It is 64 years since Don Bradman played his last Test and since then the tag ''new Bradman'' was pushed against an obviously reluctant Ian Craig, Norman O'Neill and Doug Walters. In truth there can be only one Bradman so at best we can just debate as to who is the best Australian batsman since the Don.
The candidates in order of appearance would be Neil Harvey, Greg Chappell and Ricky Ponting. In 2007 Steve Waugh proclaimed that ''Ricky's probably our second best batsman after Bradman'' a view echoed by Allan Border two years later. This was after Ponting went past Border's record aggregate of 11,174 runs during the third Ashes Test at Edgbaston to become Australia's most prolific batsman.
Border compared Ponting with Greg Chappell but predicted that by the time he hangs up his boots he would surpass the records of every Australian batsman except Bradman. "It's hard to go past Greg Chappell as number two for Australia. He was a wonderful batsman. But looking at the stats and reading and talking to old cricketers over the years I believe that by the time Ricky finishes he will be the next best," Border gushed.
Now that he has decided to ride off into the sunset, it is difficult to disagree with the views of Waugh and Border. They were undoubtedly correct in their assessment for despite the tough times he has experienced of late, despite his century ratio and average dipping Ponting's figures still beggar description.
Second in the list of run-getters behind Sachin Tendulkar and third in the list of century-makers behind Tendulkar and Jacques Kallis Ponting has been the most authoritative batsman of his time particularly when one takes into account his incredible feats in ODIs which has seen him finish second to Tendulkar in aggregate and centuries.
From a precocious talent to the most complete batsman of his day was a long road for Ponting. It all started at Perth in December 1995 against Sri Lanka when he was out to a questionable leg before decision after having scored 96. From then on except for a few downs in his career
it has been a smooth ride for Ponting. Always one of the leading batsmen in the world Ponting frequently rocketed to the No 1 ranking despite stiff competition from other superstars and was Wisden’s leading cricketer of the year in 2004.
This was about the time when he made the transition from being a very good batsman to a really great one. This was confirmed by some dizzying statistics. In his first 45 Tests Ponting scored seven hundreds. In the next 65 Tests he accounted for 26 more. The latter run saw him scoring a century in each innings thrice and getting four double hundreds including in back-to-back Tests against India.
Completing the eye rubbing and mind boggling run was the storybook feat of getting a hundred in each innings of his 100th Test. In 2003 he notched up a small matter of 1503 runs at an average of 100.20 with six hundreds and his career best score of 257. Only Vivian Richards and Sunil Gavaskar had till then scored more runs in a calendar year but neither of these past masters could match Ponting's three-figure average.
In 2005 he again scored over 1500 runs – he is the only batsman to have crossed this figure twice in a calendar year - and by the end of the following year his career average was nearing 60. The critics ran out of superlatives for this was ethereal batting.
In the last few years as age caught up with him Ponting's figures took a bit of a beating but this was only by his own superhuman standards. He still remained one of the most feared batsmen and his wicket was the one most bowlers craved for. For years he was the most complete batsman in the game making shots on both sides of the wicket with nonchalant ease, hitting with controlled power off both the front and back foot excelling in all the shots in the book – the drive, pull, hook and cut – and then adding some strokes to his repertoire that are all
While there can be nothing but the highest praise for Ponting the batsman, Ponting the captain has not been without his critics. Former Australian fast bowler Jeff Thomson clearly went overboard in dismissing his captaincy as ''crap.'' Ponting is the 'winningest' captain in Test history and whatever his detractors may hold against his ''Ugly Australian'' image there is no denying that he was a born leader.
It could not have been easy to succeed a shrewd skipper like Steve Waugh but Ponting took the ups and downs in his stride – including stringent criticism that under him the Aussies have touched the nadir when it comes to unacceptable conduct on the field – and has many things in his favour. Topping the list would be leading Australia to successive World Cup triumphs in 2003 and 2007, the 16 victorious successive Tests as captain and the 5-0 clean sweep in the Ashes series in 2006-07 – the first time in 86 years that such a rout was witnessed in Ashes battles.
Against this is the unwelcome record of being the only Australian captain to lose an Ashes series thrice. But it should not be forgotten that since the Ashes series in 2006-07 he led a side without greats like Glenn McGrath, Shane Warne and Justin Langer and a year later Adam Gilchrist and Matthew Hayden too had retired. The competition grew stronger with South Africa and India in particular posing serious threats to Australia’s supremacy.
Overall Ponting was an aggressive captain who made many challenging declarations and when it came to leading from the front he had few peers having the ability to get the best out of young players.
The enduring image of Ponting will be one of the great batsmen of the modern era. He was arguably the most commanding batsman of his time and the bowling never looked so helpless than when Ponting was on song.