Confronting Mortality

As the side he had captained for nearly seven years was sliding to defeat against England in the 2010-11 Ashes series, Ricky Ponting was in an especially vulnerable position.

His team, once the best and most remorseless on the planet, was crumbling around him, and I felt that his own form was showing clear signs of the decline that eventually comes to all players as they age.

He was having to confront his cricketing mortality, and, like most great players, he had never had to do so before.

There are aspects of all our lives which we know we’re good at.  And there are things we think we’re good at, but which, in fact, we can’t do as well as we think we can.   And, eventually, our capabilities are changed and diminished by the vagaries of time, age and misfortune.

Ricky Ponting knows he’s a great batsman and has probably always fancied himself as a pretty good captain too.  He would be unlikely to admit that it was his good fortune to find himself in charge of a team which, at its best, could make anyone associated with it look good.  The innate psyche of a great sportsman will always be reluctant to admit to inadequacies and failures.  You don’t spend 152 Test matches breaking the best bowlers of your generation by having a clear sense of your own weaknesses.

Eventually, though, everyone has to confront their mortality.  In Ponting’s case, the runs have dried up, his team is a pale shadow of what it was and a permanent reputation as the man who lost three Ashes series is staring him in the face.

Bearing all that in mind, as well as the fact that he’s got a long list of previous convictions, it’s no wonder he gave Aleem Dar an extended piece of his mind earlier today.  This is not to excuse it.  He got off lightly, but this was a man simply raging against a dying of the light over which he has little control.

When Ponting turned his attention to Pietersen, the batsman’s face signified a mixture of astonishment and humour, but no real concern.  He knows that he will still be playing Test cricket long after Ponting has gone.

Different Shades of Green, 27th December 2010

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