Punter, stop hedging your bets. Retire now
Princess Mary is currently holidaying in Tassie, but she’s not the only home-grown royalty in town.
From a humble upbringing in country Mowbray, Ricky Thomas Ponting has ascended to arguably the loftiest post in the wide brown land; Australian Cricket Captain. While he’s come under fire of late from the media, selectors and fans on the mainland, the support back home has been unwavering.
The headline from Launceston rag The Examiner before his debut test read: “He’s Ricky Ponting, he’s ours… and he’s made it! Tassie’s batting star will play in his first Test”. And the Taswegian media have been waxing lyrical about Punter ever since.
Cricket Tasmania has created a Ponting display at its museum at Hobart’s Bellerive Oval, and plans to erect a statue of him at the ground’s entrance.
The Launceston City Council last year announced it would honour the achievements of its most successful sportsperson when he calls it quits. Ponting himself called for the issue to be put on ice until he’d retired, after an avalanche of public debate about the most suitable mode of tribute.
Ponting is the state’s favourite son. His predecessor David Boon was the original Tassie cricketing luminary. Launceston-bred, the 107-test-veteran was a lynchpin of the top order; rock-solid, robust and reliable. Boon went on to become a selector, but was always an astute judge of cricketing wares. It’s no coincidence Ponting’s debut Sri Lankan Test Series was Boon’s last. Boon recognised the 20-year-old’s prodigious talent and, aged 35, handed over the Tasmanian Torch for Punter to keep burning.
Post-cricket, Boony’s belly, moustache and proclivity for a pint have garnered him an amorous cult following among VB-guzzlers everywhere. Having a talking figurine made of you is one thing. Being Australia’s best bat since Bradman is another entirely.
Tasmanians en masse love punter. And the love is requited. He has often expressed how privileged he feels to represent his state, and lamented how national duties restrict his output for the Tassie Tigers. He lives in Sydney, but has signed on to play for the Hobart Hurricanes in the Big Bash T20 interstate series. The man is always looking to give back to Tasmanian cricket.
There’d be no better way to give back than a Test cricket swansong in Hobart. The intense speculation about Ponting’s place in side would be put to rest, his knockers silenced. The tributes would flow; he’d be lauded, applauded and praised.
Hobart isn’t a permanent fixture on the International Test Calendar (this will only be Ponting’s seventh test there); it’s a bona fide golden opportunity. Long-serving wicket-keeper Ian Healy wasn’t afforded the Gabba home Test farewell he craved. Punter of all people knows you don’t look a gift horse in the mouth.
The timing couldn’t be better. He’ll go out (almost certainly) a winner against an insipid New Zealand outfit, and his recent record on the flat tracks of Bellerive is imperious. Perhaps more importantly, his departure would open up a spot for a young bloke in the Australian top order.
The India series later this summer is the real test for the Aussies, and the Boxing Day Test the summer’s most momentous. How invaluable would it be for a young player to have an extra match of experience before walking out in front of the best part of 100,000 raucous supporters in Melbourne?
Ponting has done pretty much everything in the game. World Cups, Ashes Urns, Wisden Cricketer of the Year, Allan Border Medallist… the list goes on and on. After 157 Tests and 370 ODIs he has nothing to prove, no reason to play on. He won’t better the statistical splendour of the evergreen run-machine Tendulkar, he’s already atop all the national run-scoring records, and he’s the most successful captain of all-time in terms of the raw number of wins.
Our 42nd Test skipper is stubborn as a mule, however. A stoic scrapper with flint-eyed hardness who never concedes an inch.
He refuses to admit that the hands aren’t as quick as they once were, that the feet aren’t as nimble and the eyes aren’t as sharp. His technique looks increasingly circumspect, he falls across his pads too often and he’s a seriously scratchy starter. Even running between wickets, he’s unconvincing. His numbers with the willow have been steeply declining for the last few years; he’s dropped from top of the ICC batting rankings to outside the top 20.
Ponting talks about playing until near 40, hanging around for another shot at the Ashes urn and World Cup. But like the portly Tasmanian trailblazer before him, he needs to recognise that now is the time to step gracefully aside.
The yearly cricketing schedule is becoming increasingly jam-packed; the grind of constant touring is something Ponting wouldn’t miss. Surely he’s yearning to spend more time with his wife and two young girls.
In retirement there’d be no relentless scrutiny, his battered body could rest, he’d never miss a match his beloved North Melbourne Kangaroos play, and he could hone the golf game Gary Player marvelled at.
So stand down King Ricky while your castle’s still standing strong, the knights in green helmets back you to the hilt, and you’re planted on the top-order throne. Spare yourself the stress of the selectors’ round table, and their swinging axe.
Put the Kiwis to the sword in Hobart; clobber the life out of their attack. Notch that 40th hundred.
Even if runs aren’t forthcoming, there’s comfort in the fact your departure would come on your own terms, at exactly the right time.
Go out head held high, your standing safe as one of the greats. You owe as much to a whole state who adores you unreservedly. To half a million Taswegians, you’re the apple of their isle.
Sam Canavan is the Brisbane-based editor of Luna Music Magazine
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