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Book Review: At The Close Of Play

Sunday, 2 February 2014 - 7:21am IST | Place: Mumbai | Agency: DNA
Ricky Ponting’s autobiography is a no-holds-barred look at what made the Punter, finds Rutvick Mehta

Book: At The Close Of Play
Author: Ricky Ponting
Publisher: Harper Collins
Pages: 720
Price: Rs599

Date: January 5, 2007. Venue: Sydney Cricket Ground. Occasion: Retirements of Glenn McGrath, Shane Warne and Justin Langer after Australia achieved an Ashes whitewash.

A person walks up to Ricky Ponting and says, “Mowbray boys aren’t supposed to cry, are they?”

“I think most tough guys cry, mate,” came the reply.

Ponting — or Punter, as he is fondly called — was a cricketer who loved to be hated. He was labelled by many as arrogant, a brat and the leader of the ‘Ugly Australians’.

In his autobiography, At The Close Of Play, Punter goes deep into explaining why a part of this labelling was right and part of it was misconceptions. He has written about having two distinct personalities within him — one as a cricketer and the other as a normal person. He does this in his own inevitable Ponting style — undiplomatic and in your face. It is what makes this book worth reading, especially if you were/are a fan of Ponting, and the Australian team that ruthlessly dominated world cricket for around a decade.

Ponting provides a fascinating insight into the reason for the greatness of that team and how it wasn’t just due to their excellence on the field, but also the sheer respect and camaraderie among the players off it. There are some juicy dressing room moments between his team-mates.

The 600-page book can be read quickly for Ponting keeps it simple in terms of diction. He also divides the various talking points quite smartly, knowing which events to devote more ink to as compared to the rest.

At The...begins with the end of Ponting’s career and his thoughts after finishing a journey he thought would never end. It goes on to describe how Ponting became the cricketer that he was and how much of it was because of where he came from — a small town Launceston in Tasmania. His aggressive instinct was formed in his early days while playing with his club-mates in Mowbray Eagles, who strongly believed in playing hard but fair. “Part of that equation meant if something wasn’t fair, you’d go hard,” he writes.

In most parts of the book thereafter, Ponting talks about his experience playing for Australia across generations, and his transformation from being the youngest bloke in the team to the oldest, from being a teen who had numerous off-field issues (who can forget the picture of a young Ponting with a black spot under his eye after a drunk night out) to being the leader of one of the greatest Australian cricket teams.

The writing is supplemented by some memorable photographs, right from a six-and-a-half month old baby Ponting to his final moments on the cricket field.

Ponting gives a lot of credit for his off-field change in behaviour to his wife Rianna. The parts where he talks about his family, and shares a couple of emotional incidents of his charity work for cancer kids provides a welcome respite from all the cricket talk.

But probably the most intriguing points in the book come when he talks about ‘the real stuff’— the controversies. Heading this list is  an episode Indians are familiar with — Monkeygate, which Ponting describes as the ‘biggest challenge of his captaincy’. It’s no wonder that he dedicates an entire chapter to it.

More than Harbhajan Singh, Sachin Tendulkar or Anil Kumble — the Indian protagonists of the event — Ponting reveals he was shattered by how his employers, Cricket Australia (CA), let him and the team down by preferring to compromise for an alleged racial slur against his team-mate in order to save the tour rather than the team’s reputation, and how he was still struggling to forget it. “As I pondered this result over the weeks and months that followed, I started to think that I needed to be more savvy about off field politics. Maybe the Indian cricket juggernaut of the 21st century is too influential to shake,” he writes.

As things stand now, maybe it is.

Ponting’s thoughts as his cricketing career ended reveal a lot about his state of mind. Right after Steve Waugh was sacked from ODI captaincy, Ponting said to himself, ‘they can’t get me like that’.

Thus, even though he felt ‘used’ being dropped from the ODI side just after he was asked to lead in Michael Clarke’s absence, he prided himself on going out on his own terms without being pushed — relinquishing captaincy after the 2011 World Cup, and his eventual retirement from cricket in December 2012 in Perth in front of his family and an emotional crowd.

After the dust had settled, Ponting discloses, he stopped and gave Rianna one of the biggest hugs of their lives. And as he did, he started sobbing. Probably only for the second time in his cricketing life.

In the end, may be what he said was true, most tough guys do cry.

A true testimony of Ponting’s greatness as a batsman and clarity of mind comes during the 2003 World Cup. A night before the final against India in which he scored a match-winning century, he wrote this in a paper: Watch the ball, Play straight, Loud calls, Be patient, Don’t overhit, Bat for a long time, Man of the match.

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