Since Kolkata 2001, the rivalry between India and Australia has arguably been the marquee contest in Test cricket for Indian fans. India playing Pakistan might elicit a more visceral reaction, but India vs Australia all but guaranteed a closely fought, intense series with good cricket from both sides.
Over the course of that decade (give or take a year), Ricky Ponting has been the one batsman India most wanted to see walking back to the pavilion. Who can forget his masterful 257 at the MCG in 2003 in response to Virender Sehwag’s audacious 195 with Australia already trailing 1-0 in the series? Or the 221 in Adelaide earlier this year, when so many were saying he had passed his sell-by date?
Ponting’s overall statistics against India appear to reflect his dominance: an average of 54.36 with eight centuries from 29 Tests. Dig a little deeper though, and a vast fracture appears. Ponting crushed India in Australia, averaging 86.04 from 15 Tests with seven centuries. In India, however, it was a completely different story. He averaged just 26.48 from 14 Tests, with a solitary century to show for it. Australia may have come, seen and conquered Steve Waugh’s final frontier (winning the series 2-1 in 2004), but Ponting the batsman never did.
For someone who was a very good player of spin, Ponting’s failing against India are hard to explain. His nadir came in 2001, when he managed just 17 runs from five innings, but across the span of his career it wasn’t much better. Ponting made 18 scores of less than 20 from 25 innings. In other words, he failed to go past 20 in a staggering 72% of his innings. Even more striking is that 10 of those scores were single digits. India’s bowlers got him out early and often.
In particular, Ponting has struggled against Harbhajan Singh, who famously dismissed him in all five innings in 2001, and then against Ishant Sharma in 2008. It is rare to find a great player with such a large gulf home and way against the same team. By way of comparison, Sachin Tendulkar averages 62.65 against Australia in India and 53.20 in Australia.
Making it all the more baffling is that Ponting’s record against Sri Lanka, while not quite matching his career average, is substantially better. He averaged 44.23 from eight Tests and though he made just one century, he had two scores in the 90s as well. Even in 2008, when Ponting began with 123 in Bangalore, he was unable to sustain that form, with 87 in the fourth Test being his only other score over 24 from five innings. It was only in his final series in 2010 that Ponting resembled the batsman he can be, averaging 56 with three half-centuries in two Tests.
For a player generally regarded as one of the finest of his generation and one of the best Australian batsmen ever, his record in India represents a gaping hole in his resume and one that, in a quiet moment every now and then, Ponting will wish were different.