The batsman of his generation for many, Ricky Ponting could be excused for relaxing his relentless intensity and assuming the miles in his legs and thousands of runs on the board will allow him to coast through the final months of his ridiculously impressive career, but of course that’s a load of rubbish.
Just like in an Ashes series whitewash or one of his World Cup wins, he tells TNT his hunger to win hasn’t waned. It’s great news for Surrey, who have him among their number until the end of the month for a string of Friends Life T20 and County Championship games in London.
“It’s every team I play for mate, it’s not about enjoying games, it’s about winning games, and I’ll do whatever it takes to give Surrey the best chance of winning in every game that I play in,” he tells us ahead of six T20 games in four weeks (five at the Oval, one at Lord’s) and his final Championship game against Nottinghamshire (July 8).
“I was lucky enough to get a few runs first up (he debuted in Derby with 192) and we got ourselves into a position where we potentially could have won the game … I just want to keep contributing every time I step onto the field.”
It shouldn’t be a surprise, but for a bloke who will retire from all forms of cricket in October after the T20 Champions League in India, he sounds like a kid pushing for his first Test.
After giving up the five-dayers last year, pressure seems to have lifted from his 38-year-old shoulders and it’s shown on the field, winning the Sheffield Shield with his beloved Tasmania and picking up the competition’s best player award along the way. He also took over as Mumbai Indians’ captain and led them to victory in the Indian Premier League.
Even before he rocked up in the UK to fill in short-term for South African skipper Graeme Smith, his presence brought excitement. England’s public enemy number one was welcomed with open arms, with players all singing his praises as not just a great player, but mentor. “It’s not just with the bat but his knowledge, we’re very blessed at the moment,” Surrey captain Gareth Batty said of Ponting, who was offered the leadership role but turned it down.
His cool head has been welcome anyway, as Surrey’s coach and team director were sacked, replaced in the interim by former Test player Alec Stewart. Ponting says he’s been humbled by the response of fans and players. “I guess [it’s] just being around an Ashes year,” he says. “Being an ex-Australian captain and an Ashes series being on makes it a bit more of a thing, me being here. It’s just exciting to be in the country with an Ashes about to start. At the same time I’m excited at the opportunity with Surrey.”
With his retirement, Ponting’s last game on home turf will have been at Bellerive Oval. Among his last in England will be the Oval, a ground he’d like to have some more pleasant memories of: ”Usually when I’ve been there it’s been watching the opposition captain going up to collect the Ashes, so it’d be nice to have a better experience here.”
As soon as he was scoring runs on UK soil came talk of a heroic return to the Australian fold – he said no way, but his announcement that “it just feels like the right time to finish playing” nipped it in the bud. Still, after 168 Tests and 13,378 runs, the 42nd captain still has the team at heart. He also admits there will be itchy feet when the first ball is bowled at Trent Bridge on July 10. “I will have itchy feet, of course I will,” he laughs. “It’s the Ashes. But I’ll be sitting back watching the next generation of Australian players hopefully playing well enough to win a series.”
Before Mickey Arthur was axed as Aussie coach following Australia’s poor ICC Champions Trophy, Ponting says the South African had “reached out” to him. Now his mate Darren Lehmann is at the helm, Ponting will of course remain open to lend his experience to whoever wants it. “At the end of the day I’m around the UK for the next couple of months and everyone knows they can get me if they need me,” he says. “I want to do whatever I can to help the team and any of the individual players. I still feel I owe that to Australian cricket and I owe that to the boys in the team.”
Given even the shrewdest of his critics can’t place Ponting any lower than second behind Donald Bradman on a list of greatest ever Aussie batsmen, he could argue he doesn’t owe anything: “The reason I kept on playing as long as I did was to try and help those younger guys through the most difficult time of their careers, which is, you know, the first 15-20 Test matches you play,” he tells us. “I did whatever I could to stay around, but at the end of the day I wasn’t playing well enough to be in the team. So now that I’m not in the team, any advice I can give I’m more than happy to.”
The end of Ponting’s career now gives him a chance to have a proper crack at the short form of the game he neglected in favour of his “pinnacle”, Test cricket. It’s a minor ‘could’ve been’ for the dynamic, flamboyant and inventive ball striker. ”When I’ve played Twenty20 Cricket in the past it’s just been a one-off game here and there,” he says. “But with the Big Bash I got to play consecutive games (for Hobart Hurricanes) and I got a chance in the IPL this year as well.”
His final months will be spent with the Antigua Hawks in the inaugural Caribbean Premier League before joining his Mumbai teammates in India for the final fling. It’s no hit and giggle global lap of honour for Ponting though, he’s still staring down new challenges – focused as ever.
His steely stare remains: “Surrey, and helping them get some big results, is my number one priority right now.”
Punter’s last flutter: see him play in London
Whether your relationship with cricket is more the fast fling variety of Twenty20 or committed County Championship style, you’ll be bonkers to turn down a chance to see Ricky Ponting play one last time.
The retiring former Aussie skipper is in great nick for Surrey and is joined for the Friends Life T20 series by Aussie slogger and spinner Glenn Maxwell.
Catch them this month on Wed July 3 (Sussex), Fri July 5 (Middlesex), Mon July 15 (Essex) and Fri July 19 (Hampshire), Thur July 25 (at Lord’s against Middlesex), Fri July 26 (Kent) and Wed July 31 (at Chelmsford vs Essex). All games are at the Kia Oval unless stated otherwise. Surrey also play Nottinghamshire in the County Championship on July 8-11 at the Oval.
For tickets Friends Life T20 ecb.co.uk/flt20For Kia Oval, ongoing fixtures and other Surrey tickets
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