So this is how it ends for Ricky. I had truly hoped it wouldn’t happen this way. He was never my favourite player in the world, but he is still Ricky Ponting, bona fide legend, one of the best there’s ever been with a bat and in the field. One day, even his hairy arms and that constant disconcerting hand-spitting will be discussed with respectful awe, in the tone used to discuss those chosen, near-mythical few, because he is a legend and there’s probably not a cricket fan in their right mind who would seriously attempt to dispute it.
Today, though, seated behind a table with flashes going off left and right in his face, he looked almost painfully human. Ricky is not a small man. He’s still in the shape that befits an elite sportsman, and he remained entirely composed, not visibly distraught, not stricken or anguished. But he looked, even if only infinitesimally, diminished, because there was no way to escape the fact that he was there not to announce a decision of his own choosing, that he was there because the axe had been dropped and everything about Ricky that makes him legendary wasn’t enough to stop it. He was there because he had not seen the writing on the wall, had not taken the many chances tacitly offered to him to accede to the inevitable on his own terms. Dignified as he was, he was there to talk about the fact that someone had been forced to finally tell him what they’d been hoping he’d figure out for himself but didn’t, and with such a thing comes stinging humiliation no matter how you try to slice it.
I started watching cricket properly late in life. In 2005 I still didn’t know too much about things, but I knew enough to quake slightly for England when Steve Harmison’s bouncer smacked into the side of Ricky’s head on Day 1 at Lords and sliced open his face. It was as reflexive as when, in the split second after you see someone tread on a cat’s tail, you know with complete certainty that bloody retribution will follow. It’s the natural law of things. In 2005, I didn’t have to formulate a conscious thought to know for sure – for SURE, beyond a shadow of a doubt – that cutting Ricky Ponting’s face open would result in truly terrible vengeance, so much so that I didn’t even have to particularly like England to wince at the thought of the ravaging that awaited them.
That Ricky seems a distant, dim memory now. Even though Ricky will still play Tests, even though I have no doubt that he will still continue to prove his immense worth there, he’s not the same Ricky.
He’s never been a favourite. I’ve never even really liked the man. But that still makes me sad.