Ricky Ponting in his farewell Test
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Hate to Love

One scrapper to rule them all

Ricky Ponting was the last person you wanted to spite. If you tried, you were in for a pasting

Iain O'Brien

My natural length.

His natural pulling length.

I knew this wasn't going to be pretty. It wasn't, particularly.

First ball I bowled to him - my first ball in Test cricket - a half-volley on leg stump: clipped, timed nicely, towards Craig Cumming at square leg. He should have done better. Not Craig - he did well to stop it racing away towards the changing rooms, square of the wicket in what was then Jade Stadium in Christchurch.

The next ball, a long way down the leg side, he couldn't catch up with. I had, and still have, an issue with getting my second delivery in a match right. Don't ask me why.

He took a single off the third ball. "Thank goodness for that, I don't have to bowl to him now."

My first innings of bowling in Test cricket, from the 15 deliveries I bowled to him he took 13. Not great.

It wasn't until the second innings of my third Test against Australia that I finally dismissed him, caught at midwicket at the Gabba. Aaron Redmond with the safe hands, my man.

Ponting wasn't happy. I knew that. I could see that he really didn't want to get out to me. He didn't rate me.

He had a point. It was also a double failure for him: just 4 in the first innings, and 17 in the second.

We moved to Adelaide, the second and last Test of the series. There's a saying, something like, "Birth, death, taxes and runs in Adelaide." I'm not 100% sure of its origins, but it's as good as true. (Well, my 44-ball pair in that Test, the second-longest in Test history at the time, slightly disproves that, but you get my drift…)

He made 79 in the first innings. Birth, death, taxes and not making the century in Adelaide you should have made.

That may have been the catalyst to what happened after I had him caught, pulling again, this time picking out the only guy on the park who could have caught it, Peter Fulton: Two-Meter-Peter (who is actually only 1.98-Meter-Peter).

It frequently seemed that his successes were just to spite someone or something; the proverbial middle finger to all and sundry

My natural length. His natural pulling length. Straight to midwicket, high above most, but "Fults" held on.

"You've f****** missed out here… " Not too loudly, but enough for him to hear.

"What'd you f****** say?" his reply.

"I said you've missed out here."

He had missed out. It was a century gone begging. He got himself out. It wasn't a special delivery. It was a good catch, but he had picked the fielder out. His strength, again, was his weakness.

The rest of that exchange shall stay between him, my team-mates and me. But it's fair to say he got shown the direction to the changing room. He prickled most. No unnecessary pleasantries, or any at all in my case. Just honest.

If you were in his camp, if he rated you, if you knew him, you were safe. If not, he came hard. He made it known that life was going to be tough. I liked that. You knew where you stood.

No more so than when it was my turn to bat in the second innings in that Adelaide Test. I had hit Brett Lee with a couple of short ones; one on the arm and another that thumped into his turned back. I had worn a couple in the previous Test, so I thought I would get in first this time. I had a wild swipe at my first ball, from Nathan Hauritz. The midwicket boundary was open. I thought I would take a chance.

He was just in front of me. "Oi!" And then a long list of unmentionable names that questioned my courage and commitment. I took up the challenge, fielding his chat and avoiding Mitchell Johnson's and Lee's thunderbolts as much as possible. It was 38 balls and 54 minutes before I got a little edge onto my pad, only to be given out lbw, without scoring. No send-off from him, or anyone. I had shown the courage required. I'd earned that 50-run partnership with Brendon McCullum, and the little bit of respect we are all after from the legends.

I got to compete and test myself against almost all the modern-day greats. Not many bigger than Ricky Ponting.

A captain and leader who wasn't shy to take the heat of the media and the public eye. Often, when his team, or a team-mate, wasn't having the best of times he'd make a statement or do something that would shift the focus to himself. Intentionally or not, he was able to carry the burden, and often turn it into success. Turn the attention towards what was known as Ricky Ponting's "f*** you" hundred. It frequently seemed that his successes were just to spite someone or something; the proverbial middle finger to all and sundry.

Like him or not, he is a man whose determination and abilities I admired. I tried to replicate them. I wanted the courage and resilience he showed as a batsman, and when on the field while I was bowling, his bloody-mindedness; his ability to stick to a plan and, when the chance arose, to dominate; his capacity to change gears.

My natural length. His natural pulling length. It was never destined to be pretty. But not too many have achieved as much as Ponting did. A scrapper. A fighter. Not blessed with amazing amounts of natural ability but blessed with resilience.

His shot-making was never the most elegant. Ponting's success was achieved through dogged practice, the willingness to do the hard, unenviable and uncomfortable, and then the application to make it happen, especially when it mattered.

Iain O'Brien is a former New Zealand fast bowler who played 22 Tests and ten ODIs

 

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