Considered by many to be one of the greatest batsmen of all time, Ricky Ponting AO was an uncompromising cricketer whose feats in the baggy green carved a special place in Australia’s sporting canon.
The man they called ‘Punter’ played 168 Tests for an average of 51.85, with an average of 42.03 across 375 one-day-internationals. He is Australia’s leading run-scorer in both forms of the game, and is only second to Sachin Tendulkar in runs scored in the Test arena.
The Tasmanian is one of only four players to have scored 13,000 Test runs, whilst his 41 centuries in the five-day format are the most by any Australian batsmen.
A three-time cricket world cup winner – and twice as captain – Ponting led Australian cricket through a golden age of unparalleled success. His 48 Test victories from 77 matches render him one of the most successful captains of all time.
As an Australian cricketer, he is second only to Sir Donald Bradman AC and on Wednesday 21st October 2015, Ricky Ponting AO will join the Inaugural Legend known as ‘The Don’ when he receives the highest honour which can be bestowed upon an Australian sportsperson and is Inducted into the Sport Australia Hall of Fame.
Ponting will be officially welcomed into the illustrious fold by long-time teammate, friend and Sport Australia Hall of Fame member Adam Gilchrist AM as part of the 31st Induction and Awards Gala Dinner.
Ponting was born in Launceston, Tasmania as the eldest of four children and lived in the working class suburbs of Prospect, Newnham and Rocherlea.
He spent his childhood in housing commission estates and lived by no means an easy life, though was careful to make the most of any and every opportunity which came his way.
The son of Graeme – who himself was a handy enough cricketer in his day – and Lorraine – a state champion in the cricket/tennis hybrid of vigoro – was a talented sportsman both in cricket and football throughout his youth and always performed above and beyond both his size and his years.
As a 12-year-old, Ponting made his first grade debut for local club Mowbray and in doing so stumbled across a support network which shaped him into the man he would become.
“The guys at the Mowbray Cricket Club were rascals off the field and on the field at different times,” Ponting said.
“But they made sure a young bloke like me was heading in the right direction. If I was ever seen to be heading down the wrong path, they were pretty quick to knock me back into line.”
It was a meteoric rise through the ranks for the boy from Mowbray.
Ponting was plucked out of northern Tasmania in 1991 by former Australian wicketkeeper and now fellow Sport Australia Hall of Fame Member Rod Marsh MBE and attended the Australian Institute of Sport cricket academy in Adelaide as a 17-year-old.
A year later he became the youngest ever player to debut for Tasmania – some 28 days before his 18th birthday – and lined up alongside now Sport Australia Hall of Fame member David Boon MBE against South Australia at Adelaide Oval.
“Everything happened really quickly at a really young age for me,” Ponting reflected.
“I found myself debuting for Tassie when I’m seventeen in a team that’s got David Boon in it – who is obviously one of my childhood heroes.”
“I played my first Sheffield Shield game with him and we had a nice long partnership in the first innings of that game, so it was almost what dreams are made of really.”
At 781 runs with an average of 48.81 in his first season, Ponting demonstrated his prodigious talent. If it was not already clear he had the makings of a future Test player, he made it blatantly obvious across the next few seasons at first class level.
As part of their Australian tour for the 1995/6 season, Sri Lanka played two warm-up matches against Tasmania. Ponting was on the front foot and scored 99 in a one-day match in Devonport, before scoring a century at the NTCA Ground in his home town of Launceston.
His timing both on the pitch and in general could not have been better, as an injury to now fellow Sport Australia Hall of Fame member Stephen Waugh AO opened the door for Ponting to make his Test debut against the same opposition a week later in Perth.
“I stayed up all night,” laughed Ponting.
“I sanded all my bats down. I changed all the stickers and changed all my grips and did everything. I set about ten alarms to make sure I didn’t sleep in the next morning.”
Batting at number five for an Australian team in good touch, Ponting was forced to wait that little bit longer to face his first ball. It was a moment played over in his mind countless times before, and when the fourth wicket fell he strode out to the crease to face a man Wisden would later call “the greatest Test match bowler ever” – Muttiah Muralitharan.
“I remember just saying to myself, look don’t run down the wicket, don’t run down the wicket first ball – don’t run down!” Ponting said.
“Sure enough, I run down the wicket first ball and get an outside edge just passed first slip that races to the boundary for four.”
“I was off the mark in my Test career with a boundary first ball, but it probably wasn’t the way I’d dreamt about it the night before.”
The edgy start was quickly put to one side as Ponting crafted a fine innings of 96 in his first outing in the baggy green.
A further four runs would have made it a dream debut, but all the promise in the world could not keep the Tasmanian safe from the selectors’ axe. The batsman struggled for consistency in the years to come and the odd off field misdemeanour made matters more difficult.
Rather than cementing his place in the batting order, Ponting was regularly in and out of the side.
“I had a few off field discretions which landed me in a little bit of hot water,” Ponting admitted.
“But I was a young bloke and quite a flamboyant player in a bit of a hurry, in a bit of a rush.”
“You make mistakes and you get up and you learn from them and you try to make yourself a better person, a better player the next day.”
Ponting dusted himself off and began making some subtle changes to his cricket and personal life.
He became more organised. He became more respectful of the game and the opportunities it gave him, and in early 1999, Ponting earnt a recall to the Test team for a tour of the Caribbean. This period of self-transformation and ensuing success was capped off by an Australian cricket world cup win in 1999 – the first of Ponting’s career.
However, what would prove perhaps most pivotal to his personal development as both a cricketer and a person was yet to walk into his life.
“There were two things which happened around the same time – one being, I met Rianna,” Ponting said.
“When you meet someone like your future wife, it just magnifies everything and all your beliefs. I say that but if you ask her about it, she won’t take any of the credit for it at all.”
“The other was that I was given some added responsibility in the Test side by moving up to number three.”
“I was a person who was heavily involved in the game. I’d watch it really closely, sit back and analyse it. So when you’re batting at number six and you’re waiting all day to have a bat, I felt more mentally tired than perhaps I should have been.”
His increased maturity and the move to number three could not have proven more fruitful. Ponting owned the position, and slowly but surely did what his “flamboyant” younger self could not – he cemented his place in the Australia Test team.
In the background, the conversation was already well underway as to who would lead the side once Stephen Waugh AO stepped down as captain.
Ponting saw it as a two horse race, given future Sport Australia Hall of Fame members Shane Warne and Adam Gilchrist AM had previously filled the void in the one day arena as captain and vice-captain when Waugh was forced to the sidelines with ongoing hamstring issues in 1999.
When the time for change came in 2002, both Warne and Gilchrist were overlooked in favour of the Tasmanian – much to his own surprise.
“I was doing my own personal things to try and make myself a better person – a few sessions here and there of public speaking and leadership courses – but nothing about being ready to be the next captain,” Ponting said.
“Although I always thought of myself as a leader around the group and always trained and prepared that way and always had input in meetings, I just never thought the captaincy would come my way until I got the phone call really.”
Ponting immediately set about maintaining the high standards of what had been Waugh’s team and faced his first arduous test as captain at the 2003 cricket world cup.
It was a lean tournament for the most part for the new leader, but as is expected of captains Ponting stepped up when it mattered and played one of his most memorable innings to top-score unbeaten on 140 from 121 balls in the final against India.
It was a knock which not only won the world cup for Australia but reinforced his position at the helm, and along with his 1503 Test runs for the 2003 calendar year, confirmed him as Australia’s 42nd Test captain upon Stephen Waugh AO’s retirement in 2004.
His approach to captaincy was simple and drew from his own experiences as a younger player.
“I just wanted to create an environment around the team where everyone felt comfortable and happy,” Ponting said.
“When I first came into the side, it didn’t feel like the young blokes were on the same page as the older guys and that, at different times, made a lot of younger guys feel uneasy.”
“I wanted to make sure that with the young blokes coming in, whether they played one Test or one hundred Tests in my team, everyone was made to feel exactly same and could have the same amount of input into what we were doing.”
Taking the reins of the one of the most successful cricket sides in history was not without its challenges.
In 2005, his side toured England in an unforgettable Ashes defeat which some ten years later is still regarded as arguably the best series ever played between the two nations. The urn was regained in a 2006/7 series whitewash on home soil, but Ponting’s team were defeated once again in England in 2009.
Overall though, Australian cricket fans were undeniably spoilt across Ponting’s career.
“It was probably a golden era. There were some remarkable things we achieved as a team,” Ponting said.
“It’s pretty hard to imagine how another team or era is going to have more success than that ten year period there – with world cup wins, Ashes wins, wins in India and all around the world.”
“It was a pretty amazing time.”
All good things must come to an end, however, and in 2011 Ponting could see the writing on the wall. A new era of transition and rebuilding had dawned on Australian cricket, and a new man was needed for a new job.
Following Australia’s defeat at the hands of host nation India in the 2011 world cup, Ponting resigned as captain and endorsed Michael Clarke as his successor.
“It was the end of the world cup – there were four years until the next one and two years until the Ashes series, so I just thought it was the right time to hand over and give Michael the best chance to be as well prepared for the job as he could be,”
“Playing as much as you are these days, from series to series and year to year, it just becomes increasingly hard to keep reinventing yourself as a player and a leader. The boys get sick of hearing the same messages over and over and it’s hard to keep freshening things up.”
“I’m a big believer in shelf life in big leadership roles, and if I’m honest, looking back I probably went on just a little too long.”
Ponting continued to play his role for the team under new captain Michael Clarke and support him where necessary, but in November 2012 it was time for Australia’s best batsmen since Sir Donald Bradman AC to call time on his international career all together.
“I’d probably known for a little while at that stage,” Ponting admitted.
“When it came around to stepping up on the big stages – which is what I’d always prided myself on – and the big moments in games, I just couldn’t do it anymore.”
“I was trying too hard to finish off the way I wanted to and trying to be the player I once was and I just couldn’t get it back. It almost got to the stage where I was trying to not get out, rather than just going out there and scoring runs like I always did.”
As was always the case throughout his time at international level, Ponting never forgot where he came from.
Following his retirement he immediately resumed duties with Tasmania and steered his home state to an emphatic Sheffield Shield title in 2013.
“It was a very special way to finish,” Ponting said.
“To go back and finish off my career in a Sheffield Shield winning team was one of the absolute career highlights and something I’ll never forget.”
The local hero was the competition’s leading run scorer with 911 runs at an average of 75.91 and was named the Sheffield Shield player of the year as a result.
Some months later Ponting produced a match saving 169 not out for English County side Surrey, in what would be his final first class innings.
The Sport Australia Hall of Fame Selection Committee Chairman Rob de Castella AO MBE said Ricky Ponting AO
“Ricky Ponting is one of the greatest batsmen in the history of cricket and one of the Australia’s favourite sons – of that there can be no doubt,” said de Castella.
“A leader of men, Ponting was entrusted with the hearts and minds of a nation as captain of the Australian cricket team and his steady hands carried this prestigious baton as if he were fielding in the slips.”
“It is time for the man they call ‘Punter’ to join ‘The Don’ in the Sport Australia Hall of Fame.”
Ponting will be Inducted as a Member of the Sport Australia Hall of Fame during the 31st Sport Australia Hall of Fame Induction and Awards Gala Dinner, held at Palladium at Crown, Melbourne – presented by Etihad Airways.