Let’s give Ricky some love before the streak ends
Fair’s fair. We’ve dished it out to Ricky Ponting on several occasions over the summer, but it’s now time for a backflip. Because love him or hate him, Ponting is responsible for arguably the most incredible winning streak in the history of Australian sport. And for the next 24 hours at least, that streak is still alive.
As of last weekend, Australia has gone 31 World Cup matches without defeat. The closest we’ve come to a loss since we came good halfway through the 1999 World Cup was that famous tied semi final against South Africa. The chaos. The confusion. The sheer joy of seeing South African nerves turn to mush.
Ponting is the one man has been there through all 31 matches. In fact, he was there long before then, making a respectable 45 in the 1996 final loss to Sri Lanka. And here he is 15 years later, much-maligned and in decline, but still, for now, the man with a record the envy of every World Cup captain.
Ponting first captained a team to the World Cup in 2003. Steve Waugh had been dumped, Shane Watson was injured, and Shane Warne was banned at the last minute for raiding his mum’s medicine cabinet.
Ponting campaigned strongly for the desperately out-of-form Andrew Symonds, and succeeded in getting his man. The media savaged the selection, and Ponting’s arse was well and truly in the frypan. If Symonds failed, the Steve Waugh brigade would have double the anger, and double the ammo.
But Symonds delivered against Pakistan in the first match, belting 143 not out in a tone-setter for the rest of the tournament. Australia went through unbeaten, and Ponting himself scored a brilliant 140 not out in the final, with eight sixes.
Everyone always rates Gilly’s 149 in the final four years later as the great World Cup final innings, but for mine, Ponting’s was just as good. A nod too, to Ricky’s mate Damien Martyn, who made 88 not out.
Ponting cops flak in relation to his predecessors Steve Waugh and Mark Taylor, because he appears to lack Taylor’s tactical nous and Waugh’s ability to unify a team and bring out the best in its players.
These barbs have validity in Test cricket, but there’s something about the 50 over game which has always brought out the best in Ponting. Individually, he has a great record, with 13,000 odd runs at an average of 42, with 29 centuries. Plus he patrols the infield like a leopard.
But it’s as a captain that he’s really shone in 50 over cricket. Fringe players like Brad Hogg, and Shaun Tait, and even Andy Bichel, became serious contributors under his wing.
Statistically, Ponting’s winning percentage of 75 per cent is incredible in a game which is often decided at the toss, and where all major nations win between 45 and 65 per cent of their games over the long term.
Somehow, some way, Ponting the captain has stayed way, way ahead of 50 over cricket’s statistical curve. How ironic that this is a form of the game on the wane, and which may one day be extinct.
Ponting’s greatest cricketing feats might soon be consigned to the statistical scrap heap, and he’ll forever be remembered as the guy who could bat like a god, but captained three Ashes losses (never mind the 5-0 Ashes win in the middle there).
That’d be sad. Because Ponting deserves recognition for his 50 over feats. And if the pepole turn on him on Sunday, in the very feasible scenario we lose to a red hot Sri Lanka in Colombo tomorrow, well, that would be spite for spite’s sake.
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