There’s something about retirements of cricketers. People harp, harangue and pretty much harass cricketers at the twilight of their careers, dissecting every failure, looking for chinks in their armors. Eventually and inevitably they retire. Some manage to silence the crowd and carry on a few years more, retiring with glory. For some, the din never ceases and eventually consumes them. And then the world watches in disbelief and with lots of emotion as their favourite cricketer announces his tearful retirement, followed by reams after reams of why that player was great and how the game would miss him. It’s almost as if they had all this ready and wanted him to leave just so that they could publish it all. The focus then shifts to the next oldest cricketer. Rinse and repeat.
The last few days have seen the retirement of Ricky Ponting and everyone’s been falling over each other writing tributes. Somehow unlike other players like Dravid or Laxman, it was all about “what a fantastic cricketer and competitor he was”, “what a lovely pull shot he had”. The element of romance that you associate with sportsmen, the fondness with which you recall their playing days was clearly missing. Maybe there was nothing there with Ponting. He was just a cricketer who turned up, made a lot of runs and then went along. There were no definitive great innings that you’d single out. He scored at will almost everywhere and was part of the world dominating team of the late 90s and most of the 2000s. You score runs, win matches and do that day in and day out, maybe people don’t remember much. Whereas a Dravid 148 or 233 or a Laxman 281 goes well into the history books. Maybe it’s about the context. Maybe it’s the spirit. But more than anything, the thing missing was personality. Hard cricketer, great fighter. Come on! No one goes into the cricket field ready to roll over and expose their bellies!
Given that, this is not a tribute. In fact, it’s the exact opposite. It’s about why I’ll never consider Ponting a great sportsperson. A batsman who scored a lot of runs, yes. A great fielder, yes. Athlete, yes. Sportsman, no! Two incidents stand out for me.
1. Javagal Srinath bouncing him. Batsman hurt. Srinath enquires if he’s alright. Man responds ‘Fuck off.’ It’s one thing to answer fire with fire. Another to respond to a polite enquiry with a swear. Shows your upbringing. Sorry.
2. The Sydney test of 2008. Ponting makes a pact with India captain Anil Kumble. “We’ll take the fielder’s word for close catches. No questioning or going to third umpires. Surely, we can trust each other? Not a battle field anyway.” Kumble agrees. First innings, Dravid edges, ball falls short of Ponting. Ponting calls out that the catch wasn’t taken. All good. Applause. Second innings, match close. India fighting to draw. Ganguly edges to slips. Ball seems to fall short of Clarke. Not a clean catch. Ponting raises the finger. There’s the pact. Ganguly has to go. Next, Dhoni pads up to one. Ball flies off the pads. Ponting at silly point, dives, holds on but on the fall slides the ball along the ground. Appeals! For a catch! It’s one thing to take a not-so-clean catch and appeal to the umpire. Another to convince the opposing captain that you need to trust each other, make a pact and then take advantage of it. That’s cheating, plain and simple. And it shows one thing – that you lack Integrity. Press conference. Indian journo brings this up. “Are you questioning my integrity?” He asks.
Sports cannot be restricted to just statistics. To make it just about numbers is the biggest injustice you can do to it. It’s also about the human spirit and an extension of how we go about life (ok: cliché). To go around making a pact of trust and then using that to stab your opponent in the back to claim victory shows the way you’d make your choices when push comes to shove and brings your integrity into question.
Sorry, Ricky, the game is clearly richer with your retirement. You only brought disrepute to it and the way the game is played in your country.
Now that Ponting is gone, the eye of Sauron shifts towards India where ‘God’ himself is struggling. The kind of stuff that’s been making the rounds on news channels, print and online media, the blogospheere etc is plain disgusting. Someone who’s been playing for 23 years with an average of 50+, scoring the most runs ever surely deserves better? Yes, he’s not scored the past few matches, but after 23 years, the least he could get is 10 matches to prove his worth? Is that too much to ask? And it’s not like he is the main non-performer in the team. His fitness level and ability can put anyone else to shame even today at the age of 39.
Give him his 10 tests to fail. At the very least, let him complete the series against England. You get a good 3 more months after that to harangue and discuss about what he should do and how he should play his shots. Yes, 39 is not young age. But there are enough precedents of cricketers playing on into their 40s. Gooch, Boycott, Cowdrey, Imran Khan et al. Why is age a criteria in India? If there’s a youngster who is being blocked, maybe, I agree. But considering how difficult filling the rest of the batting slots seems to be, India better be praying that Sachin hits some form and can go on for at least a year more.
I have never been much of a Sachin fan. There was always Azhar in the early 90s and then Dravid. Sachin was always the constant, scoring runs with them and it wasn’t like I was an anti-fan either, hoping that he’d fail and all. But I see myself hoping that he scores a big one in Kolkata. Just to shut all the blabbering mouths. Just to get the pens flowing as to why he’s not finished yet. Just so that we get a break from this “Retire Retire” nonsense!