Punter

Apr 09

Punter

Posted by: George Grundy

 

In the (Australian) autumn of 2005 I found myself out to dinner in Claremont with friends and some new faces. I sat down to a girl called Rianna and started chatting. So, what are you up to, I asked. She said she was about to head over to England for the summer. Gee that’s nice, says I – working over there are you? “No”, she said, “I’m married to Ricky Ponting”. I must have had a good day, because though I say so myself, I came up with rather a good one. “Don’t take this personally, but I hope you have a really rotten summer”, I said.
There’s a scene towards the end of Return of the Jedi when Luke takes off Vader’s mask (and a right sight he is too), at which point you can’t help but feel pity for the murderous genocidal leather fetishist, and watching Ricky Ponting play test cricket these last twelve months have been a bit like that. He’s gone from genuine villain, to pantomime villain, to ageing villain, to not really a villain at all.
Ponting was so easy to hate. But, and I still say this through the most gritted of teeth – he is also the best batsman I have ever seen, and probably one of the top three of all time (let’s not assume Bradman, that loathsome man with a dubious record is number one, shall we). Sure, other players were more naturally gifted, looked more silky smooth when on top form – one fella has even scored more test runs, but Ponting scored them when they were needed most. Again and again and again. I’d love to see his average over his best 5-7 year period, on the first day of a series. There he’d be, striding out with Australia wobbling at 1 for 21, and there he’d be, six hours later, waving his bat at the crowd with the Aussies at 1 for 220. Again and again and again. He rose to the occasion like a damn good souffle and, through grit and character, transformed the biggest games he played in. My god he used to shit me.
As a captain, Punter played it right up against the line, in terms of sportsmanship, and often well across it. He appealed for bump catches, pressured umpires and on a number of occasions really embarrassed himself and picked up a few little fines along the way. When under pressure, as he often was against a resurgent England, he found the exact right moment to snap, and lost his temper. God, it was just wonderful. The name Gary Pratt will be mentioned in any summary of his career – all the way to his obituary.
For those of you who like their panto villains dethroned, here’s all his dismissals from Ashes 2005…
Now I’ve started, I can’t stop. Here’s more glorious pain for Punter…
“And that’s cut the Australian captain”. Mike Atherton must have been stifling a grin. But that was the thing with Punter – we wanted him out, hurt, gone, and the reason was not his character, but his runs. We feared what we knew he was capable of. His innings of 156 in the 3rd test of that series was absolutely unbelievable, and single-handedly saved the game. “He’s out! Ricky Ponting is out!” screamed Mark Nicholas, and I’ll never forget Punter’s face. But the damage had been done. He’d done it again.
As Andrew Strauss did earlier this year, Ponting has nicely timed his departure, bloodied but unbowed, and for once I can hope he does score another century, because there’s no pantomime about the South Africans being villains. If he’s on 50+ at the WACA on Monday, work is going to have to wait. I have a feeling he won’t be gone long though – I suspect he’ll join Athers, Gower, Botham, Hussein, Slats, Warney et al in the upstairs booth, and I reckon he’ll fit like butter on hot spinach. He’s always had a twinkle in his eye and, unfettered by responsibility, I think his love for the game will shine through.
So farewell then Punter. The best batsman I’ve ever seen. The best off his legs ever. You’ll always be a pantomime villain, but perhaps the best comparison I can come up with is John McEnroe – a truly controversial figure throughout his playing days, but never questioned in terms of ability, grit and bravery, and now loved by one and all as a man who loves his sport and adorns it as a true champion. I think the years ahead will be kind.
Oh, and his wife had a lovely bottom.
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