For a moment, Ricky Ponting was a kid again. As he sat in the WACA gym and spoke one last time as a Test cricketer, the emotion finally got the better of him. Ponting, perhaps the toughest competitor of his cricketing generation, fought back tears as he thanked his family for all of their sacrifices. His wife Rianna was there with his daughters Emmy and Matisse. His parents, Graeme and Lorraine, were there too. It was a rare glimpse of the human side of one of sport’s hardest men.
To understand Ponting, you have to understand his roots. Australia’s most prolific run scorer was raised in working-class northern Tasmania and when he was nine or ten, he used to ride his BMX all around Launceston and the surrounding areas to watch the Mowbray Cricket Club play. He would sit in the change-rooms, rummage through the players’ bags when they were on the field and try on their gloves, hold their bats. He helped run the scoreboard at the NTCA ground when Tasmania played there, for a few Dollars a day.
At 11, Ponting was playing third-grade cricket with his father; when he became a first-class player, he financed new club-rooms with his first sponsorship payment. He learnt the value of the baggy green when his uncle Greg Campbell, Lorraine’s brother and also a Mowbray player, played Test cricket briefly in the late 1980s. Ponting now lives in Sydney but has never changed clubs; if he was to play a club match again it would be for Mowbray.
Ponting walked off the WACA on Monday afternoon having equalled Steve Waugh’s record of 168 Test appearances. Nobody has been part of more victories than Ponting. He has played 560 international matches in 15 countries around the world, or 24 if the individual nations that make up the West Indies are taken into consideration. As Ponting sat back and for the first time reflected on his 17-year international career, he became emotional when he considered where it all started.
“I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for the opportunities I was given by them at an early age,” Ponting said of his parents. A cough, as he held back the tears. “It’s getting a bit harder”. Sniff. “The Mowbray Cricket Club, if they see me up here like this at the moment they’ll be all over me. That’s the place I learnt the game and the person I am was moulded from my background and my upbringing. What you’ve seen over 17 years is a result of my early days at the Mowbray Cricket Club. Thanks to the boys back there.”
Tough as they make them in Mowbray, there wouldn’t have been a dry eye there either. Ponting still keeps a close eye on his club’s scores. In fact, he keeps a close eye on everything related to the world of cricket. The kid who sat in the change-rooms and listened to the first-grade players tell stories about the match they’d just played still exists. That’s what will make retirement so difficult for Ponting. Cricket has been his life.
It is no surprise that he will play on for Tasmania this season, like a junkie being weaned off slowly. From Perth, he will fly to Tasmania to start training for the Hobart Hurricanes. The Big Bash League starts later this week and Ponting will be part of it. Always renowned as a realist, the dreamer in Ponting came through when he considered watching Australia’s next Test, against Sri Lanka in Hobart, and joked about warming up with the Test players and earning a late call-up.
“You ask the boys in the dressing room, they reckon I don’t miss a ball that’s bowled anywhere around the world,” he said. “Of course I’ll keep an eye on it because I’ll miss not being out there. I’ll be interested to see who comes in and slots into the No.4 spot and I’ll be interested to see what the bowling attack looks like for Hobart.
“The way it works out I’ll probably be down there anyway. I’ve got some training to do for the Hurricanes, leading up to that game, so I’ll probably be in Hobart just before that. Who knows, I might even be around for the first day of the game. If I am, I might even join in the warm-up with the boys and see if there’s just one more chance.”
There’s that kid in the change-rooms again. Pick me! Let me play!
But for all of his cricket passion, Ponting knew the time was right to walk away from the international game. His scores over the past few weeks have confirmed it. Not that he had given up hope of ending with a match-winning hundred.
“I had a bit more of a fairytale ending in my own eyes than what’s happened this week,” Ponting said. Just then, the pipes in the WACA gym began to squeal, almost drowning out his voice. “Still things are going badly for me here as well! It’s been one of those weeks.”
Apart from when discussing his family, Ponting was relaxed in retirement. He joked about the standing ovation he had received, and the one given to his night-watchman Nathan Lyon on the first day. He thanked the media for promoting the game and held no grudges about the criticism levelled on him in recent times. He finished with a brief thought about his legacy.
“Hopefully my impact and input on Australian cricket has left something behind.”