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Punter should stay, and we should let him

Ricky Ponting apologised to the media yesterday. Yep, you read it right. After a relationship with the press that has varied over the years from glowing reverence to outright damnation, Punter apologised to the assembled throng at the SCG.

“I’m sorry,” the 375 game one-day international veteran said. “I think I might have let a lot of you people down.”

He knew it, and as I sat among the throng, I knew it too. The vast majority in that room wanted to hear one word. Retirement, simply for the headlines it creates.

Ponting didn’t utter the phrase, and nor should he. Despite the loud and prolonged calls for his head, Ponting did just as he should have done at this press conference – he cleared a few things up.

“No, I’m not retiring. Why would I? I love the game. No, I don’t expect to play one day games for Australia again. Yes, I will bat on in Tests. Yes, I think I can still dominate bowling attacks.”

“I still believe I’ve got a lot to offer any team I’m a part of,” he said. “I still have what it takes to be a dominant player.”

That once great champions fade in their talents is a natural part of elite sport. The problem is not with their decline but with our reaction to it.

The fact is that based on recent form, Ponting is one of the best batsmen we’ve got. He had a lean run, and he can’t hit that hook shot like he used to, but he dominated against India, averaging 108 and finishing with a double ton.

Sure, India was hopeless. But it’s not India Ponting is batting against these days. It’s his detractors, and the other Aussie batsmen they compare him to.

I like the guts the selectors showed in dropping Ponting from the limited overs side. I like that he didn’t know about it until it happened. That’s the power they wield, and the way they should wield it. Nobody should be safe.

If you have a bad run, you get the phone call. But, just because you are on the wrong side of 35, why should you then announce your retirement? Get in there, work hard and try to make your way back. Why not?

It’s not just retirement from the one day side that was sought. Many have suggested that he should retire from all forms of the game. After his recent efforts, that is a ridiculous notion.

Cricket Australia CEO James Sutherland said Ponting would be a walk up start in the Caribbean, and so he should be. If he does well there, he should remain in the side until his form warrants a demotion.

It was mooted today, and has been before, that Ponting’s natural instincts as a fighter have seen him hang around, rather that play a farewell game while bowing out gracefully like so many in recent times.

Ponting was never going to do that, and we should applaud him for it. It’s very easy to stand on the boundary rope and call for someone to stand aside.

But Ponting is doing what he loves – winning. He was asked what the ‘carrot’ was – that big achievement he was chasing. “None,” he said. ‘It’s just my love for the game.”

The fact that he is strong enough to resist the weight of public opinion based on the ruminations of the press only speaks of the strength of his personality.

He will play on, and when he is no longer in the top six batsmen in the country, he will be dropped. That’s not a failure to step aside on Punter’s part – that’s how a professional career should be.

Until then, we should support him.

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