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The greatest batsman of the modern era: #3 Ricky Ponting

One of the all-time greats, Ricky Ponting couldn't crack the top team in the '90s. (AFP PHOTO / Greg WOOD)
Roar Pro
12th September, 2013
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3159 Reads

Anyone with an interest in cricket will have their own opinions regarding the greatest batsman of 90s/00s era.

With the odd exception, the gentlemen who regularly occupy the discussion are Ricky Ponting, Sachin Tendulkar and Brian Lara.

It might occur that in 20 years time, players like Rahul Dravid, Kumar Sangakkara and Jacques Kallis also become prominent in the debate due to their indisputably superlative numbers, but this is where we notice the very limitation of factoring in statistics alone.

The aura that accompanied these men each time they strode to the crease had an effect on everyone within sight; even as a spectator in the bathroom at the MCG could you feel a tingle when Ponting took guard.

This is an effect that cannot be sculpted through sheer weight of runs but through a combination of presence, batsmanship and approach.

While it is fair to categorize these three above the other leading players of their time, they too can be demarcated from each other.

The Australian candidate, who finished his international career with over 26,000 runs and 71 centuries, typified the Australian blue-collar image as an uncompromising, hard working warrior.

With forearms like medieval bedposts, exaggeratedly assertive movements and a surly look of hunger in his squinty eyes, he was the most physically imposing of the three.

Even his front foot leave became distinguishable for the sense of purpose in which it was done.

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Much like his former captain, Steve Waugh, Ponting was harder than carbon steel. He would glare at opening bowlers with disdain, accost those who made personal jibes in his direction and receive blows on the body like they were letters of junk mail, trifling and unworthy of attention.

In fact he wouldn’t even take a backward step to play his characteristic pull shot, preferring instead to symbolically go at the bowler.

Amid the zenith of his career, between 2000-2007, he seemingly peeled off big scores at will, as his side achieved every feat known in the world of international cricket.

However, it is the latter part of that accomplishment that diminishes his worth in the context of this comparison and particular argument.

Place the numbers on the table and he belongs with Tendulkar and Lara, but that is to neglect some increasingly vital factors that contributed to the finished product.

For the largest part of Ponting’s career, he shared the dressing room with arguably the greatest ever international side, including four other players who would feature in many critics’ greatest XIs.

Should Ponting have failed in a Test match, chances are Matthew Hayden, Waugh, Mike Hussey, Justin Langer, Adam Gilchrist or Damien Martyn would have chimed in with a big score and the Aussie scorecard would register an impressive total.

Should the rest of the line-up, in very abnormal circumstances, misfire, then Glenn McGrath, Jason Gillespie, Brett Lee, Shane Warne or Stuart Macgill would all be more than capable of resurrecting the abject situation.

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As a consequence, not only was Ponting riding a wave of success on behalf of the team, but he was utilising the psychological advantage his side held over all of its opponents.

One cannot underestimate the impact this has on a professional sportsman; you only have to look at an ordinary player who enters a champion team to see.

The Melbourne Storm are a case in point. Who on earth were Bryan Norrie and Maurice Blair before they crossed the border?

As this brilliant Australian team began to destabilise, so too did Ponting’s performances.

Sure you can argue that by this stage he was getting a little long in the tooth, but the modern game has shown batsmen are often at the peak of their powers when they on the other side of 34.

Ponting was simply not the same player when he had the extra pressure of being widely responsible for his team’s success.

Furthermore, Ponting never had to combat his own attack, stocked with two of the greatest bowlers we will ever witness, nor did he have to duel with Wasim Akram or Curtley Ambrose at the peak of their powers.

A truly fabulous player in his own right, but comfortably beneath his two rival legends from the northern hemisphere.

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