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Ricky Ponting is a modern Australian. Following local custom, he emerged from the back blocks and made his way through the ranks and into the upper echelons. Now the boy from Mowbray bestrides the game.
Although not regarded as a colossus, he stands top of the batting rankings and captains the World Cup holders and the strongest Test team on the planet. And he has done it without joining any of the rich gangs that played such a part in directing life Down Under.
Ponting's rise says something about his country and something about himself. To interview him 14 years ago was to encounter a self-possessed, capable youngster of independent disposition. Already the Australian cricket community was well aware of his existence. No one was worried that he came from the back of beyond.
Australians don't bother about the cover. Apparently he could cut and pull and drive and use his feet. The wires were hot. Already past players and coaches were talking about him, discussing his prospects and hoping he'd take his chances.
To reread that early interview is to be struck by his determination to uplift himself and his backwater state. He was not to be constrained by place or background, did not accept that Tasmanians must lose, or play defensively, or had any reason to doff their caps. From the outset he rejected defeatism.
From the start, too, he was prepared to live by his wits. By and large he has remained true to himself. In his youth he occasionally fell into excess as fearlessness crossed the road and became hotheadedness. Nowadays he falters only when he loses confidence. Mostly he ploughs on, ears open, jaw set.
Nor did the supposedly narrow youngster from the harder suburbs of Launceston limit himself to cricket in that first conversation. To the contrary, he also talked about his trip to South Africa and observed that black people were not treated well, a point that had eluded several Australian Prime Ministers, the MCC, the BBC and, at one stage, the entire English selection committee. Here was an early indication that Ponting was a brighter spark than had been supposed.
Not that the youthful Ponting neglected the ways of the local lads. He has never been a fellow for airs and graces. Punting, grog and other popular pastimes were an attractive part of daily life in those formative years. Schoolwork, yoga, watercress, lime juice and prunes had rather less appeal.
Hopefully latter-day refinement has not totally closed the door upon raw entertainment. Although his approach at the crease has mellowed, he plays the same strokes. It's just that his shot selection has improved.
Somewhere along the way, he had the sense to realise that ambition without application is a doormat without a door. Others may remain in the wistfulness of eternal youth. Wanting to lead, he decided to grow. Nor was it merely a matter of polish. Certainly his years from 16-26 were more harem scarem than even convention decrees. Presently he realised, as so many have done before him, that the time had come to settle down whereupon his earliest self re-emerged.
Perhaps the time has come to accept him as a mighty sportsman and as a proven leader. He may well score more runs than anyone else in Test cricket and in challenging times has captained his side with considerable success. Perhaps he knows a thing or two. At 16 he knew that Tasmania had to attack and that racism was wrong. No one told him these things. He worked it out for himself.
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