2 down, 2 to go.
From 1995 to 2007, when Sachin Tendulkar was mentioned in a conversation, the mind would inevitably bracket Ricky Ponting, Brian Lara and Jacques Kallis (to a lesser extent) in the same category. The top 4- the A league- the All stars- the Big Daddies. And then, there were the rest, just like the ATP Men’s tour of 2012.
Brian Lara retired in 2007, after a dazzling career overshadowed by the frailties of a sharp West Indian decline. After that, it was Jacques Kallis who prospered, so consistently, behind the shadows- when Ponting and Tendulkar hit a lean patch. The only reason Kallis still does not get the recognition he deserves is because of his team’s ICC World Cup record. The greatest moments of Tendulkar and Ponting alike, have come during this tournament- as unflinchingly solid as they have been in the whites of test cricket.
And now, the man every Indian loves to hate, Ricky Ponting, has called it a day. Out of respect for this bullheaded, fiercely competitive quintessential Aussie cricketer, we will not mention Sachin Tendulkar through this piece. There is no point, and it makes no sense to compare chalk and cheese while trying to come to the conclusion that one can’t exist without the other. Agreed, their careers have mirrored one another for the last 18 months- but that is a lengthy struggle that they have earned, with the Australian tight-roping in a less tolerant environment. In short, the greatest Test Career in world cricket has come to a close. Not a grinding halt, or a standstill, or other such dramatic terms we love to use while describing the end. 167 Test Caps, 108 Test Wins, 3 World Cup wins and over 13000 runs in both forms of the game. There are records, and then there are records. Rest assured- the figure of 108 (or 109 depending on the outcome of the Perth Test) is as formidable a figure as 100 Test Centuries, and it not going to be surpassed in our lifetime. For another team to dominate world cricket like Australia did, so unerringly and ruthlessly for over a decade, with their greatest batsman scoring 30 Test Centuries in a winning case- these eras are to be cherished.
There is possibly nobody in World Cricket with an attitude that could single-handedly affect outcomes of an entire series before it begins, except Ponting. His hard-nosed approach and questionable sportsmanship skills may have led to immense controversy and a lot of hatred from all corners, but it also earned him grudging admiration and respect of his colleagues, his country and- in the long run- his opponents. A case in example could be the way Kohli conducts himself on the field, and how Indians react to him, letting him spur them on and installing a sense of ‘Aussie’ pride in their hearts. ‘This is that Aussie aggression we need’, they say. But if it’s Ponting, or Clarke that does the same, they’re just sour losers. Eventually, after Waugh, it is Ponting that took verbal battles and mind games to the next level- a part and parcel of every professional sport. Those who cannot take it, fade away. After all, Test Cricket is not a gentleman’s game anymore, and only a few Englishmen (not the Barmy army) are delusional enough to believe so.
Carrying Australia on his shoulders.
A lot of Indians will love to remember his legacy in terms of relative numbers and statistics, and of course, his conduct. He will be remembered for his 3 Ashes failures, but not for the 5-0 Ashes whitewash in Australia. He will be remembered for the infamous Sydney test of 2008, but not for his desperate slide to reach the crease and take India to the cleaners against his poor run of form in 2012. He will be remembered for his constipated face in his final World Cup match in charge against India in the quarterfinal, but not for his fighting century that gave them a chance to compete against vociferous lions in their own den. He will be remembered for his drinking problem and his brawls in 1999, but not for his unparalleled destruction of a billion hopes in the World Cup Final of 2003. He will be remembered for his comical footwork against Harbhajan Singh in 2001, but not for his series-defining 257 against the same opposition in 2004, or for his 2600-odd runs against India at an average of 60 over his career. He tormented us, often overshadowed by VVS Laxman, but we’d rather not remember that purple patch of his from 2004-2007, a patch to end all patches- a legacy defined in 3 years, threatening every number there was in the game.
That is how we will remember him, here, in India. And that is precisely how we will not remember him, too.