Like all red-blooded Englishmen, I had hoped that Ricky Ponting would somehow defy his inexorable decline and produce sufficient runs in the South Africa series to ensure he would be a fixture in Australia’s middle order for next year’s back-to-back Ashes series. Alas, we now know that’s not to be.
As a totem of Australian cricketing dominance in their late 90s and early noughties heyday, Ricky emerged from the Steve Waugh era and came to represent a one-man Alamo against a resurgent England team (forgetting 2006/07, of course, as that NEVER happened). In the 2009 and 2010/11 series he would peer out from underneath his tatty baggy green with those piercing, worldly eyes, and you felt almost a modicum of pity that his bowling options consisted of the likes of Ben Hilfenhaus and Xavier Doherty when his predecessor nearly always had Glenn McGrath and Shane Warne. The fall from grace was more than English fans were ever prepared for.
But we still loved to beat him and going into the 2013 double header we were hungry for more. Perhaps by falling on his sword at this juncture he has had the last laugh, denying us the opportunity to mock him further. Or, I could be being unfair. Maybe the next stage of his transformation in the eyes of the English public would have been belated respect and admiration – coming full circle from his earlier omnipotence, but without the visceral loathing. This seems to be the path taken by Australian fans, with the applause he received at Adelaide last week quite a stirring sight.
Again from a purely English perspective, there have been career highlights. I have whittled them to five:
1. Harmy cutting him up on the first morning of the Lord’s Test in 2005 (he’s still got the scar). Getting Harmy that pumped up was probably one of the greatest ever achievements of Michael Vaughan as captain and set the tone for the series.
2. Gary Pratt running him out at Trent Bridge, prompting a volley of Punter invective against the unflappable Big Dunc.
3. THAT over from Freddie at Edgbaston, also in 2005. Punter the world class batsman, behind only Bradman, Lara and Tendulkar in the all-time list, couldn’t cope with an on-fire Fred that day.
4. Freddie again. Running Ponting out at the Oval in 2009 when it was just starting look like he might turn the deciding match around.
5. Trudging off at the MCG a broken man with a fractured finger in his last Test against England, as the away team retained the Ashes.
We’ll never see his like again as we’re unlikely to ever witness another once-in-a-lifetime Australia side led by such a grizzled competitor. We hated him so much because he, and his side, were so darn good. We respected him because, despite English inferiority, he too loved to beat us – which made the turnaround in fortunes so sweet to savour. Michael Clarke and Shane Watson just don’t get the blood boiling in the same way.