Ricky Ponting's homilies

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Ponting: At the Close of Play, by Ricky Ponting. Harper Collins, 2013. Website

Barry

Cover of Ponting: At the Close of Play features Ricky Ponting in baggy greenIt has riled Australian Test cricket captain Michael 'Pup' Clarke, with 'earwitness' accounts of heated exchanges and manhandling. It's offended former skipper Mark 'Tubby' Taylor, with taboo airings of dressing room contretemps. And it's given a media 'free hit' to passed-over leader Shane Warne, who's gone into bat for his protege, Pup. All this, before a summer of cricket and angry commentators really starts cooking.

Record-breaking batsman and former Test captain Ricky 'Punter' Thomas Ponting has given a balls and all account of his decades of on- and off-field dramas, and has not backed away from the short stuff.

Highly successful athletes are often lauded for their tunnel vision or white line fever — the capacity to achieve and stay in a zone of excellence. Ponting records the personal cost of victory and defeat in a role that in Australia is traditionally exaggerated as being second only to the prime ministership. The book, I found, boasts commendable truisms and anecdotes about leadership, integrity, accountability and honesty.

I don't know how you found the 'he said/he said' accounts, Jen, or, for that matter, the 'sledging' controversies and overall 'must win' zeitgeist. I love it. The 47 'Insights' homilies add context to the accounts and subtext to how Ponting wants to be remembered (did you also catch the odd whiff of revisionism?).

Sometimes Punter dumps on mates or foes who reveal character flaws; he also 'fesses up squarely to times that he himself stuffed up. He bags gutless administrators and rages against the machine of cricket bureaucracy, and the high-end lucre that tilts cricket's geopolitics towards the subcontinent.

Striving, winning or losing the contest between bat and ball, sometimes spacking it at teammates and adversaries ... All in all, nothing I haven't seen in microcosm every Sunday morning at Milo cricket with my seven-year-old.

But there is also surprising personal growth on offer. Punter is a bloke's bloke, 'brung up' in a limited but nurturing suburbia of cricket, cricket, golf and cricket. I was genuinely touched by his acknowledgement of the role his wife, Rianna, and their daughters have played in his maturation as an adult human being.

There is also more than a hint of genuine, honest to God bereavement, as the memoirist notes the sometimes turbulent decline and demise of champions/beloved mates, such as the aforementioned Warnie, Justin Langer, Glenn McGrath, Adam Gilchrist and Matthew Hayden. The surprise retirement/vanishing act of his mate Damien Martyn (Ponting was his best man), in particular, still seems to trouble the author.

Jen, I owe you a big vote of thanks for suggesting this bumper-size cricketophile's opus (which comes in at a glorious 699 pages); it pays homage to Ponting's love of a great game and takes an insider's stickybeak at the people who play it; the difficulties they face and the armwrestle for supremacy that's waged both internally and against their ostensible foes.

Jen

Glorious, Barry? I can think of a few other words to describe Ponting's much-quoted autobiography. Why don't we start with earnest?

'My name is Ricky Thomas Ponting,' says our narrator, 'and I played cricket.' Indeed he did. As Ponting writes, he played for the 'junior cricket, indoor cricket, club cricket, re cricket, state cricket, T20 cricket, one-day cricket and Test cricket' — as Barry attests, what more can a cricketing tragic ask for?

Ponting is to Australian cricket what Stilton is to cheese. During a professional career that spanned more than two decades, 'Punter' was not only synonymous with the baggy green; he stamped upon it his never-say-die brand of captaincy.

Much of Ponting's successes (and perhaps a few of his failures) are due to a nuggety self-belief and determination. 'Cricket was my focus,' he says, recalling his teenage years. 'It was what I knew; it was what I was good at ... '

That says it all, really. While life experiences — travel, a family and charity work, most notably in the area of cancer support — invariably expanded young Ponting's mind, I feel it's fair to say that there remains something of the awkward teen in the man.

Barry's right to point out that there's plenty of salacious detail in this 'explosive autobiography' (fanned by the subsequent 'revelations' told by former teammates Clarke and Warne). What did I make of the 'he said/he said' accounts? Or the 'must win' philosophy at the core of Ponting's leadership? In all honesty by the time we arrive at these accounts I had all but thrown down the bat.

Which brings me to another word that encapsulates this book for me. Protracted. To say that the hardback copy could easily serve as a doorstop is something of an understatement. That it's just shy of 700 pages is indeed small mercy for any reader with little interest in the sport or its players.

This tome may have arrived with a bang, but it left me — granted, hardly a fan of the gentleman's game — in purgatory. After establishing himself as Mr Cricket, Ponting hardly challenges the sporting autobiography's field of vision. He's no scribe, of course, but I would have appreciated insight that went beyond navel gazing or the forensic (read: tedious) post-analysis of games played and lost.

I'd love to say that Barry's delight when I put this book forward (was I, perhaps, suffering from white-line fever myself?) was compensation enough, but I can't. Yes, Ponting loves cricket. To be fair, he loves his wife and family, too. But having to wade through 699 pages is a lot to ask for an, at best, runs-on-the-board reckoning.


Jen Vuk and Barry GittinsJen Vuk is a freelance writer and editor whose work has appeared in The Herald Sun, The Sydney Morning Herald, The Australian, The Age and The Good Weekend. Barry Gittins is a communication and research consultant for the Salvation Army who has written for Inside History, Crosslight, The Transit Lounge, Changing Attitude Australia and The Rubicon.

Topic tags: Ricky Ponting, Michael Clarke, Mark Taylor, Justin Langer, Glenn McGrath, Adam Gilchrist, Matthew Hayden

 

 

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Existing comments

One thing i realised quickly when I came as an almost middle-aged adult to Australia, and tried to get involved in school-parent committees etc, was there there are a lot of fully grown teenage men here! Safe with footy, cricket and long-standing mates, but not really anything too new. Their wives were much more sophisticated, interesting, welcoming and able to cope with grown up stuff.
Eugene | 15 November 2013


Perhaps honesty and realism are so rare these days in the media/publishing that Ricky's was seen as awkward!
Helen | 18 November 2013


Sounds like he writes with great determination.
Penelope | 19 November 2013


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