My first memory of Ricky Ponting goes back to early 1996.
The Benson & Hedges World Series, as it used to be called back then, was going on and there was this little man with a goatie who would walk out to the crease in a cap and face up to Curtley Ambrose, Courtney Walsh, and Ian Bishop.
I had already seen Inzamam Ul Haq do that for Pakistan, but Inzi stood well over 6 feet. Ponting was a relatively tiny man and to be out in the middle without a helmet against Ambrose & company required big nuts.
I distinctly remember Ponting taking two steps down the wicket and flicking a good length Ambrose delivery to the mid wicket boundary. That was the shot of a 21 year old boy who had both, talent and confidence, in heaps.
Today, 17 years later, he was dropped from Australia's ODI squad, effectively ending his ODI career. There is speculation that tomorrow Ponting might announce his retirement from all cricket, but I hope that is not the case and we can still watch a few more test innings from his bat.
For me, Ricky Ponting was the best ODI batsman ever. I am a die hard Inzamam fan, and I have the utmost respect for Sachin Tendulkar, but there are fewer sights in cricket that are better than a free flowing Ricky Ponting.
Ponting has played some unbelievable ODI knocks and his 30 centuries stand second only to Sachin's 48. His 13,700+ runs are also only second to Sachin's tally, and it will probably remain that way for a long time to come.
Here's remembering some of Ponting's best.
Massacre at the Wanderers
Who can forget what Ponting did to the Indians in the World Cup Final in 2003. He single handedly killed India's World Cup dreams in a brutal knock of 140. He remained unbeaten, hit 8 sixes, and destroyed every single Indian bowler. I distinctly remember the onslaught on Zaheer Khan. This is my best Ponting innings in ODIs.
Three years after winning the World Cup, Ponting returned to the Wanderers for an ODI against South Africa. That ODI is popularly known today as the 434 ODI, and it has gone down in history as the highest successful run chase in an ODI. I don't know though if people remember Ponting's exploits in that match. He scored 164 and hit 1 more six than he did against India in 2003 at the same ground. South Africa's successful chase and Gibbs' 175 in the same game took the gloss of Ponting's innings, but what an awesome knock that was. Over a dozen boundaries and nine sixes, Ponting's onslaught was even more brutal than the one he had given India.
Shattered in Lahore
It had only been 3 months since I had moved to Lahore in 1998 and I was excited at the prospect of watching my first ever match at the Gaddafi Stadium. Wasim Akram, Aamer Sohail, Shahid Afridi, Shoaib Akhtar, I was going to watch some of my favorite cricketers live. At the end of the first innings, I was extremely pleased with the proceedings; Pakistan had posted 315 and I had just witnessed centuries from Ijaz Ahmed and Mohammad Yousuf (Then Yousuf Yohanna). Even Afridi played a cameo and entertained the crowd. What more could I have asked for from my first LIVE game at the Gaddafi. Ponting had different ideas however, and he made sure that I did not leave a happy man from the ground. Wasim Akram has dismissed Mark Waugh early, which had brought Ponting to the crease. For the next 30 overs, Pakistan could not pick up a wicket as both Gilchrist and Ponting took the bowlers to the cleaners and knocked centuries. Ponting remained unbeaten on 124 in the game and ensured an Australia victory, which seemed unlikely at the end of Pakistan's innings. I can't forget the sight of Ponting thrashing Wasim Akram and Shoaib Akhtar all over the Gaddafi stadium. Akhtar was bowling at 150+ and Ponting was treating him like a school kid!
Brutal at Bangalore
Half a year had passed since Ponting had massacred the Indians at the Wanderers in the World Cup Final in 2003, but his liking for Zaheer Khan and the Indian attack was apparent yet again in Bangalore at the end of the same year when Ponting smashed an unbeaten 108. The similarity between this match and the World Cup Final earlier in the year was in the result, the score lines, and sixes flying off Ponting's bat all over the ground. Ponting hit seven sixes in this innings and he was once against particularly severe on Zaheer Khan.
Still on Top in Nottingham
In 2009, Ponting became the first ever Australian captain in over a 100 years to lose two successive Ashes series in England. But that did not take away his ability to thrash bowling attacks in ODIs. In the ODI series that followed the Ashes loss, England had posted 299 in one of the ODIs. In response, Ponting produced an amazing counter attack with a knock of 126 at significantly faster than run a ball. I remember him giving a lot of stick to Broad and Bresnan during his innings and it was one of the best ODI run chases I had seen. Not as heartbreaking as the one in Lahore, but just as good.
I hope I do not have to think about my favourite Ponting test innings tomorrow, and that some of his best test knocks are still to come.