I discovered Ponting the same time that I discovered Sachin Tendulkar, which was the same time I discovered cricket.
Outlook had released a special World Cup edition in 1996 which had articles, pictures, and profiles of all the teams. Ricky Ponting was featured as a young, aggressive batsman who could change the match with his strokeplay.
Of course, after the World Cup, Sachin shot to astronomical levels of achievement, and was quickly hailed as the greatest of his era, along with Lara and Akram. Ponting’s rise wasn’t meteoric – it was a carefully crafted road that would take him to the pinnacle of world cricket.
Comparisons with Sachin are inevitable, and I am sure Indian fans have begun flooding blogs, websites, and YouTube with ‘Sachin is better. Jai Hind!’ sort of remarks. Both of them got recognition around the same time, they both started young, and had boyish looks and an attacking style of batting. But Sachin and Ponting travelled diverse paths to the same destination.
Sachin was destined for glory from the beginning. He was a lotus in a dirty pond full of mediocre cricketers, so much that his singular achievements in a team game gave the nation a sense of pride and achievement.
Ponting broke into the team that already had a range of stars. From David Boon to the Waugh brothers, to Taylor, Ponting had to cement his place by shoving away bigger stars. He had to fight for his place.
While Sachin was the Arjuna – a mix of skill and character, always ready to take the right path, Ponting was like Karna. Supremely confident of his abilities, and audacious enough to stick to his own decisions.
While one was soft-spoken, polite, and politically correct, the other was brash, rude, and fiercely confident.
May be how they came into the teams, also chartered the course for the rest of their careers as well.
You would never find Ponting smiling and walking up to a batsman who was hit. You’d never find him sharing a friendly banter with an opposition bowler. None of that smiling, good-natured bubble gum romance that makes for great Cricinfo articles and biographies.
Cricket was a war for Ponting. A war that had to be won by gritting your teeth and fighting it out. If a ball went near him, he leapt at it. If a ball was pitched short, he shuffled across and hooked it over the boundary. There were no smiles, no mercy, no joy in celebrating the spirit of cricket. It was a bloody war!
It was no surprise that, like most Indians, I hated Ricky Ponting.
I hated his guts. I remember famously telling my classmates in school that I’d support Pakistan in a Pak vs Aus match. That was how much I hated the guy.
Of course, Ricky Ponting cared two hoots about how much I liked him.
He went on to become the captain of the Australian team in all three formats, compiling runs at home and abroad, and for about a decade, epitomising Aussie aggression for the rest of the world.
And then, the 2007 tour to Australia happened.
India was a resurgent side, a healthy mix of vintage class and new found aggression. Australia was simply Australia. Ready to fight till the last breath, no matter how ugly the situation got.
I remember being crestfallen that series. Umpiring decisions were awful, the third umpire was not referred to, a stupid, career-threatening charge was slapped on Harbhajan Singh, and to hammer the final nail in the coffin, after the match was over, I remember Anil Kumble standing on the field for the customary handshake, and the Australian team looking at him, and walking away.
It was the worst series I had witnessed in my life. Also, the highest run getter in the series was Sachin, for whom my respect shot up manifold.
When Ponting pushed Sharad Pawar off the victory podium, India seethed (Of course, two years later, when some random guy slapped Sharad Pawar, India cheered. But that’s another matter!)
My hatred for Ponting kept growing through the years. I couldn’t stand the smug expression he carried on the field, and off it.
They say that a villain’s greatest achievement is if the viewer wants to leap on to the screen and kill him.
As an Indian, I hated how Ricky Ponting thought of nothing but victory. Everything else was secondary.
As an Australian, may be that would have been the very reason I would have loved the guy.
May be that’s what makes Ricky Ponting great.