Farewell to The Rat King

Filed in Other by on December 2, 2012

It is Monday morning, Sydney time and Ricky Ponting will almost certainly play his last Test innings at Perth in a few hours. And I feel more than a tinge of sadness, despite the bad feelings I have often had towards him.

There was once a time when Ricky Ponting did little but infuriate me. He caused the blood to boil like Nonna's best pasta sauce back when captain, his penchant for personal favouritism, his heavy ego-driven insecurity and his tactical ineptitude putting Australian cricket back a long, long way. We are only just digging our way out.


But this isn't a time to dredge up past grudges. His captaincy has come and gone. By Tuesday afternoon at the very latest, so will his decorated international career.


There is no lingering spite for Ponting from this author. This is not an Ian Thorpe situation. Ponting was a captain akin to Francesco Schettino but he was a fine batsman, in the conversation as arguably the best of his generation. At his finest he could gut an opposition like a butcher with his aggressive pulling and his firm driving, that had such intent he would have struggled to dismiss any motive if charges were laid.


One of my most vivid memories of Test cricket in the 1990s – when I loved the game more than I ever have – was Ponting's Test debut at the WACA. Ponting and Stuart Law had been called in to the team and Australia put on plenty and Ponting copped one of the roughest LBW decisions you will ever see from an aging Khizer Hayat who had obviously never umpired a Perth Test before. Ponting was on 96.


Law, who remained unbeaten on 54, would never play Test cricket again. Ponting would play another 168 Tests and become one of the most decorated players to ever don the Baggy Green. Only Steve Waugh has played as many matches. It is a stark comparison that shows the role of luck and timing when it comes to big-time cricket and Ponting has known both in spades.


A prodigious talent from a very early age, Ponting was rarely out of the team from his 1995 debut. With his boyish looks still with him, it is hard to believe that at one stage Ponting was a contemporary of David Boon, Craig McDermott, Brendon Julian. He was though, his second Test the famous Darrell Hair no-balling of Muttiah Muralitharan.


Really, it seems like only yesterday but it was 17 years ago and plenty has changed since then.


It is perhaps a little self-indulgent but perhaps my sadness isn't so much for Ponting's passing than it is for the realisation that I am getting on. Birthdays are just numbers, they don't mean much. But when heroes like Steve Waugh or Darren Lockyer or Ricky Ponting retire after long careers that seem to have spanned forever, it serves as a marker for your own clock.


There is still, no question, plenty of sadness that we will no longer get to see Ricky Ponting at his best, pushing forward, always bouncing, on his toes, attacking the short ball or using his heavy hands to push forward, leaning, not graceful but beautiful nonetheless. Or in the field, where he was as deadly as a sniper, hurling his small frame about and then contorting to knock down the pins. It was a pleasure to watch.


One of the great shames in Australian cricket was his appointment as captain. There is no doubt he was loved by much of his team. But his appointment forced the early retirement of Shane Warne, who believed he was due the honour after Steve Waugh's retirement. It also hastened the severe decline of Australian cricket, that saw Ponting captain three losing Ashes campaigns.


Had Ponting been overlooked for Warne, Australia would not have lost three Ashes series. Warne would have stayed on. Ponting's personal favourites would not have been afforded so long. There would have been a greater adherence to a long-term plan than the ad-hoc garbage that took place in the latter part of last decade. But these are all hypotheticals and are worth as much as the word of Israel Folau.


Since passing up the captaincy, I have enjoyed having Ricky Ponting around. It has been kind of unusual and kind of fun at a time when cricket has become staid and rather boring. Everyone loves a throwback.


But today will most likely be the last of it. So Farewell, Rat King … we haven't always seen eye to eye but when you stride out to bat for the last time, I will be clapping with plenty of vigour and hoping you leave with a century.  And when you go, hopefully the memories that last are the thirst for big scores, the competitive zeal, the astonishing fielding, the hyped-up batting because at your best, you were one hell of a player.


Comments (1)

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  1. SemiiPro says:

    You’re a very soft touch, Nick. I’ll give you one reason to keep being a Ponting hater, like I am and will continue to be: his legacy is Michael Clarke.

    I saw Ponting up close in his Bourbon and Beefsteak days. His selection at such a young age retarded his personal development and he never really caught up to being a man. Much the same as his legacy, actually.

    Both are amazing batsmen. However, and maybe I’m a grumpy old man, they both seem like children to me, spoiled by their sponsorships. They’re no Alan Borders. They’re barely Trevor Chappells.

    The only thing that is more of a negative influence on Australian cricket than the Ponting/Clarke stewardship is Ian Healy commentating on the game. Healy is so clueless and as a result so keen to listen to his own voice that he seems to be commentating every shift on Channel 9. Aah, the stupidity of Channel 9 is all pervasive.

    Thank God for the competitiveness that the Internet brings. I now watch about 30 balls of cricket per season in between NFL, college basketball, the NBA and other more mature sports. Cricket, in most part because of Ponting (and doesn’t his dismissal of 20/20 cricket when it began look silly now and that dismissiveness helped move Australia from the top of the cricket world to about 7th) is dead to me.