Short. Sharp. Six! – Ponting
A true pitch. A reasonably quick bowler. A short of length. The batsman rocks back, stands tall, the toe of the bat starts a scything arc from fine leg, moving parallel to the ground, gathering speed as it meets the ball in front of the batsman’s chest and carries on to complete the arc at square leg. Resounding crack of bat on ball as the ball goes speeding through square leg, past the boundary.
Living and watching cricket in the subcontinent, while having enjoyed some of the most ridiculously talented wristy batsmen to ever play, I’ve always felt malnourished when it comes to great back foot batting. Most good length bowling would arrive at the batsman, barely thigh high, well placed for the efficient clips off the waist that most batsman are good at. For me, when there was bounce on a surface, the kind where a ball not pitched quite short passes the batsman above waist height, the equation seemed to change. Like paddling a raft on a docile little stream that had turned into a raging foaming level 5 beast of a river. Adjustments needed to be made, the lunging front foot needed to be recalled post-haste, the weight even had to go on the toes as the batsman tried to tame the additional dimension of the bounce.
And when there was bounce, there was always, to my uneducated eyes, one batsman who looked at home.
Who looked like his technique was built, to take on bowlers looking to get the ball chest and shoulder high. Decisive. Aggressive. Majestic. RT Ponting.
Contemptuously dismissive of any half-hearted attempts at bouncers, rarely ducking out of the way, sometimes swaying out but always evaluating the possibility of sending the ball into orbit. Even his forward defensives were purposeful, with a large stride and some back lift, almost like a boxer looking, then aborting a punch, while looking for the next opening. He has had his problems early on, the most documented, the tendency to plant his front foot and bring his bat around it to the ball coming in, making him vulnerable to the LBW. Past that, you rarely watched the clock on a Ponting innings, a stream of punchy strokes, both sides of the wicket, front and back foot.
Perspective is a funny thing. Mostly it helps add depth to our understanding of an event or person. For example, Andy Flower’s test match average of 51.54 while impressive in itself, takes on heroic proportions considering the side he played in. Sometimes though, too much of it crowds out what should be fairly simple. He played and even lead most of his career in juggernaut-like Australian sides, only to preside over their decline, poetically heralded by a quick bowler hitting him on the grill and drawing blood. His abilities as captain, have been criticized, as the team struggled to find its new normal. But all of that only obscures the batsman that he has been. And that is one of the most entertaining batsmen to have ever played this game, especially, off the back foot.
If a dramatic rendition of cricket were to be set up with a hulking brute of a fast bowler, menacing look on his face, steam escaping from his nostrils, pawing the ground in anticipation before thundering towards the crease to bowl short thunderbolts, Ponting would be facing, and the crowd behind deep square leg would be fetching.
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