Ricky Ponting allowed himself one final luxury as he was walking off the ground – he turned around, raised his arms to crowd and for a second he stood still… soaking in the atmosphere, relishing it, letting it wash over him even as the photographers went into a frenzy. Then he walked away into the dressing room, with a TV camera and a security guard for company.
It was done. It was over... just as it was for Rahul Dravid, VVS Laxman, Andrew Strauss, Mark Boucher, Brett Lee and Tatenda Taibu. Over.
In a sense, it’s been a bad year for cricket – many known faces have slipped away from the field – some forced by bad form, others because of injury and then the odd one (Taibu), to serve God.
But their careers lasted years and you might not be feeling it right now but sooner rather than later, you will feel the loss as well. Ponting’s career lasted 17 years, Dravid and VVS were around for 16. Boucher had an up and down career but he lasted 15 years in international cricket. Brett Lee was around for 13 years. Even Taibu, who is the youngest Test captain in history, hung around for 11 years. Andrew Strauss, the second most successful England skipper ever, played for eight years before calling it quits.
And now they are all gone. They won’t fade away – the media simply doesn’t allow them to – but they will be sorely missed. Here’s what we’ll miss most about them:
Ricky Ponting: His pull shot was a thing of beauty but it was his fighting spirit that will be missed even more. He was a man who, in a sense, did not know defeat. He was the only player to be involved in 100 Test victories – 108 to be precise- out of 168 he played.
“Australianism,” John Arlott once wrote, “means single-minded determination to win - to win within the laws but, if necessary, to the last limit within them. It means where the 'impossible' is within the realm of what the human body can do, there are Australians who believe that they can do it - and who have succeeded often enough to make us wonder if anything is impossible to them. It means they have never lost a match - particularly a Test match - until the last run is scored or their last wicket down.”
Australianism defined Ponting. That’s what made him so special. So Australian.
Rahul Dravid: He’s doing a pretty good job in the commentary box but we’d rather have him on the cricket field. His inside-out drives were pure gold but it was his doughty defence that earned him his fame. However, his ability to adapt was often forgotten. He was pretty one-dimensional when he started off but towards the end, he was a completely different player. For most players, change comes about as a matter of course – with Dravid, it was all planned. They called him the Wall but talking to him wasn’t like banging your head against the wall. He always had a lot to say – sensible stuff too. He was perhaps the first Indian skipper to say: “There’s more to life than cricket.” Not many in India may agree but it’s true.
VVS Laxman: The Karnatic music ringing in his ears, the genial smile and a determination to help his side work it’s way out of a tough situation. Most remember the clip off the legs, the magical wrists but perhaps the most special touch was the timing. He could be brutal but we only saw evidence of that side once… during his maiden Test ton -- the 167 off 198 balls against Australia at Sydney in 2000. It was then that he completely snapped. The rest of his career though was one smooth, well-timed ride. He was often under pressure, almost inexplicably, and fitness was an issue too. But through it all – you always knew that when the going got tough, VVS would stride out and take India to victory with perfect timing.
Mark Boucher: He was built like an ox and for injury to end his career was most unfortunate. His international career ended on 999 dismissals – he was often overshadowed by Adam Gilchrist in the best wicket-keeper stakes but when it came to pure ‘keeping’ perhaps Boucher was better. People talk about his competitiveness and aggression but it is perhaps his work ethic that set him apart. He may not have got the send-off that he deserved but rest assured his records are set to stay for a long, long time. Our favourite Boucher moment though has to be this: Click here to check it out.
Brett Lee: He sometimes came across as a teenage rock star. Handsome, young, member of a band and with a huge female fan following. But surely none of the batsmen facing up to him were even remotely thinking down that lane. He was quick and he didn’t mind hitting the batsman. But the thing that stood out was his run-up – a gentle start that culminated in an all-out sprint with his hair streaming back. At his best, he was a sight that instilled fear in many batsmen. However, injuries took their toll, he had six operations of the ankle alone. Still the sight of him running in to unleash another thunderbolt will be sorely missed.
Andrew Strauss: He wasn’t the prettiest batsman around and didn’t ever do something completely outrageous. As a batsman he was good, never great. And in the eyes of many, his greatest feat was taking England to the top of the world rankings. But perhaps his ability to always put the team before self should count more. His retirement was typically pragmatic: “For me the driver to it all quite frankly was my form with the bat. In truth, I haven't batted well enough for a long time now. I think I have run my race.”
Tatenda Taibu: With Taibu, one remembers his youth. He achieved so much as a youngster that the rest of his career seemed almost inconsequential. He made his first-class debut when he was 16, played for Zimbabwe when he was 18 and by the time he was 21, he was made skipper. But then perhaps his best years also coincided with Zimbabwe’s falling out with the cricket world at large. In the end, though, he left before he found a higher calling. Our memory of him has to be his acrobatic saves behind the wickets.
The year isn't through yet but one hopes there's aren't too many additions to this list.