Ponting: A leader never to be forgotten

  • By: Matt Somerford
  • Last Updated: December 3 2012, 10:26 GMT

Ricky Ponting was a once-in-a-generation cricketer who led a once-in-a-generation team.

Ricky Ponting with the Ashes urn in 2006
Ricky Ponting with the Ashes urn in 2006

He leaves international cricket with a wealth of records and accolades from across the cricket world.

None will fill him with more pride, despite more than 27,000 international runs, than his record at the helm of one of the greatest teams of all time.

At their peak, in the middle of the last decade, Australia held every trophy available to them under Ponting's voracious 10-year leadership.

An Ashes whitewash, two unbeaten World Cups, two Champions Trophies and the final frontier of an away series win in India - albeit after Ponting's belated entrance into that series - highlighted a reign that saw Australia win 19 out of their first 20 Test series under the Tasmanian's guidance.

When Ponting lost his first series - the first of three against England in 2005 - Australia went unbeaten in their next 21 Tests. Twenty of those were wins, including the 5-0 Ashes revenge.

Therein lay the cornerstone of Ponting the leader and man. He hated to lose.

Spiky, uncompromising, never shy of a word, and most importantly, one of the best batsmen to ever grace the game, he was everything you would expect an Australian captain to be.

Ponting was never able to hide his emotions and on the rare occasion failure found him he greeted it as a pain to all parts of his character.

Purging it often ended in his most red-faced moments - his reaction to his run out by Gary Pratt at Trent Bridge in 2005 - but when the mist lifted Ponting was always personable if not tenaciously proud.

His detractors claimed Ponting's leadership lacked tactical nuance, but it was a testament to his character that he squeezed the very best out of the genius talents such as Shane Warne, Glenn McGrath and Adam Gilchrist.

There was never any thought that Ponting's Australia were complacent despite a clear superiority of talent.

Under Ponting, being 'just' great was not good enough. He wanted to be the greatest.

In achieving it Ponting did, however, unashamedly leave plenty of noses out of joint, including the Australian public.

Hardly withering souls themselves, a public poll during India's controversial tour four years ago indicated the single-mindedness of Ponting's team had become unacceptable.

The suits at Cricket Australia reacted by asking Ponting to tone down his players' behaviour.

It was the start of the Antipodean decline as Ponting's best men also started to drift away into their own celebrated retirements and leave him in command of a team in wake.

During that period the bitterest pills of Ponting's leadership were delivered by arch-enemy England as they twice more won the Ashes - including a first success Down Under for 24 years.

Ponting became the first Australian captain to lose the urn three times to stain his reputation. Unsurprisingly, he walked away from the captaincy.

That he did so with a world record 48 Test wins as skipper was almost lost in the retrospection of an Ashes humbling that prompted reviews into the running of the Australian game.

From an outsider's perspective the problems were clear - Australia's greats had gone.

Ponting's competitiveness meant he was determined not to follow them prematurely into retirement - with the desire to win one last Ashes series focusing his ambition - but ultimately, with his 38th birthday less than a month away, time caught up with him.

Typically, in an under-stated press conference to announce his retirement ahead of the deciding Perth Test, he requested that no questions were asked about his career highs and lows.

Indeed it was left to a tearful Michael Clarke to display the emotion of the occasion.

But Ponting wanted to focus on the team and the task of facing South Africa at the WACA Ground, coincidentally the venue where he made 96 on debut 17 years ago.

In between time the lasting memory of one of the finest batsmen of all time has been cast.

Seventy-one international centuries, the second-most Test runs ever and a record-equalling 168th Baggy Green cap this week ensured he is remembered in the stats.

But for those who saw Ponting bat his certainty of presence and movement at the crease, his hooks, pulls and punishing straight drives will ensure vivid memories forever.

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