You have your youth as long as you can hold onto it, unless you are one of those types who were born 32 years old. For the rest of us we cling onto objects and icons to stay young. The two that always stood out for me were Ricky Ponting and Natalie Portman.
Ponting started his test career when I was 16. He was the young pup way before there was even a pup.
I followed his career through dodgy LBWs at the WACA, scratchy knocks at number three, not wearing a helmet to face Curtly, a fight with a fence at Sydney, a fight with someone else in Sydney, a dropping from the team, that terrible goatee, getting wickets with gentle outswing, the face of Milk in Tasmania, the centuries coming in, vice captaincy, bhajji, runs, world cup finals, grumpiness, backing his team, captaincy, bad captaincy, over rate problems, losing an ashes, winning more world cups, more runs, more bad captaincy, losing faith in spin, losing another ashes, losing the number one spot, winning a pointless trophy, losing cricket matches to every one, and losing the Ashes again. I saw the best and worst of him.
Ponting and I have a few similarities, leaving school early, flirting with the idea of becoming groundsmen, quick to anger, hugely defensive when criticized and painfully working class upbringings. Even with this we’re probably nothing alike, and I doubt we’d ever be friends, but there is some sort of link there from me watching him for half my life.
As a batsman he was one of the best I have seen, or will ever see. When he was in control of his game, he was in control of the test match. He didn’t bat for time or records, he batted for his team, and there are few champion batsmen like that.
As a captain he got better as his team got worse. When he started he was a confused man with a lot of help from others, then he learnt how to trust himself and became a modern test captain with little flair, trust in his bowlers or need to attack.
On the last day of the boxing day test he walked off the ground to the foo fighters singing “there goes my hero”. At the time the song was being played for the English team as they sprinkled their way around the ground to bathe in the glory that Ponting has not seen for a long time.
The song wasn’t for Ponting, he probably didn’t even here it being played, but for so many fans of Australian cricket you couldn’t have picked a better song. Ponting will always have something that Michael Clarke, or any of the next generations of captains, won’t have. Aussie cricket fans felt like he was one of them. Even if they didn’t like what he said or did, they had that same bond with Ponting that I felt. For so many they felt an instant connection with them that never left.
When he played the worst shot I’ve seen from him the day before, I felt sick, not bullshit sick, but really ill. My stomach tore up, I got a headache, and wished I was somewhere else. I thought that was the last time I’d see him bat in a test match.
For years I have abused him for his captaincy, boy’s club, misuse of bowlers, and the bubble he lives in. I’ve called him the hairy armed troll, doubted that he wanted to win as much as he said he did, and got angry with so much of what he had to say. As a captain, I could never get completely behind him, so I wouldn’t miss that.
It was as a batsman I’d miss him. From the first ball I saw him face I’ve always treasured watching him bat. His batting is Australia to me. Not Australian cricket, but all of Australia. You couldn’t see Ponting bat and think he was from anywhere else. His batting says more about Australia than the national anthem or Australia day. It is my Australia.
There will be those who pick Trumper, Ponsford, Harvey, Bradman, Border or Waugh, but for better or worse, Ponting is mine. We picked each other. He was my Australia, the best and worst of it. The Australia I love and despise.
At about the same time Ponting did a dirty drag on, Natalie Portman’s pregnancy was tweeted around the globe.
Portman and Ponting really came into my life at about the same time. In many ways I wanted to be with one and wanted to be the other. Those days are long gone.
Portman’s pregnancy didn’t really affect me at all. Ponting’s bad shot and exit from the G hurt me. This was my ground, and I felt like a part of me was leaving it for the last time.
Ponting might be back in test cricket, he could even play again at the G a few more times. He is someone who I’d never write off, but the best of him is gone. I felt older when he went out than I ever have in my life. The Ponting I grew up with doesn’t exist.