Ricky Ponting counts arguably as the most successful cricketer of all time if number of wins is the main criterion. He was a part of 108 Test victories and 262 wins in one-day internationals. Lucky? Well, seeing as he ended his career with 13,378 runs in Tests and 13,704 runs in ODIs, not really. Far from it, in fact.
Ponting, who was one of three outstanding players to be inducted into the ICC Cricket Hall of Fame over the last weekend along with India’s Rahul Dravid and England Women’s Claire Taylor. He also won three ICC Cricket World Cups, an outstanding achievement. In two of them – 2003 and 2007 – he was the captain of the team as well.
Taking his mind back to the first of the hat-trick of wins, in 1999, Ponting, then not yet 25, recalls the contribution of Shane Warne, the leg-spin legend. Warne ended the tournament with 20 wickets at an economy rate of 3.82. In the memorable semi-final against South Africa, he returned 4/29, followed by 4/33 in the final as Pakistan were shot out for 132.
“To be part of the first World Cup win was an unbelievable moment,” Ponting told ICC 360. “I was quite a young bloke at that stage and I batted at No.3 throughout the tournament, which gave me a little bit of extra responsibility as well.
“I think what I remember most about that tournament is how Shane Warne finished off in the back half, leading in the semi-final tied game against South Africa and even the way he bowled against Pakistan in the final at Lord’s. He bowled like a man who just owned that sort of stage. He wanted to be there, he wanted to be on the big stage, he wanted to be the leader of the attack, as he was, our No.1 spinner.
“With Glenn McGrath at the other end we had a formidable team, but for everything to come together the way it did, yeah. And like most Australian teams have done, I think, through those big tournaments, (we) just managed to play our best cricket when it mattered most. The World Cup final in 1999 was exceptional.”
It was Australia’s second World Cup win, after Allan Border’s team had won the 1987 edition. They had reached the final in 1996 too, but winning the trophy after a gap made it that much more special for a fantastic bunch of cricketers.
“Being up on the balcony, all of us together, I think Warnie and Steve Waugh holding the trophy, I think there’s me with my little head underneath the trophy … that moment there, with a lot of crowd down on the ground, it was pretty amazing,” Ponting recalled.
“And you think about some of the things that happened in the change rooms immediately after that, and the last piece of the puzzle from the celebrations from that night was me being on Tom Moody’s shoulders in the middle of Lord’s singing the team song with the World Cup on the ground. And Tom still blames me even now about ending his career, because he reckons I hurt his back that night. But I was literally on his shoulders in the middle of Lord’s belting out the Australian team song. So, yeah, pretty special day.”
By 2003, Steve Waugh, who was in the team in 1987 and then the captain in 1999, was gone, and Ponting was in charge. And the Australians were set back by Warne being withdrawn after failing a drugs test.
“I was only a young captain going into my first World Cup. Two players that were singled out as being standouts going into that World Cup for us were Jason Gillespie and Shane Warne. Warnie missed the entire tournament with a positive drug test, and Jason Gillespie I think might have played one game [he played four] and then he was ruled out with an Achilles injury,” Ponting said.
“So the two trump cards that we had going in that the other teams didn’t have were all of a sudden taken away, and it presented opportunities to guys like Andy Bichel and Andrew Symonds, and those guys, who we wanted on the tour and obviously deserved their places on the tour. But we honestly felt that if we had our best team they wouldn’t get much of an opportunity.
“But it’s guys like them that stood up. Symonds made an unbelievable hundred in the first game against Pakistan at the Wanderers – I think 139 [143*]. Bichel played his role at different times as well, and there we were, about six weeks later once again standing on the stage, holding up a World Cup. Once again, with everything coming together, as we would have wanted in the biggest game, in that final. Batting first and making 359 or 360 [359/2]; it was always going to be a pretty formidable total for the Indians to chase. To go through that like we did, we had our ups and downs, but whenever we found ourselves in trouble in any game, we just had someone put up his hand and get us out of it pretty quickly. So that was a great sign of a very, very good cricket team.”
It certainly was a great team by then, with perhaps the best collection of cricketers Australia have had in the modern era.
But then it only got better, when a slightly ageing team went to the Caribbean to defend their title in 2007.
“We’d been to New Zealand just before that tournament and lost 3-0 to New Zealand in New Zealand on our way to the World Cup. We had rested maybe five or six players, I wasn’t on the tour, (Adam) Gilchrist wasn’t there, (Matthew) Hayden was there actually, (but a) few of the senior guys weren’t on the tour,” remembered Ponting.
“But I remember arriving in the Caribbean and sitting for my first press conference in front of a hundred journos, and everyone said we can’t win. The team’s too old. McGrath’s past his best, Gilchrist’s getting there, Hayden’s past his best as well, and the hairs in the back of my neck sort of stood up a little bit. And I said, ‘Well, all you guys sitting here, come back and see me in six weeks and ask the same questions again and we’ll see what the answer is’.
“I made the boys aware of what the general feeling was about our team going into that tournament, and as they say, we were untouchable again. It was a pretty clinical display for a very well-skilled, highly-talented, but more importantly, very hungry cricket players that wanted to prove the world wrong.”
They certainly did, with another demolition job that ended with a win over Sri Lanka in Barbados in the final. Ponting had won it again, his third World Cup trophy, his second as captain.