Ricky Ponting was in constant conflict with Indian Cricket. As a captain he led an Australian team that was challenged for its supremacy by the Indian Cricket Team. As a captain he led an Australian an Australian that was involved in a fair number of skirmishes, on and off the field with Indian Cricket. As a batsman he was a considered by Indian cricket and its stakeholders as the genuine challenger to Sachin Tendulkar as the best batsman in the world. That Ponting managed to hold his own and very often polarized opinion in his favour is itself a great testimony to his magnificent career.
Ponting is no doubt one of the modern day greats. His statistics are well documented and over the course of his long career he has produced many outstanding innings. Indians might say that he was never comfortable against quality spin on slow turning wickets and his record in India might suggest that. But when it came to playing quality fast bowling there was no better player in World cricket. Also he had an amazing ability to score big hundreds when his team required it the most. Think World Cup Final 2003. Think Ashes Test 2005 at Old Trafford Think so many first tests of the Australian Summer. Think first test against India at Bangalore 2008. Think World Cup Quarterfinal 2011.And you will remember great Ponting hundreds. Great players always rise to the occasion and Ponting was no different. And the one figure that makes Ponting so special was 108- he was part of 108 Australian test victories in his playing days and that is a stunning statistic. Play the game to win is what we have always been told. Ricky Ponting always played to win and often won. He certainly is a winner.
At the other end of the spectrum Ponting’s great rival for many years, Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar must be wondering on what the future has in store for him. The game of cricket can very cruel and fickle, particularly in India where the media can elevate you the highest possible level and then just dump you. The same people who were worshipping Tendulkar as God a few months back are now gunning for his head.
Retirements can be sensitive issues and in this case only Tendulkar can decide when he wants to leave. When a cricketer retires, he not only leaves the sport but also gives up something that has defined his entire life. It must be a scary thought to suddenly realize that you cannot do something that has basically defined your life. Actors can work all their life, Painters can paint till they want, even service men can have their jobs till they are 60, but sportsman have to stop in the prime of their life. Can you blame a sportsman if he keeps deferring the date when he has to give up everything? Not really.
The media and his supporters are now calling for Sachin’s head not because of his performance but because all of a sudden he seems mortal to them. He has not lived up to their expectation and this in itself is ridiculous. Tendulkar has never played the game for anybody else but for himself and he should leave the game only when he is comfortable doing so. However if in the opinion of the selectors he is not contributing to the team, then they should be brave enough to drop him. It is not Tendulkar’s fault that we have elevated to such a high ground that no selector in this country will have the guts to drop him. And all those asking for his head, please consider if we have an adequate replacement for him. It is all right for him to go if there are young batsmen scoring tons of runs in the domestic circuit. A look around the Ranji Trophy scores will tell you that is not the case
I consider myself extremely fortunate that I have witnessed the game in the era of Tendulkar and Ponting. They have enriched the game by their presence and the game will be poorer without them. While one has decided to leave it on his own terms, one only hopes that the constant media ridicule does not force the other to leave on other’s terms.