Unlike Glenn McGrath, for whom I always had an admiration which, with time, has grown into something more than that, Ricky Ponting’s appeal has been a closed book to me – and, I suspect I am not alone amongst non-Australians. As a captain, he handled post-match interviews with the same humility that has always marked him out as a team-man, who never forgot his roots as the working class kid from Tassie who was mixing it with the big boys of grade cricket when hardly into his teens and who was obliged to grow up in public without the minders, the media training and the mothering of today’s pampered pros. Even his style of play was “ugly aussie” a kind of right-handed Matthew Hayden, going hard at the ball, hard at the opposition and hard at the umpires if he didn’t care for their decisions. As captain, he had no space in which to carve out a niche for his personality – he couldn’t outstrip AR Border as a father-figure, MA Taylor as a decent bloke, SR Waugh as a flint-eyed tough guy. Hell, he couldn’t even outstrip his own star player as a cricket tactician / strategist, living with the widely held consensus that SK Warne was the brains in the Australian outfit. He even lost three Ashes series.
And yet, RT Ponting has spent most of his long career winning cricket matches. There are the three World Cups and many, many other ODIs, but today he reached an extraordinary milestone – 100 Test Match wins. Just ponder that for a moment. Few Test match victories are secured easily, even with ten team-mates like those with whom Punter played for many years – walking off victorious 100 times is astonishing. The first time he heard Under the Southern Cross I stand was 11 December 1995 and, as was the case so many of the other 99 times the anthem rang out, the win was built on big runs scored quickly supported by ruthless bowling backed by fielding excellence in which Punter, with three second innings catches, set the standard. He was still leading the fielding effort come his 100th win, holding two sensational catches up close in front of the wicket, where he had every right to expect a younger man to be in the firing line. His much maligned captaincy delivered almost half those wins too – seldom through flashes of decision-making genius, but through an example of the commitment required on and off the field.
It will fall to others to write a proper appreciation of an all-time great of the game, probably on his retirement, but today’s achievement should not be overlooked. After all, one pugnacious man from an outpost of the Australian game has gone on a journey from 1 to 100 Test wins – a distance that took the whole of India almost 58 years to travel.