Ricky Ponting, outside of Australia at least, is a man who divides opinion. If he is clearly held in great regard by his compatriots and judging by the guard of honour and comments afterwards, South Africans, the same cannot be said for England.
While his skill, repute and run-scoring feats can not be argued with, some followers of the game will argue that he wasn't a great captain and that he often cracked under pressure.
Perhaps citing Gary Pratt running him out at Trent Bridge in 2005, and Ashes defeats in 2009 and 2011, they appear to conveniently forget the way Ponting led his side to two World Cups, in 2003 and 2007, hitting a brilliant century in the 2003 final against India. They forget the way he had to rebuild his career after a night out at the back-end of the 1990s left him fighting for the Baggy Green he held so dear. They underestimate just what an influence he had - still has, even - on the players he has played alongside.
The argument offered is that anybody could have captained the all-conquering Australian team and won with it. While his Test side were blessed with the twin threats of Glenn McGrath and Shane Warne and an array of world-class batsmen in every position, you don't just turn up and captain sides to World Cup, Champions Trophy successes and an Ashes whitewash.
It pays to remember that Ponting led Australia to the 2003 World Cup missing Warne, Shane Watson, Michael Bevan and Darren Lehmann and it was Ponting who pushed hard for the inclusion of Andrew Symonds, who played a starring role. In 2007, Australia had to do without Brett Lee. In each of those tournaments, Australia didn't lose a single match.
Ponting led his side to Test series victories in South Africa twice without McGrath available to him and ended his career as the most successful Test captain in history, with 108 wins and 48 of them leading side. 108. Most Test cricketers won't get near to playing 108 Tests, let alone winning that many. Some of us won't even win 108 games of whatever our chosen sport is in our lives.
Although Ponting was part of Ashes-winning sides in 1997, 1999, 2001, 2003 and 2007, he is only the second player to lead Australia to three Ashes losses. In 2005 and 2011 he simply came up against England teams that were at the peak of their powers. Would Warne in 2005 or Clarke in 2011 really have been able to hold back Vaughan and Strauss's men? Doubtful.
What is interesting is that in 2005, Ponting led his side as they bounced back in ruthless fashion and after reaching the summit, England failed to do what Australia - led by Steve Waugh and Ponting - had done: stay at the top and dominate.
2009 is perhaps the one that got away, but can Ponting be blamed for his side not winning the key moments? There were blunders, but during his time as captain, his good calls certainly outweighed the bad ones and it is a fact that England and Australian skippers will be judged by both sets of fans - rightly or wrongly - on their performance in the Ashes.
Whereas in England, the captain of the national soccer team and arguably the rugby team as well holds a bigger profile than the man chosen to lead the cricket team, that is not the case in Australia. It is often said that the cricket captaincy is the biggest job after the Prime Minister's. Ponting dealt remarkably well with the pressure during his nine years at the helm.
And he did so while still scoring the runs. One of his best innings as captain came, ironically perhaps, in that 2005 Ashes series, when he batted for almost all of the final day to score 156 and save the Old Trafford Test. He scored twin centuries in his 100th Test to see off South Africa in 2006 and of course scored that wonderful century in Johannesburg to set India an unassailable target in 2003.
He finishes with more runs than any player other than Sachin Tendulkar, more runs than any other Australian and at his best, he was one of the best - of his generation, and perhaps of all time.
When Ponting got himself in, and he was high on confidence, there were few bowlers in world cricket who would have relished bowling at him. There were few who could. Murderous on the pull shot and an exquisite driver, there weren't too many shots Ponting couldn't play.
His contemporaries speak highly of him, not just as a player but as a leader on and off the pitch. When Justin Langer calls him 'irreplaceable', Vaughan calls him the best batsman he played against and Smith says he is the most competitive man he's played against, such words speak volumes. Far louder, thankfully, than the chorus of boos that England supporters often subjected him to.
Perhaps his absence from the game in retirement might make some English hearts grow to be a little fonder of him.
© Cricket World 2012
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