In all my years of watching cricket Ricky Ponting has been one of my favourite cricketers. That’s an unfashionable choice for despite his unsurpassed talent he was many years a divisive and unpopular cricketer as captain. That’s always seemed unfair to me, but then public opinion is rarely fair.
I loved Ricky Ponting for they way he batted – attacking, combative, always looking to take the initiative, and never backing down. He was extremely successful at this for most of his career. There’s always discussion about the great players in any era, and throughout Ponting’s era he was grouped with the other great batsmen of the time, Tendulkar and Lara, possibly Sangakkara, and lately Kallis.
It’s always hard ranking players against each other because there are always so many divergent factors to be accounted for. Ultimately it becomes a matter of personal opinion because each person weighs each factor differently.
Tendulkar is commonly said to be the best batsman of the generation, but I would place him behind both Lara and Ponting. Tendulkar was the most obdurate, but for pure batting sparkle there’s no-one to compare to Lara. And Ponting, as attacking a batsman as Lara, played many more match winning innings than Tendulkar. Sangakkara gets underrated because we don’t see a lot of him, and because there is a perception perhaps that many of his runs (like Tendulkar) have come against lesser opposition.
Then there is Kallis, who shares some of the batting qualities of Tendulkar – hard to dismiss, capable of great and prolonged concentration, a specialist at grinding opposition attacks into the pitch. Of these all I doubt there’s much argument that he’s the best cricketer of the lot – with nearly 300 test wickets and 200 catches only Ponting can match-up – the most successful captain in cricket history, and the best fieldsman in the world for many years.
Ultimately comparisons like this are meaningless because that’s not how the game gets played. I love Ponting because he’s the Aussie, and because beyond all the other qualities I’ve espoused I admire the Aussie toughness he epitomised, which so many misunderstood perhaps, and which possibly is a fading virtue.
I make these comments because I’m reading his autobiography at the moment and enjoying it greatly. The pleasure in such memoirs is as much in re-living the great moments described as it is the insights revealed. As a cricket nut I recall pretty well every match described, and can look back in remembrance of that time in my life. As an Australian all of this coincided with an era of almost complete domination by an Australian team probably the best of all time. Punter was lucky enough to be skipper through much of that, and in true style led from the front (which is batting virtue never to be overlooked).
As I think back I find myself pondering the players who were my favourites over the years. Gilly was one, how could he not be? He combined swashbuckling belligerence with gentlemanly grace. Warnie too, for his on field exploits anyway, he was never beaten, an absolute wizard. Off field different story (a pain). I loved watching Mark Waugh and Damian Martyn bat for the pure aesthetics of their game; Waugh was also a great fieldsman and slipper. Early doors I admired Steve Waugh like no other, until his flinty resolve became to dour for me. Before him it was AB, a favourite for his grumpy determination. I could never quite warm to Greg Chappell as a man, but as a cricketer he was ineffable elegance. Probably my favourite cricketer of all time played in the same team, the great D.K. Lillee. Great, great bowler, both quick and crafty, and a man born to capture the imagination.
That pretty well covers my time. Is there a current Australian player? Perhaps Mitch Johnson. I admire Michael Clarke, but we’re different characters from very different eras. The gap between us is that of style, articulated I think in the difference between Ponting and Clarke.
Regardless, I’ll be watching the cricket for many years to come, and will acquire new favourites regardless of era. I expect all in all to continue seeing Australia do well. It’s what we do over time, and not just occasionally.