A salute to a living legend and one of Test and ODI cricket's finest players, Ricky Thomas Ponting, the man who started his career on a low but grew by leaps and bounds into a giant.
Ponting's early ODI performances
Australia's Ricky Ponting's domestic performances were rewarded when he was first selected in 1995 for the ODI team to play in all the matches of the New Zealand Centenary Quadrangular Tournament in New Zealand, that included South Africa and India. Ponting made his ODI debut in the match against South Africa, batting at number six. He scored just 1 run off six balls. However, he helped Australia win their next match, this time against the Kiwis, Ponting scored an important 10 not out, after coming to bat late in the innings. His top score in this series came in the third match, against India, which his side lost. Ponting was moved up the order to number three and scored a wonderful 62 off 92 balls. This loss did not prevent the Aussies from appearing in the final against New Zealand. Ponting was given another chance, coming in at five down and was 7 not out when the winning runs were scored. He could not finish his debut series on a very high note as he only scored 80 runs off 40 balls at a strike rate of 71.42.
For the upcoming West Indies tour some members of the media suggested Ponting be selected as a reserve wicketkeeper. However, he was selected as a specialist batsman. "It was like all my birthdays had come at once. I had some reservations about making my Test debut against arguably the best fast bowling attack in the world", Ponting said later. The West Indians were in their glory days at that time and one of the toughest teams to face or even defeat. They dominated world cricket for close to two decades.
Before the start of the tour, Mark Taylor, Australia's skipper, thought the fight for the last Test batting vacancy was probably between Ponting and Justin Langer. "Ricky Ponting is more the stroke player while Justin is the tough man. It depends on what we need at the time but you can probably say Ricky has his neck in front because he's been on this tour [of New Zealand]", Taylor had said. Ponting's attitude and fearless approach could tear the West Indies apart was what Rod Marsh thought. Nevertheless, Ponting was never on the front seat to be selected. Steve Waugh noted that Ponting would "not be intimidated by the West Indians' inevitable waist-to-chin length". Ponting clearly thought that the West Indian bowlers were over-rated as was quoted as saying, the current crop of bowlers were not "of the same high class" that opposition teams had come to expect from the West Indies.
Ponting was selected for the third ODI on 12 March 1995 at Queen's Park Oval, when Mark Waugh missed out through injury. Ponting once again batting at number three was involved in a 59-run partnership with Steve Waugh; however, he got out on 43 and failed to complete a half-century. Injured Mark Waugh returned for the next match and perhaps because of lady luck, Ponting had to sit on the bench until he replaced an out-of-form David Boon in the fifth and final match but got a second-ball duck. Later he managed to score 19 in a three-day warm-up ahead of the Tests but compatriot Greg Blewett scored a century with Justin Langer compiling a half-century. Thus his 19 was not enough to force his way into the Test side although, after 20 years Australia successfully won the Frank Worrell Trophy for the first time, winning 2-1.
In June 1995 he undertook a tour to England with the Young Australians; that team included fellow Tasmanian Shaun Young. It also had the likes of Matthew Hayden, Matthew Elliott, Martin Love, Justin Langer and Stuart Law who afterwards became great Test players. Despite not batting as well as he "would have liked", Ponting returned to Australia with the fourth highest batting average – 48.73.
Ponting's first Test match and series Though his start in ODIs was disappointing, Ponting had a brillaint start in Test cricket. In his debut Test Sri Lanka made 251 after batting first. Batting at five due to Steve Waugh's absence through injury, Ponting arrived at the crease with Australia at a comfortable 422 for 3. He was a bit nervous at the start, edging his first ball past first slip for four bowled by legendary Sri Lankan off-spinner Muttiah Muralitharan. When just four short of his first Test century on debut, seamer Chaminda Vaas' length delivary hit Ponting high on his thigh, he was adjudged out, lbw. The crowd and media argued that it was an incorrect decision due to excessive height but his partnership of 121 with Stuart Law, also on debut was broken. This was only the ninth-ever century partnership by debutants in Test cricket. "I've got mixed emotions about my knock at the moment. 96 is a good score but it would have been nice to get a 100", Ponting said after his remarkable innings. "Once I struck a few in the middle of the bat, and I spent some time in the middle I tried to relax and enjoy it, just savour the moment”, he added. Australia won the match easily by an innings. Ponting's success continued in the second Test in Melbourne on Boxing Day too, he scored a "compact" 71 in his only innings, combining for a century stand with Steve Waugh. Let's not forget the wicket he took of Asanka Gurusinha in Sri Lanka's first innings.
Ponting's performance was overshadowed by Australian umpire Darrell Hair's 'no-balling' of Muralitharan for throwing on seven occasions, the tensions had increased between the two sides. Boon, Ponting's fellow Tasmanian retired after the Third Test, and Ponting's performances were not too good batting at number six, managing six and 20. Australia won yet again, sweeping the series with a comfortable 3-0 win. As the second player from Tasmania to make it big he was praised by David Boon, "I would have hated to be the first person to come through from Launceston and make it but he has proved it can be done". Ponting ended his debut and first Test series on a high with 193 runs at an average of 48.25.
Tough 1996 World Cup and aftermath series against India
After a tough 1996 World Cup final loss to Sri Lanka, Australia's dominance was once again under threat, they made a poor start in the series against India. Sachin Tendulkar's double century in the opening warm-up match gave Australia a clear idea how India would perform, the Australian bowlers also struggled to cope with the conditions. Ponting came into the Test series with fine first-class scores of 53, 37 and 155 but batting at five and seven on a "dusty turning track", he failed to score big and only managed 18 and 2 in the opening Test. Despite conceding a 71 first innings lead, Sachin Tendulkar struck 155 in the second innings to lead India to an easy 169-run win. Australia were humiliated once again in the second Test at Eden Gardens after India scored a mammoth 633/5 in reply to Australia's 233. Australia were humbled, losing by an innings and 16 runs. Ponting scored 60 and 9.
Australia's slight revival in the series
At Bangalore, Australia registered their first Test win against India after 29 years, despite a 177 not out from Tendulkar, which gave India a slender first innings lead. Australia won the match by eight wickets, Ponting scored 16 in his only innings. He ended the series with 105 runs at an average of 21.00 as the hosts took the Test series 2-1.