The 4th Ashes Test in England in 1997 saw a resounding victory for the tourists, who followed their victory in Manchester in the 3rd test with a crushing innings and 61 run win at Leeds. Such was the way the series had turned, after England's incredible effort in the opening match of the series had been followed by a draw at Lords, but only with the weather saving the home side after they were bundled out for 77 in the first innings. The Aussies were on a roll, yet after the win at Old Trafford they made a change. The misfiring Michael Bevan had given the selectors little option but to drop him, after a run of low scores, and so it was that they entrusted the number six spot to a precocious young batsman from Tasmania, who, after three half centuries in his first six tests, seemed ready to be given a run. After 261 balls yielded a maiden Test ton (127), it was apparent that the name Ricky Ponting would be one that the English fans would have to get used to hearing, over the next decade or more.
Now, back to modern day. Ponting's international career has ended, after a remarkable 168 Test match appearances (equalling the Australian record held by Steve Waugh, no friend to English bowling himself), 13,378 test runs and another 40 hundreds to accompany that one at Headingley. It is fair to say that as a batsman, he has been amongst the very best in the world over the last 15 years. Pugnacious, aggressive and also at times pleasing on the eye, he spent much of the first decade of the 21st century punishing international attacks in a way that his compatriot Sir Donald Bradman would have enjoyed. In 2005 and 2006, he plundered an astonishing 2877 runs with 13 centuries. However, once 2007 came around, Ponting would never again average more than 47 in a calender year.
The longest standing argument concerning Ponting concerns not his appetite for and ability to carve out runs, but features on his record as Australia's captain. Was he a great captain, or was a captain blessed with a phenomenal side? I would tend to side with the latter. He was comprehensively out-thought by Michael Vaughan in 2005, while he was made to look inept as a leader in 2010/11 by the rampant Strauss-led England side. His batting record as a captain / non captain is interesting, in that while his average NOT as captain was better than his efforts as a leader, it is only by the very smallest of margins (52.18 versus 51.51).
His record (as a batsman again, I am not adequately full of myself to speak of his captaincy credentials for anything longer than a single paragraph) against England is indicitve of a man who, far from grateful that the Mother Country were his first major victims, took great delight in making the English fielders watch him bat and bat. In 35 Tests against England, he amassed 2476 runs with eight centuries. He saved his best performances however for matches against India, with his 29 appearances producing 2555 runs at an average of 54.36 (with again 8 centuries, including his career high 257). It is perhaps incredible to consider that he came oh so close to falling out of the Australia side in 2001! After an innings of 141* at Sydney in January 2000 (against India, of course!), he had gone 11 Test matches and 18 innings without a Test match century, with only a single half century when the Australian captain Steve Waugh tore a muscle at Trent Bridge during the 3rd 2001 Ashes Test. Simon Katich was brought in for the next match (again at Headingley, he loves Leeds), with the thinking being that a solid show from Katich would see him replace Ponting when Waugh returned. Katich mustered 15 and 0*. Ponting managed 144 and 72. He was safe.
As with most notable players, I like to look at people like Ponting and see how if at all I am similar to them. I can announce that I have one tangible similarity. Its not our choice of bat equipment (Ponting has been with Kookabura his whole career, whereas we ALL know I love GM), its not our favouring of the pull and straight drive. Its our birthday. Ponting came into the world December 19th 1974, while I followed six years later.
He leaves the game with the Australian team beaten at home by South Africa for the 2nd straight series, but with a captain hungry for runs. A win in the last Test would have seen the Aussies top the World Rankings, painting something of a false image concerning the Aussies current abilities. Maybe, under the stewardship of Michael Clarke, the Old Enemy will once again rise to the top of the charts. They must do so without Old Man Ponting, and the hunt for a new lynch pin begins. But don't worry England fans, while the Aussies do come to Leeds next summer, its only for an ODI.