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The Punter's predicament
It may be an odd nickname for a brilliant cricketer, but no other word describes Ricky Ponting better than the one coined by Shane Warne for his one-time colleague and captain - Punter. Warne, himself a poker player of repute, was quick to observe a young Ponting's fondness for a punt on greyhounds before tagging him for life.
In his Captain's Diary 2007, Ponting acknowledged Warne's handiwork in this respect, but bore him no grudges. "He (Warne) was the bloke responsible for my nickname 'Punter', assigned to me because of my habit of sneaking down to the TAB on Monday and Thursday nights to have a bet on the greyhounds. I can't remember if he ever came with me, but I think he was impressed with my nerve, and the fact that I liked a bet, " wrote Ponting.
If the nickname has stuck to Ponting right through his playing career, it's because Australia's best batsman over the past two decades has been a bit of a gambler on a cricket field. It is, therefore, somewhat ironical that top bookmakers are offering odds on Ponting not playing another Test match after presiding over yet another Ashes humiliation.
As a last throw of the dice, Ponting, currently recovering from a surgery on his left little finger, has offered to continue both as captain as well as the side's leading batsman, but it remains to be seen whether the Australian selectors play along with him or force him to call time on what has truly been an illustrious Test career.
Not quite as colourful a personality as Warne, Ponting hasn't been a onedimensional cricketer either. There is much more to Ponting than being Australia's highest run-maker in Tests as well as ODIs. He has been a respected leader, a successful captain, a fierce competitor who would pull out all stops in quest for victory, an extraordinary fielder with an uncanny ability to hit the stumps and a bloke with a colourful vocabulary and short fuse.
Yet, no player in the history of the game has been part of a winning Test side on more occasions than Ponting who has featured in 99 Australian victories. He has also been the most 'successful' Australian captain ever having won 48 out of 77 Tests in which he has led his country. He is also a three-time (1999, 2003, 2007) World Cup winner. However, for someone with such a wonderful track record, Ponting has not been even half as good a captain as he has been a batsman.
Figures alone do not reveal the quality of Ponting's batsmanship. Along with the peerless Sachin Tendulkar and the enigmatic Brian Lara, Ponting has been among the most dominant batsmen of his era. Brought up on hard and bouncy pitches Down Under, Ponting was a fearless hooker and puller of the cricket ball for the better part of his career. Like all great batsmen, he has been confident while playing off his front foot and classy while playing off his back.
Not a model of technical excellence, Ponting still had what it takes to pile up runs against every opposition and in all conditions. An ungainly shuffle often rendered him vulnerable to the ball - pace or spin - that came in sharply, which perhaps explains why Harbhajan Singh and Ishant Sharma, among Indian bowlers, have enjoyed so much success against Ponting, who has dominated scoring charts in both formats of the game.
With well over 25, 000 runs and 68 international hundreds under his belt, Ponting is easily a modern-day giant, who has now fallen on bad times. The year 2010 was easily Ponting's worst, both as a captain and a batsman. For someone whose broad bat has often hidden his leadership shortcomings, Ponting has found runs hard to come by in the past year as he appeared to be playing from memory.
With the cares of captaincy hanging around his neck like an albatross in the highvoltage Ashes series, Ponting had little chance of sorting out his game. The harder he tried, the more he failed. His altercation with umpires during the Melbourne Test betrayed the frustration of a man whose world had gone topsy-turvy. Just 113 runs in four Tests from the Australian captain was never going to be enough and Ponting has been left to carry the cross of surrendering the Ashes for the third time during his tenure.
Australia's most successful Test captain has to live with the fact that the Ashes were his Achilles heel. Successive series losses in 2009-10 and 2010-11 have put a big question mark over his leadership.
But Ponting has always had a streak of stubbornness in him. In the 1996 World Cup he batted without a helmet against the West Indies and scored a hundred, ostensibly to make a point that the Windies fast bowlers held no terror for him. Ponting is a muchmellowed man now. If he has not acquired a statesman-like stature in world cricket, it is because he continues to court controversy at every turn.
If Australian selectors, known to move senior players on when they are nearing their sell-by date, continue to be patient with Ponting, it's not only because the cupboard is bare but also due to the fact that the senior pro is the right man to guide the newcomers breaking into the side.
With nothing going right for the Aussies at the moment, one will have to wait and see what lies ahead for Ponting. Even if he does not play another Test match, he still deserves a farewell befitting a 'king' of modern-day cricket. And, there is no bigger stage than the World Cup. Under Ponting's captaincy Australia have twice successfully defended the World Cup - 2003 in South Africa and 2007 in the West Indies. Ian Chappell, one of Ponting's staunchest critics, feels he should get another shot at title-defence.
The punter in Ponting would like nothing better than a shot at redemption even if the odds are tall. If he succeeds, and Australia make it four-in-a-row, Ponting will bow out in glory. Not many Australian captains have lost three Ashes series, it is unlikely that any Australian captain will win three World Cups, either. Wanna bet?
RICKY PONTING: A STUDY IN FIGURES
Ricky Ponting holds
the world record for participating in 99 Test wins. Aggregated 8, 327 runs (avg 59. 47), with 28 centuries and 36 fifties in these wins.
Ponting's run-aggregate of 12, 363
(avg 53. 51) in 152 Tests is second best to Sachin Tendulkar who has 14, 692 runs (avg 56. 94) in 177 matches.
was overtaken by Jacques Kallis in the centuries' count. The Australian's tally of 39 is currently an all-time third behind Tendulkar (51) and Kallis (40).
has led Australia in 77 Tests, winning 48, losing 16 and drawing 13 out of 77 contested - with a winning rate of 62. 33 per cent.
Ponting is the most winningest captain in cricket history across all formats -
He has won 215 international games out of 315 contested, with a winning percentage of 68. 25. No other captain has even won 150 games.
As Test captain, Ponting
is the only captain to register a hundred in each innings of a Test match three times - 120 and 143* against South Africa at Sydney, 103 & 116 against South Africa at Durban and 149 and 104* not out against West Indies at Brisbane. All three instances came during the 2005-06 season.
As captain, Ponting
has scored 6, 542 runs (avg 51. 51) in 77 Tests, and is third highest next only to Graeme Smith (6, 851) and Allan Border (6, 623).
Ponting is the only batsman to aggregate 1, 500 runs or more in a calendar year twice -
1, 503 (avg 100. 20) in 11 Tests in 2003 and in 2005, 1, 544 (avg 67. 13) in 15. Has aggregated 1, 000 runs or more in a calendar year five times.
Shares a world record with
Tendulkar for taking least number of innings (247) to 12, 000 runs
In One-day Internationals
, Ponting's aggregate of 10, 298 (avg 50. 23) in 247 games for winning cause is next only to Tendulkar's tally of 10, 737 (avg 58. 03) in 222 matches. His 247 wins tally is a world record.
tally of 25 hundreds in a winning cause is the second highest, next only to Tendulkar's tally of 33 centuries.
is the only ODI captain to aggregate 8, 000 runs as captain - 8, 282 (avg 43. 58) in 221 matches. His tally of 21 hundreds as captain is also a record. The next best is India's Sourav Ganguly (11).
In a combined international record
, Ricky Ponting's tally of 338 catches in 521 games is an Australian record. Only Mahela Jayawardene (342) has taken more catches than Ponting.
has been adjudged the Man of the Match 47 times - an Australian record - 16 times in Tests, 30 in ODIs and one in Twenty20 Internationals.
tally of 68 centuries is an Australian record and only Sachin Tendulkar (97) has recorded more hundreds than Ponting.
His aggregate of 25, 846 runs
(ave. 46. 90) is an Australian record.
Ponting has held 152 catches - an Australian record. Only Mahela Jayawardene (168) and Mohd Azharuddin (156) have taken more catches.
In the ODI World Cup,
Ponting is the only captain to enjoy a 100 per cent success rate, winning all 22 games between 2003 and 2007 (minimum seven games).
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