Ponting scored more runs and centuries in both forms of the game than any other batsman in the decade, and he was the only one to go past the 9000-mark in both Tests and ODIs. In 107 Testsbetween 2000 and 2009, he scored 9458 runs at 58.38, and 32 of his 38 centuries. Ponting and Kallis, along with Mohammad Yousuf, were the only batsmen to average more than 58 in Tests in the decade.
I don’t know, though. Ponting is a brilliant batsman, arguably among the best of his era — but surely an accolade of this kind has to extend beyond personal achievement and take into account the player’s influence on the game itself?
It is on that measure that Ponting comes up short. He has, both as player and as team leader, done more to bring the game into disrepute than anyone else in the period in question. Examples abound, but I’ll leave you with one — the catch that wasn’t, and Ponting’s ludicrous claim to an integrity that he manifestly did not possess.
That personal example, that it is alright to do whatever it takes in order to win, has rubbed off on his team — and again, here is one instance of several.
Under successive captains — Ian Chappell and his brother Greg, Allan Border, Mark Taylor, Steve Waugh — Australia has played the game hard, with no quarter ever asked or given. Their game has been characterized by a desire for total dominance over the opposition, by a willingness to be ruthless in pursuit of team objectives.
Yet, underlying that uncompromisingly hard attitude, there has always been an element of fairness — till Ponting took over. He changed the paradigm; under him, the Australian team plays hard, and fairness be damned. The chief weapons are the sly, and the slimy; the chief characteristic a willingness to push the boundaries as far as they can without actually getting caught — and sometimes, even then.
A favorite tactic of this Australian team is to abuse — consistently, and in ways no self-respecting individual can swallow. The team has perfected the art of doing this on the sly, without getting caught out by the cameras [I sometimes wonder if they train for this just as hard as they train at batting, bowling and fielding] — and then, when someone breaks, and retaliates, to present the picture of injured innocence. Again, examples abound — the most recent one being the incident involving Suleiman Benn.
The Aussie press, on that occasion, castigated the team for its tactics. And not for the first time this decade, Ponting got all pious and issued a statement that he would be talking to his mates — an exercise in gratuitous hypocrisy, since it is clearly Ponting himself who has set that example, and encouraged his mates to kick over the traces.
With all respect and admiration for Ponting’s undoubted skills with the bat, is he really the one the cricket world wants to hold up, as the player who typifies the decade just ended?
PostScript: Gratuitous bad behavior appears to have become the norm; champion teams seem to believe that they cannot be defined by results alone. Mumbai — locked, at the time of my writing this, in a gripping contest with Karnataka in the Ranji final, is an exemplar. There were reports of some unsavory incidents in an earlier game against Hyderabad; yesterday, this happened.
Maybe the Player of the Decade jury knew what it was doing after all; maybe Ponting does exemplify the cricketing spirit of the decade.