Making runs had come to Ricky Ponting as easily as hoping in and out of bed. He just did it. He could plunder any bowling attack, with his textbook pulls and hooks, fluent flicks through midwicket all with those extraordinarily hairy arms in tow. Then suddenly it all stopped. Debate rages if the run drought started after Kemar Roach pinged him on the elbow. Others say it was later than that. All we know is Ponting was no longer the effortless run machine of years gone. Nonetheless, people- and probably Ricky himself though, “only a slight blip in the radar. Everything will be fine soon”. It wasn’t. One half century in 7 innings during mid 2010 was concerning, as was the amount of times he was troubled by the short ball. His strength had become his weakness.
Ponting, being the very determined and result driven cricketer he is, would not have liked this, and probably worked over time to get the runs back. He ended up applying too much pressure on himself and his captaincy, and lost the Ashes in 2010-11 for the 3rd time as captain. 103 runs in 7 knocks intensified the calls for him to be dropped. Ponting didn’t budge. His technique did though. He was now striding too extravagantly down the wicket as the bowler released the ball, thus being over balanced. Playing confident back foot strokes became harder and harder. A fighting hundred in the World Cup semi final against India won a few fans back, but it was the Test hundred he most dearly wanted.
In March of 2011, Ponting quit as captain of both Tests and ODI’s. Michael Clarke took the reins. Ricky plays on. Scratchy form in the 3 test Sri Lankan series were followed up by some very unlike Ponting mistakes in South Africa. He misses two straight balls. LBW both times. He dropped catches at second slip. The wolves could smell blood. The media wouldn’t lie down. Ponting had to go. His time was up. A fighting 62 in the record 4th innings chase on Cape Town bought him time, not a place. He then made 78 in the first test against New Zealand at the Gabba. Although he made some runs, the innings was like watching someone with Alzheimer’s talk with family members. You know they are there somewhere, but just aren’t one’s self.
The 2nd test was embarrassing for both Ponting and Australia. The Aussies lost to New Zealand. Acceptable in Rugby, not a Test on home soil. Ponting didn’t pick an inswinger from Southee and walked before the umpire could give him LBW. In the 2nd knock, he poked at one and gave catching practice to Martin Guptill at cover. The writing was on the wall. Journalists had their cricket obituary’s ready for the man Rod Marsh described as the best talent he’d ever seen out of the Australian cricket academy. Ponting was as stubborn as ever. He was having none of it once more. Extra work followed. He tried and tried to get back to the R.T.Ponting we came to know and love.
Slightly more Ponting esque 60’s came in Melbourne against the touring Indians. He still looked jerky at times, but was getting there. Slowly. Then to the 100th SCG test match Ponting went. The Tasmanian came to the crease when Zaheer Khan had the new Kookaburra doing plenty. Not the best time to save your career. He played his shots. With him at the crease was Michael Clarke. Clarke to has had his knockers, more to do with his public appearance and highlighted blonde hair than anything else. Now shaved and brown, this was a different Clarke. Two strokmakers. Two mates. The perfect recipe. Clarke and Ponting raced each other throughout the day. They both had 50 around the same time. Clarke had his hundred just before Lunch. Ponting needed a few to get his. The pitch was getting flatter. Indians were getting tireder.
Ponting was slowly fading back to us. Trademark flicks off his pads raced to the fence. A fierce square drive to bring up 50 was a sign. He was back. He poked and prodded in the nineties. If you include the lunch break, Ponting was in the nerves 90’s for 75 minutes. Even he, all the experience he possessed- was feeling nervous. Would he get a better opportunity to make the breakthrough ton? Where can he get the last run? Will he last the summer? All these thoughts whizzed through the heads of that same cricket public who called for his head 3 months previous.
Then a checked drive and a desperate dive did the trick for the man they call Rick. A wild throw from Zaheer helped, but he had done it. His helmet that had been through so much over the 16 times he had visited the SCG, was pressed against his face. It wouldn’t have heard a bigger reception that the one that Ponting received. A quick glance up at the bails, and a long glance down to his shirt revealed that he had both that elusive ton, and a dirt stained shirt to boot. Ponting savoured the moment. A cheeky grin could not be wiped. In fact, if a gust of breeze had frozen his face at that moment, I don’t think he would have minded at all.
Ricky Ponting has had to bat like he has never batted before in the past year. Nothing came naturally anymore. Muscle memory had deserted him. He admits he has stripped down his technique to the finest detail, trying to get back to some sort of form. That is pure class. That is the work of a champion. The hard work has paid off. The dirt on his playing shirt symbolises all the tough times. It was all Hollywood scripted. 134 of the best. Well played Punter, it was worth the wait.