If Don Bradman was known as the Boy from Bowral, Ricky Ponting has bestowed similar honour upon Launceston.
Australia’s World Cup-winning captain, who will take over the Test mantle from Steve Waugh, no more lives in the Tasmanian city but his roots are firm and strong.
Parents Graeme and Lorraine are still around while memories of his childhood have not diminished with time and a heap of international runs among his mates at Mowbray Cricket Club.
Ponting was fortunate to have a host of seniors who guided him through the club ranks before he went to the Australian Cricket Academy where he emerged as a finished product.
The 29-year-old maverick would have not gone the distance on the international road had it not been for the then Rod Marsh-headed academy.
But the Mowbray mob played their part. Early inspiration came in the form of uncle Greg Campbell, who bowled fast for Australia in the late 1980s. David Boon was the shining light and showed what a strong sense of conviction can do to the success of a small town cricketer.
Boon went on to play 107 Tests for Australia and inspired the next generation of Tasmanians. “What Ricky has done for Tasmanian cricket is just fantastic and he has done well for himself as batsman and captain,” said Boon, who as national selector played a role in appointing Ponting as Steve Waugh’s successor.
Tasmanians are not the most intense of people. Cricket writer Mark Ray who played for Tasmania during Ponting’s formative years said the young gun learnt fast from the past master.
Boonie knew he was good enough and did everything possible he could to make it. He did not let the general easiness get in the way. I think Ricky learnt from that,” Ray said.
The locals may be a touch laid back but at Mowbray, cricket was serious business. There was a competitive edge. Stan Reid, who owns a butcher shop and coach Ian Young is believed to have got him a Kookaburra bat contract – the youngest in Australia to earn one. Mick Sellers gave Ponting one of his first bats and now goes fishing with him whenever the demanding international schedule allows him to let his hair down. “Ricky broke his bat during a club game and I gave him my Gray Nicolls which I got off Boonie," recalled Sellers.
Coach Brad Jones talked about the under-13 tournament during the Cricket Week when Ponting was 11. “He scored five hundreds in that tournament. Ricky’s father Graeme kept telling me ‘bring him off, bring him off’ because the other kids would then get a chance to bat,” recalled Jones.
Organisers of Cricket Week then changed the rules. A batsman would have to retire once he scored 50. “Ricky had the potential but ability alone cannot take you far.
You have to do the hard yards and Ricky did it," said Jones.
Peter Faulkner, who went on an Australia rebel tour to South Africa in the mid-1980s, remembered the poor umpiring decisions that the tyro had to put up with. “I remember him getting out through some pretty ordinary decisions. I never really saw him make big runs because I was busy playing state cricket. But his class was there to see,” said Faulkner.
Ponting’s stint at the academy refined him. It did not take long for his talent to be noticed there. “Ricky had the advantage of going to the academy when he was 15 or 16. It took Marsh and Ian Chappell four to five balls to look at each other and say, ‘bloody hell, this bloke can play’,” said Ray.
Richard Soule, another Mowbray senior, saw the benefits of Ponting’s academy stint straightaway “He looked a totally different player.
He has always been an aggressive player, but would make 20 or 30 and do something silly. He was taught to bat for long periods of time at the academy,” Soule said.
Tasmania rejoiced in Ponting’s success and his selection for Australia in Perth against Sri Lanka in 1995-96. “When we produce a Test cricketer, we produce a very good one. Boon was our Test player before and now there is Ricky. To produce two world-class players like that makes us proud,” said Soule.
Ponting has emerged as one of the best fielders in international cricket but he showed glimpses of his class at Mowbray. “I remember a player called Richard Bennett dismissed through a one-handed catch with Ricky diving full length at cover point. It was one of the catches I have ever seen,” said Soule. “When he dropped VVS Laxman in the Adelaide Test recently was the first time I saw him drop a slip catch.”
Faulkner felt that Ponting’s century in the World Cup final against India (in 2003) did not get the accolades it deserved. It was the most amazing innings I have ever seen. If it would have been someone from another state, they would still be writing about it.”
But when you consider how Ponting has helped write a glorious chapter in Tasmania cricket, even the World Cup final hundred would pale into insignificance.
Meet Ricky’s proud parents
In 1995, Graeme and Lorraine Ponting went to Perth to watch son Ricky make his Test debut for Australia. Ponting was all set to get a hundred on first appearance when Chaminda Vaas trapped him leg before wicket for 96.
Eight years later their son was good enough not to miss out on the greatest honour an Australian cricketer could ask for — to be appointed as Test captain.
Lorraine experienced her proudest moment when Ricky was appointed as Steve Waugh’s successor (in 2003).
“Leading Australia in Test cricket is the biggest thing that can happen to a cricketer. That is why it is number one
on my list,” she said.
She recalled the disappointment of Ricky getting out for 96 and admitted to feeling “very bad.” For Graeme, it was a proud moment in any case. “He took us over to Perth to watch that it was a proud moment for us all. Yes, it was heartbreaking not to get a hundred but never mind.
“I thought he would have had a long future in the game but a couple of bad scores and he could get dropped. Cricket is like that — one day a champ; next day a mug.”
According to the parents, Ricky was a quiet boy at home unlike the extrovert he is now. Is it difficult being Ponting’s mother, Lorraine was asked. “Sort of, yes. But I think he has put in the hard work and done it all. People say you are the champion mum and I say no he’s the champion, not me.”
For Graeme, the hardest part of being his father is dealing with the media. “I get very nervous when I have to talk to reporters,” he said. Ricky does not live with them anymore and has chosen to stay in NSW. “His wife was doing a law degree there and it was more central for Ricky when he was named captain of the one-day side.” The parents have not opted for an early retirement despite their son being an international celebrity. Lorraine works at a hospital as a kitchen hand while Graeme looks after a college ground in Launceston.