Ricky Ponting has announced his retirement from international cricket. It is not an occasion to go unremarked on this blog. To appreciate the extent of the man's achievement in Test cricket, you only have to look at the various tables: most hundreds in a career (third); a Test batting average above 50; aggregate runs, second only to Sachin Tendulkar; number of Test matches played, ditto. Here is a list of Ponting's 41 Test hundreds.
A 'master', says Gideon Haigh in today's Australian (£), and who can argue with that?
The expression "servant of the game" is these days more commonly used in the context of a hard-working club secretary, a dedicated scorer or curator. But Ponting has been a truly great servant of cricket, in addition to being its master...
He spanned an era and shaped it as few cricketers in the history of the game.
In view of my own relationship to Australian cricket, I shall register a proper farewell to the Punter with these few recollections for my memories of cricket series. Of Ponting's 41 Test tons I saw him making five of them, including the very first: at Headingley in 1997; then, at the same ground in 2001; at Old Trafford in 2005; at the Gabba in 2006; and at the Adelaide Oval in the same series. I saw him making these hundreds, not on TV, but at those venues, where I was for the whole of each game. I wrote about the first two of these five at the time, and reproduce here some of that. From Ashes '97:
Ponting now joined Elliott [at 50 for 4, in response to England's first innings total of 172]... and they played their way safely to tea, adding 64 runs. 114 for 4 looked better. It offered hope that the Australian innings might come in somewhere close to England's. Wrong. The two young Australians stayed together throughout the last session of the day, batting with a combination of watchfulness and controlled aggression that completely changed the shape of the game. By close of play they had added 208 runs, passing, just on their own, the joint contribution of the entire England team. They exhibited a range of beautiful attacking shots, threw in a few sixes (Elliott another off Headley and one off Croft, Ponting one off Smith), and Elliott reached his second hundred of the series. Ponting was in sight of one himself, on 86. Just to set it down like that, though, the bare details, fails to capture the remarkable feel of this day's play. As the partnership mounted - past 100, then 150, exceeding the England total, towards 200 - one had to remind oneself that it was happening on the same day in which there had been a veritable clatter of falling wickets. By the end indeed, it was hard to escape the sense of having lived through something rather longer than a day. 11 wickets and 324 runs. And pretty well two-thirds of these runs Elliott and Ponting's. Their achievement was invaluable, a golden partnership.
Play duly began [on the following day] and, despite one ominous-looking period when a vast, dark cloud mass drifted across the ground, we got virtually a full first session, rain claiming only the last few minutes of it. In that session Australia consolidated their position, adding 115 more runs for the loss of Ricky Ponting, who had meanwhile completed a fine hundred. He comfortably outscored his partner this morning, Matthew Elliott rather less assured than yesterday. Ponting, back in the Australian side - and some had been wondering why he was ever dropped from it - had seized his chance. He played some sumptuous shots either side of getting to the century, two great cover drives amongst them. His innings was saluted by the crowd, who gave him a generous ovation both when he reached the hundred mark and when he was out. Having just struck several boundaries, he attempted a hook and mis-hit a ball from Gough high into the heavens, from where it descended into the hands of Mark Ealham at point. By then Ponting and Elliott had added 268 for the fifth wicket - after Bradman and Barnes in Sydney in 1946-47 (405), and Border and Waugh here in 1993 (332 unbroken), the third highest Australian fifth wicket partnership of all time.
From Men of Waugh:
I didn't write about the other three of Ponting's hundreds that I saw, but there are 'intimations' of them here (Old Trafford 2005, an innings that saved the game for Australia), here (Brisbane 2006, one that helped to win it) and here (Adelaide 2006, ditto).
It might, however, have been worse [Australia 42 for two in their first innings]. Between these two dismissals, Ricky Ponting edged a ball to Ramprakash at third slip who claimed the catch. The batsman hadn't yet scored. He stood his ground and Venkat, unsure whether the ball had carried, referred the decision to the third umpire. Everyone waited - and waited. The length of the wait pointed to the outcome; it had to be not out. What blossomed from so doubtful a beginning was an innings of rapidly growing confidence and aggression. It was as if this ground was Ponting's own, the memory of the hundred he made here in 1997 helping to hoist him out of the mediocre run of form he has had in the series up to now. He pulled and he cut. Some of these shots were of a ferocity that defied intervention. It was as good an innings as we had seen this summer. Ponting came to his century with 11 fours and three sixes. Shortly after reaching it he struck 12 off an over from Andrew Caddick. Caddick was, for all that, the best of the England bowlers in an attack that soon began to look tired, discouraged and inadequate. While Ponting was walking the walk, Mark Waugh settled in at the other end, content to be in a supporting role today, though even in that role Mark Waugh to the very fingertips. He reminded us regularly of his incomparable grace of execution in sending the ball to the ropes. At one point, indeed, I had a call from Morris - who was watching on TV at home within a couple of miles from the ground - just to enthuse over a recent Mark Waugh boundary. It was a partnership out of Test cricket's top drawer. The 100 between the two batsmen was reached with a Ponting six, Australia's 200 with the 12 from that Caddick over. Soon afterwards I consulted my Ashes Handbook, to find that Ponting and Waugh were approaching the Australian third-wicket record for this ground: 229 by Bradman and Kippax in 1930, when Bradman made his 334. Alas, they were only eight runs short of it when Ponting nicked a catch to Stewart off Tudor and the show was over.
Ricky Ponting, one of the greats.
[For links to the other posts in this series, see here.]