Ponting, one of the greats…. Really?
A few days back, one of my favorite cricket writers/bloggers, Samir Chopra did an elaborate tribute to Ricky Ponting at cricinfo after he surpassed Allan Border’s record of most test runs by an Australian. Samir admires his aggression and stroke play along with his very good all round fielding abilities.
While I agree with most of the points made about his batting and him scoring runs at the crucial times, I bag to differ on the opinion of considering him as one of the greats in the game for variety of reasons and one of it is NOT that I am an Indian. Just to make sure, I will not go into who faced more quality bowling among the three (Lara, SRT and Ponting) or the known and well documented weaknesses of all of them.
I disagree to the common notion of separating a person from his cricketing persona. i.e. analyzing the cricketer and a person separately. This is the very reason that Mohammad Yousuf will never be in the Greats list no matter for how long he tops the test batting charts or he keeps making 2000 test runs every year. Ganguly too, falls short of greatness due the similar reasons. Similarly, in my book Ricky will never be one of the greats no matter how many test runs he goes on the score or how much better his test average is compared to Lara or Tendulkar.
There are plenty of reasons that keep Ponting away from the adjective great. I differ on Samir’s opinion that Ricky is not a very popular man in the cricket world because Indian fans make up a majority of the cricket fan base. Ricky has earned very few friends elsewhere. The recent behavior by English crowds will stand as a testimony to that. Add number (Most?) of South Africans and quite a few of Aussie Cricket fans and ex-cricketers.
Another common voice in the comments section (Quite funny – a few of them) is that Ricky’s achievements are bigger than Lara or Tendulkar because he performed over the years in spite of having an added responsibility of captainship. In a team consisting names like Hayden, Langer, Hussey, Gilchrist, Clarke, Warne and Mcgrath, one does not need any extra ordinary leadership skills. In fact, Ponting benefited from the efforts Steve Waugh put in to build that team. All he had to do was accept captain’s baggy green and walk onto the field once Steve Waugh retired. Results under his captainship speak for themselves after most of the above mentioned retired. And, over the years, he hasn’t much improved as a captain, as echoed by Jeff Thomson and many other ex cricketers and writers.
I have seen quite a few arguments that another reason behind Ricky’s unpopularity among other cricket fans is the dominance Aussies had over the other teams in the past few years. Some even argue that it is because they play their cricket the hard way and other teams can not come to terms with it. Now, if those arguments hold true, shouldn’t Aussies and especially Ponting become a very likable bloke now that they aren’t really dominant in the world of test cricket since the past year and half? Still a very strong team yes, but not the one you expect to win 16 test matches in a row. Also, if it were true, how come Aussie players of this dominant era like Adam Gilchrist, Brett Lee, Shane Warne and Steve Waugh remain popular even amongst new and old rivals like India and England?
To me, what makes Ponting the most unpopular among others is his inability to accept defeat in a dignified manner. He wants to win at any cost, which should ideally be a good thing. But that attitude brings the worst out of him. One can see him arguing with umpires for the catches taken by other team members, arguing with players of the opposition team and the ‘mental disintegration’ methods that seem to be back firing off late with not enough substance to back it up.
As someone eloquently put in the comments, the elderly statesman image will never fit him. To me, he will remain a fascinating batsman and fielder for Australia, but never one of the greats in world cricket.