Ricky

He would skip across the rope would Ricky, a spritely, cocky and confident skip, a skip that took him from Ricky the man to Ricky the captain, Ricky the cricketer, and often Ricky the saviour. It’s only a small piece of rope that separates the two Rickys but it must be that Ricky wishes it was as wide as the Amazon River so he can separate the cricketer from the person but the people won’t let one Ricky escape the other. The newspaper men and radio broadcasters will watch his every move. When he skips over the rope he carries the responsibility on the wave of the crowd’s roar.

And he would be swinging his bat with his Popeye forearms. It would swing high up behind him and come swishing forward as if he were hitting an imaginary ball across an imaginary field into an imaginary grand stand. But just as the bat came forward he would halt it. It would stop perfectly on the perpendicular right in front of his eyes, and he would have his head over the bat and have his left leg forward and slightly bent and he would be watching that imaginary ball. He would do this several times on his march into the middle; swish the bat back, bring it down quickly with such flourish, stop it in front of his eyes, left leg slightly bent and moving forward to greet the ball in his mind’s eye.

And he might lift his legs up behind him in a brief sprint like he was trying to kick each buttock in turn and then he might do a few squats at the crease and stand up and scratch at the batting crease like a rooster searching for seed. And he would wander down the pitch sweeping away the little demon particles that only a batsman can see in the grass and dirt that makes up the pitch surface. These batsmen see things in the pitches the same as a scientist sees things under a microscope. Then Ricky would look down the pitch at his batting partner at the other end and as they both did some gardening with their willows they might exchange a few words and we might see that cheeky grin on Ricky’s face, the smirk that starts on the right side of his face and works its way into the middle, the look that infuriates supporters from other countries, the grin that is mistaken for arrogance but really speaks of a love of life and enthusiasm for the battle.

He’s a nervous starter they would say, get him playing forward they would say, he plays at the ball too hard at the start of his innings, pitch it up and make him come at it. And they would be partly right because Ricky would come at it, he would come at it like a hungry crocodile lunges at the hapless wildebeest, he would be looking for the ball, looking for the fight, he would sometimes go too hard. And if he went too hard at the ball it might find the edge and the opposition would scream in jubilation because they would realize who they had conquered. But if he didn’t go too hard at the ball he would put his left foot down the itch and the ball would leave the bat and be caressed across the turf to the boundary. And the bowler would try again and Ricky might simply lean on his bat and the ball would rocket past the bowler’s feet like a startled rat being pursued by a tomcat and it would hit the rope at mid-off before the bowler could turn around to assess the damage. Then the bowler might try a shorter ball. It would come at Ricky then slightly leave him outside his off stump so he would lean back like Steve Waugh at his best, only better, and off his back foot he would punch the ball through point or even through the covers if the fancy took him and it would rattle the fence making a racket like an empty tin can that’s been kicked down a flight of concrete stairs.

And the commentators would still be encouraging the bowler to keep the ball up because Ricky is a nervous starter and can come at the ball a bit hard at the beginning of his innings, but another commentator would indicate that Ricky is already on 35 runs and the start of his innings is now somewhere behind him and it would all have happened in the blink of an eye. He accumulates runs like Russian oil barons accumulate roubles does Ricky.

So the bowler would have no alternative but to aim at his heart. It would be the ball to bring him down, it would make him jump and lurch and lose poise and balance – at least that was the plan. So the fast bowlers would bowl at Ricky, they aimed at his heart, and they aimed to bring him down. But if Ricky was anywhere near his best he would lean forward as the bowler approached waiting for the contest, then quick as a flash he would see the leather ball hit the pitch half way down and with the speed of a cornered cat he would put his weight back onto the right foot. It would be anchored into the ground with a built-in swivel mechanism but still be on the turf as light as a duck’s feather on a summer lake, and as the ball reached him he would indeed swivel, a swivel like Mikhail Baryshnikov in full flight bursting with strength and purpose, balance and intent, a complete example of cricketing beauty and skill. And as he swiveled on his right leg his left leg would bend and lift like a counter balance and it would see the ball dispatched. There was and never will be a more delightful shot played in the cricket arenas of the world. And the ball would leave the swivel like it was meant to and make it’s way to the fence with such force and authority that it often pierced a gap between fieldsmen no  more than twenty metres apart. And as another empty tin can tumbled down another concrete staircase Ricky would be picking his way up the pitch like the rooster again, prodding at the surface, ridding himself of the particles of doubt that a younger man can keep subdued but an older man knows so well he can call by name.  He would chat with his batting partner and grin and shuffle his pads and adjust his gloves and return to the crease ready to come at the ball again.

This is the Ricky I want to remember, not the other one.

About Damian O'Donnell

OK - which is the odd one out: Love the Cats and flannelette shirts, especially in winter. I get on extremely well with red wine. We just seem to hit it off. Love horse racing in Spring. Used to love cricket. Go to Stawell every Easter and contemplate life around the fire. Love water skiing, especially in summer. Love a great oil painting. Will read most things put in front of me. Thought 'The Sorpranos' was the best TV show ever made - by miles. Run an accounting practice in Melbourne's suburbs.

Comments

  1. Growing old is a bugger. You can’t be criticised for growing old. How you handle it all is an issue; what you have learnt along the way is too.

    I like how that swivel pull remains. That one he took from the off bail in the Melbourne Test was a beauty, but proved far less ominous than it first appeared.

    Not sure what will happen from here? I’d say discussions over the past couple of days have been intense. I still like the bat-at-five option.

  2. Phil Dimitriadis says:

    Great work Dips, like the Russian analogies. The sad thing is that if you isolate some of Punters shots in the series, it would seem like he was in command of the bowling.

    The weight of age, an ordinary team and an entire generation unfamiliar with losing the Ashes at home,has taken its toll.

  3. Dips,
    Ponting has been one of my favorites for longer than I care to remember.
    I reckon he will not bat at 3 again. I just hope that stubborn streak of his
    does not blind him to the options available: dropping down the order, or
    pulling the pin gracefully.
    For it is always a shame to see once-great sportsmen continue on past their
    use-by date.

  4. Pamela Sherpa says:

    Lovely reading Dips. Like all of us, I’m sure Ricky will look back and reflect on the good times more than the not so good ones.

  5. oh Ricky you’re so fine, you’re so fine you blow my mind, hey Ricky! :P

  6. Lovely article dips – he still has a place in the Australian cricket team at # 5/6 and nobody would be surprised if he made a big ton in Sydney…..regardless of my personal opinions on cricket and Ponting, I hope that he goes out with a big score whether that’s in Sydney or not…however, its comes to mind that there are so many sporting relationships that come to an ugly/sad/disappointing end…think Richo, Andrew McLeod, Gazza, Symonds etc

  7. Mulcaster says:

    Sorry folks …Ricky is not the issue, he is gone and may his questionable captaincy be forgiven. However, we are now in the world of Michael Clarke who is living proof that you don’t need a long neck to be a goose. All he needs is a Justin Bieber hair cut to prove his utter uselessness. In one sense the worst thing that could happen would be for Pup to score a big hundred and lead Australia to victory in Sydney. We would then be stuck with him. Not even hard liquor will relieve this horrible Hobson’s choice….victory and more of the same or defeat.

  8. Peter Flynn says:

    Dips,

    Superb.

    I saw Ponting’s first ton at Leeds.

    What I remember are on-drives and pulls.

    The same can be said for the guy at the other end (M Elliott).

  9. I reckon the writing was on the wall for Ricky before the Ashes, but the final sign for me was watching one of his beautiful off drives NOT make the rope. As it left the bat at the MCG the commentator on the ABC (might have been Jim Maxwell) said “…and Ponting hits it beautifully for four.” Then moments later said somewhat amazed “I don’t think its going to make the rope.” His timing and eye are gone. Batting at 5 woud be a good option.

    JTH – you’re quite right, no one can be blamed for getting old. Its always sad to watch though.

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