Magazine article The Spectator

The World at His Feet

Magazine article The Spectator

The World at His Feet

Article excerpt

THE MOST IMPORTANT player at the World Cup will be the man who lifted the trophy four years ago. Ricky Ponting, the captain of Australia, made 140 not out that day as the men in green and gold defended their prize so easily that a strongly fancied Indian side were made to look second-rate.

Once again the Australians -- three-time winners of the World Cup and finalists on five occasions -- begin the tournament as favourites and Ponting, who is now the captain of their Test team as well as the one-day side, knows no equal as the greatest batsman around today.

Brian Lara has played many brilliant innings, and may sprinkle some stardust over the event, which takes place in his own parish, but Sachin Tendulkar, the boy wonder from Mumbai, will never recapture the bloom of youth. Ponting, a young 32-year-old, has the world at his feet.

A member of the Tasmanian side at 17, Ponting became a Test player at 20, making 96 in his first innings. Now, after a further 109 appearances, his record stands at 33 centuries -- more than any other Australian -- and an average of 59 (50 is usually considered the mark of greatness, though these things are variable).

He has also made 22 centuries in one-day internationals (ODIs), a form of the game in which he is no less formidable.

It is not just the weight of statistics that makes Ponting a great batsman. Like all truly great players he looks to take the fight to the bowlers at all times, being strong on both sides of the wicket, off front foot as well as back. All Australian batsmen are strong back-foot players, growing up as they do on lively, bouncy pitches, but there may never have been a more vigorous puller than 'Punter' Ponting. Just to put the tin lid on it, he is also one of the sharpest fielders in world cricket and, after a slow start, is emerging as a decent captain.

Punter earned his sobriquet in his youth, being closer to the bookies than many would consider wise. He had a drink problem too, to which he was obliged to confess after an incident at the Bourbon and Beefsteak bar in Sydney's King's Cross, in January 1999, left him bruised and battered, and the subject of unflattering front-page stories. He went before a press conference immediately to offer a mea culpa and was soon restored to the Test side.

It is odd to think, from this perspective, that Ponting was in those days in and out of the Australian side and that some judges thought he might fall short. …

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