented Tasmanian all-rounder Shaun Young. The young Ponting tried to model himself on his boyhood hero, dashing Australian batsman Kim Hughes, and at the age of 13 Ricky was being sponsored by Kookaburra, who still supply him with all of his cricketing equipment.

Rod Marsh the man who has run cricketing academies in both Australia and England declared Ricky “the best sixteen year old batsman he has ever seen”. This came after Ricky was sent to the Australian cricket academy on a two-week scholarship in 1991. Even after twenty Test Matches when his average still hovering in the mid-30s Rod Marsh still confidently predicted that “one would expect him to become Australia’s premier batsman as we get into the next millennium”.

Ricky Ponting made his Test debut against Sri Lanka at the age of just twenty and copped one of the worst LBW decisions in memory, after the ball struck him high up on the thigh. A hundred on debut was denied him by just four runs. Ironically in his 100th Test he was given not out on 96 when everyone but the person who counts thought he was plum LBW. The cricketing gods move in mysterious ways.

After just three Tests Ponting was moved up the order to the troublesome number three batting position. Three Tests later, he was out of the side. Coming back into the Test side during the 1993 Ashes series in England, Ricky came to the crease with Australia in trouble at 50/4. He then proceeded to put on 268 with Matthew Elliott, with Ponting’s share being 127. He was back, and has since regained the number three batting slot, indisputably making it his own.

Averaging over 57 in Tests, becoming the first batsman to score over 1,500 Test runs in consecutive years, and finishing the number one ranked batsman in the world has not stopped his critics from ranking him below any number of contemporary batsman including Jacques Kallis, Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar, Brian Lara and Inzamam ul Haq. When comparing averages Ponting is either above or almost on a par with all of the above named. So why are his achievements seemingly undervalued?

Ponting scores his runs at a fine strike rate of over 58, he seems equally at home against genuine speed or quality spin and has scored many runs in both rearguard and chasing endeavours. The three things critics use to lower his stocks are:

1. His relative failures against quality spin on the subcontinent namely India.
2. His habit of going at the ball with ‘hard hands’ early in an innings.
3. The fact he has not had to face two of the three greatest contemporary bowlers in Shane Warne or Glen McGrath.

The last of these three reasons is also used to disparage Sir Vivian Richards who did not have to face the great West Indian fast bowlers of his era, and really is a desperate excuse. A cursory perusal of Ponting’s performances in Australian first class cricket make a mockery of these claims. At 31 Ponting still has time to rectify his poor record in India, where he was extremely unlucky on his last visit. Injury prevented him from playing in the earlier Tests, when he had set himself for a big series. His ‘hard hands’ have been noticeably less of a liability in recent matches, and it is hoped that he has now overcome this problem to a large degree.

An innings by Ricky Ponting is always value for money – from the first ball he is eager to make the bowler his slave. With fearsome hook and pull shots, and also the best modern player off his pads, Ponting is the complete package at the crease. He can drive with equal facility on either side of the wicket, and can cut savagely once set. If he can keep his hunger for the game, then he may well hold even more mayor batting records by career end, including the most Test runs and most number of Test centuries.

From admitting to an alcohol problem and also being involved in gambling (his nickname is Punter) Ricky Ponting has matured into a respected member of the cricketing establishment. This newfound maturity has seen him first given the captaincy of the Australian ODI side, which he captained to the 2003 World Cup.

Following a successful defence of the World Cup, Ponting was given the captaincy of the Test team. He initially struggled to put his own stamp on the side after great periods under his predecessors Mark Taylor and Steve Waugh. Ponting became the first Australian captain to lose the Ashes in over 20 years, yet most judges believe he just needs a little more time to become his own man.

One hundred Tests to Punter – How many more? With perhaps five more years as a Test cricketer he may well play another fifty or sixty Test Matches. Maybe then he will be considered the best since The Don.

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