Punter plays his last hand

April 29, 2011

Perhaps the most brutal aspect of boxing, the most brutal of popular sports, is watching the defeated heavyweight leave the ring. Head bowed, face battered and ego stripped bare, he knows it’s a moment when the oncoming trauma will far outlast the physical pain.

Ricky Ponting bowed out at Motera yesterday, going down swinging and scrapping to the very end. As usual, he was booed. He’s usually too tough a nut to let that affect him but yesterday, for the first time, it looked like it hurt. After 68 international centuries, 26000 runs, 3 world cups and the honour of being the most successful captain in test history, it looks like it’s all over for him, and maybe he felt he deserved a little better. Above all, I think it was the thought that he might never play for and fight for Australia again that was hurting him the most.

It’s fair enough to say that he’s asked for the booing over the years. He’s been found punched out outside a pub, turned up to matches with a black eye, been thrown out of nightclubs, accused of blatantly cheating, caught abusing other players, scathed by critics for not walking and got pulled up for questioning authority many a time. He’s borne the brunt of his own people’s flak for losing the Ashes to the old enemy home and away, been blamed of letting the Aussie aura slip away after a decade of dominance and now is on record as the captain who relinquished Australia’s vice-like grip on cricket’s most prized trophy. He’s been in the forefront of a time when Australia has become the most hated cricket team across the globe. Often, we cheered not because England won the Ashes or because South Africa chased down 434, but because Australia lost. He was in charge of the most ruthless, win-at-all-costs team playing the game, the price for that was to assume the mantle of being the most hated man in cricket, and he took it on.

In between this, there was a time when he was also the best batsman in the world. He was a key cog in a machine that changed the way test cricket was played. During the middle of this decade, even some Tendulkar-worshipping critics were forced to concede that Punter was the better bat at the moment, and seemed the only visible threat to Sachin’s invincible record. He also led Australia to two world cup triumphs without losing a single game. He terrorized batsman with his fielding, often walking up to stand under the batsman’s nose at silly point (has there ever been a more apt name for a fielding position in sport!) without shin guards and helmet, staring at batsman with a fearless squint. Soon, he inherited a legendary team from Steve Waugh, and racked up a captaincy record that once read 36 wins and 3 losses.

After the dream start, Father Time struck him a blow that no team could have possibly recovered from. Shane Warne, Glenn McGrath, Adam Gilchrist, Justin Langer, Mathew Hayden and Damien Martyn walked away into the sunset almost together, leaving Ricky Ponting with a rebuilding mission close to impossible. Some of them continued to play cricket in the IPL, where national honour was not at stake and millions were up for grabs. Ponting, on the contrary, ignored the lure of the IPL circus, and became one of its most outspoken critics. Cash over country was not his cup of tea. It’s easy to forget that he could have walked away from the captaincy around this time, given that the much-hyped Michael Clarke was waiting in the wings. Ponting’s pedigree as a batsman was never in question then like it is now, and he could have continued doing what he does best without the headache of nurturing a young team. But he chose to battle on, and as hard as he tried, his troops couldn’t match up to a resurgent England, a dominating South Africa and a rising India.

Cricket Australia has a reputation for ruthlessness, dropping players like Dean Jones, Ian Healy, the Waugh twins and Michael Bevan without so much as a thank you. But they gave Ponting an extended run, maybe because Michael Clarke’s promise was waning but primarily because Ponting’s ambitions were genuine. He truly believed that he could steer Australia through these turbulent times, and they didn’t doubt his integrity and toughness. But he’s failed, and the time’s up.

Neil Young crooned that it’s better to burn out than to fade away, asking people to go out with a bang and not a whimper. Ricky Ponting has faded away, but yesterday at Ahmedabad when the rest of his team struggled in a cauldron of noise and heat, he burnt bright one last time to show us what we are going to miss.

The Wood on England!

September 9, 2009

Collingwood needs about 200 odd runs to become England’s highest ever one day run scorer. And the grand tally hovers around the 4,000 mark. Shocking!  Fair enough that the English don’t fancy the shorter version that much. But it’s worth considering that Dhoni has racked up more than 4 and a half grand runs already, and he just dropped in yesterday, and Akram swung his way to nearly 4,000 batting in the lower echelons. It says more about English cricket than Collingwood I reckon!

No Harm(y)!

August 20, 2009

Here’s Andy Zaltman’s take on that enigma called Steve Harmison before D-day at the Oval!

It increasingly seems that when England pick Steve Harmison, they essentially pick a myth. Either side of his annus mirabilis – from October 2003 to September 2004, when he took 70 wickets in 12 tests at an average of 19.8, against Bangladesh, West Indies and New Zealand – he has harvested just three wickets per Test at a Malcolmian, Prabhakaretic, sub-Pringlesque average of 37.5.

If you then remove four further ‘Tests’ against Bangladesh and Zimbabwe, that average creeps above 40, into the realms where Madal Lals, Ashley Gileses and Guy Whittals roam.

If you then get a bit cheeky and whip out his 11 for 76 on a bouncily helpful wicket at Old Trafford against Pakistan, England are now relying on a bowler who for the vast majority of his career against top-class opposition on non-trampolining pitches averages 43 – slightly worse than the career averages of fast-bowling legends such as Champaka Ramanayake, Nixon McLean, Pramodya Wickramasinghe and Nathan Astle.

Most players’ careers can be statistically picked apart in some way, but these are ugly numbers in anyone’s notebook, particularly if that person is using their notebook to plot a series-clinching Test win against Australia.

Holding the Mike

June 12, 2009

It’s all good that former cricketers move into the commentary box, there’s nothing like experiencing the real thing before talking about it. But it’s not easier ‘said’ than done (excuse the pun!). People like Michael Holding are brilliant (besides having a great mike voice), while other greats like Wasim Akram and woefully short of the crease. Reading out stats that appear on screen seems to be Akram’s prime strength in the box, and the sooner the great man winds up this second innings of his, the better!

Not Stumped for Words!

May 31, 2009

Does this guy have a future or what! Sangakkara’s one hell of a cricketer, and has a few more good years left in him, but I’d definitely wager a few bucks that he’s going to have a lot of options once he’s done!

Don’t let the “At the end of the day what IPL really teaches you is forget the money, forget the glitz and the glamour” quote scare you away, this guy knows what he is talking about! Here’s a peek into the mind of one of the game’s clearest thinkers.

Dark Knights

April 23, 2009

The Kolkota Knight Riders are well on their way to becoming the most hated team in the IPL. If kicking Bengali demi-god Ganguly around wasn’t enough, there are now reports that ‘Kolkota’ will be dropped from the team name from 2010. So much for keeping your home crowd happy!
And if King Khan’s Michael Jackson-esque flying kiss impersonations don’t get to you, then John Buchanan’s rocket-science theories surely will. It’s a ‘see it, hit it’ game at the end of the day, especially this format. But the way old John’s going about it, one won’t be surprised if you soon see his laptop walking out to bat at number 3.

Depeche Modi

April 23, 2009

Lalit Modi continues to lisp his way across South Africa, and continues to repulse and impress in the same breath. Pulling off this tournament in such short notice is a feat of perseverance and authority, no doubt. But the brazen act of walking into a country with a bag of cash-rich goodies and getting your way does leave a little bit of a bad taste in your mouth. And while the donations made to South African schools are noble, the way it’s being done, with cameras, flashes and staged cheering, just doesn’t seem right.
Michael Atherton calls Modi the most ruthless man in cricket, and Modi took that as a compliment in a chat with Star News. Enough said.

A Country for Old Men

April 23, 2009

Who would have thought? Kumble, Dravid, Hayden, Gilchrist and Sachin set the tone for the damp-squib second edition of the IPL last week, and there’s more to come! It’s hard not to feel good for these champions, and once again salute the players they were, and are. KP summed it up when he said that you ‘cannot buy Kumble’s experience in any shop’. Here’s to the old boys! As they say, ‘form is temporary, class is permanant’!

Alternative History…cricket-style!

January 30, 2009

What if India had run out Tauseef Ahmed on that penultimate ball before Javed Miandad came on strike in Sharjah? What if it had not rained at Chennai on the last day when India were chasing just 220 odd on a good batting wicket against Australia? What if…? Here’s a take on alternative history, cricket-style!

A cricket story

January 11, 2009

Here’s a brilliant example of using cricket as a story subject. There’s enough drama in the cricket world to weave a story around. Now, if only I get down to doing something about this…

An Elephant Story

From Andrew Hughes, United Kingdom

The great herd that had once trampled all over Sri Lanka, India, the West Indies, England and parts of Africa had come to a halt. Punter, the herd leader, held the map in his trunk and studied it.
 
‘Yer holding it upside down, yer galah!’ mumbled Bing the Limper.
Punter harrumphed and turned the map around.

‘Face it, you don’t know where we are,’ grumbled Bing. ‘Where is this place?’ whispered Pup, looking around nervously at the desolate plain, the sinister fog and the crooked trees.

‘I know exactly where we are,’ snorted Punter. ‘We’re in Transition.’

‘Is that near Darwin?’ asked Roy.

 Suddenly, Mitch hurried to the front of the front of the line, his tusks gleaming in the setting sun. ‘Skip, Skip, come quick!’

‘What is it boy, can’t you see I’m busy?’

‘It’s Haydos, Skip. He’s not moving!’

Haydos had been around as long as anyone could remember and in his day had been a feared warrior. Always the first into battle, he would stomp up and down, waving his trunk and bellowing, smiting fear into the hearts of his foes. But now he was a pitiful sight. His great bellowing had become a timid whisper. His arthritic hip meant he could no longer stomp and there were days when he couldn’t even keep his trunk straight. The evil day could be delayed no longer. The law of the herd was harsh, but they could afford no stragglers.

Punter knew that the time had come for the old campaigner, just as it came for Warnie, Pigeon, Gilly and the other one. Just as it would come for him one day. ‘G’day, Haydos,’ said Punter.

The old elephant was sitting down and tried to struggle to his feet.

‘No, don’t worry mate. No need to get up.’

‘Just needed a rest, Skip. I’ll be back on form for the next mission.’

Punter remained silent.

‘What is it, Skip?’

‘Thing is Haydos, we don’t need you for the next mission.’

‘Oh. Right. Give the younger elephants a chance. Good idea. Happy to stand aside this time, for the good of the herd.

‘Or the mission after that,’ continued Punter.

There was an awkward silence.

‘Guess this is it then,’ said Haydos.

Punter looked down, rubbing his trunk in the dust. ‘Guess it is. Right. Well, I’ll see you then.’ Punter turned to walk away.

‘Skip?’ asked Haydos, for the last time.

‘What?’

‘Will you do me a favour and break the news to Roy. I don’t think I can.’

‘No worries mate,’ said Punter.

And so the great old elephant lay down to sleep under a coolibah tree.

Punter marched to the front of the herd, trying not to dwell on the day, fast approaching, when he too must lay down in the shade. He looked at the line of expectant faces. ‘Right,’ he ordered, ‘keep a nice tidy line. By the left, quick march!’

‘Incompetent oaf!’ muttered Lee.

‘Silence in the ranks!’ shouted Punter. And on they marched, the great, noble herd, trampling almost everything that lay in their path though sometimes they had to take the long way round.


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