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Ponting a down-to earth guy who was happiest at the crease

It was back in 1994, when Paul Hoffmann first bumped into the teenage Ricky Ponting, that the genial Australian-born pace bowler, who subsequently performed with distinction for the Scottish Saltires, recognised the perils of opponents granting the precocious run-gatherer any reprieves.

Ricky Ponting has been one of the greatest batsmen of his generation.
Ricky Ponting has been one of the greatest batsmen of his generation.

"If Ricky had a weakness, it was maybe in the way he started his innings, and I thought I had got rid of him early on when he nicked one to second slip," said Hoffmann, yesterday, reacting to the news that Ponting has decided to call time on his international career at the end of the Third Test against South Africa. "Well, you just couldn't do that with Ricky and he went on and scored a hundred and it was obvious that he was someone with a special talent."

Nobody can quibble with the Tasmanian's statistics – which boast 13,366 Test runs, another 13,704 on the ODI circuit, 71 centuries at the highest level, and three World Cups with the baggy-green brigade – but there were always those prepared to criticise his perceived grumpy demeanour, or lack of flexibility in the captaincy stakes. Yet, from Hoffmann's perspective, there hasn't been a better batsman on the global stage in the past two decades.

"I think he has been the best batsman of his generation, and I would rate him higher than [India's] Sachin Tendulkar, because he was better on seaming pitches and he was capable of adapting to any circumstances or conditions, as his career record shows," said Hoffmann, who recently lost his full-time job as groundsman at Uddingston CC and is facing trips to the Job Centre in search of new employment while striving to provide for his family.

"One of the terrific things about Ponting was his ability to seize matches by the scruff of the neck and those of us [in the Scotland ranks] at the 2007 World Cup [in the Caribbean] can remember how he piled on the runs against us. It was the calculated way he did it which was impressive: he would hit a 4 off the first or second ball of an over and then take a two here, a single there, and, suddenly, you looked up at the scoreboard and he was 45 not out when you might have guessed he had made around 20. He just made batting look easy when he was in his prime and that is always the sign of a truly great player."

In the end, the only rival Ponting couldn't dismantle was Father Time. As the years passed, his reflexes slowed down a fraction and, in recent seasons, one has grown accustomed to watching him perish with a mistimed hook or by chopping the ball on to his stumps. Nor was his reputation enhanced by being in charge of the Australian ensemble when they succumbed in three separate Ashes contests in the space of six years, even if Ponting could scarcely be blamed for the retirements of such stellar individuals as Shane Warne, Adam Gilchrist, Glenn McGrath, Matthew Hayden and Justin Langer.

Now, according to Hoffmann, it will be "Punter" who might prove nigh impossible to replace. "I think he has done the right thing by quitting, and not putting himself through another Ashes series [in 2013], but these are big shoes to fill and there is no sign so far of anybody stepping up to the plate," said Hoffmann. "The things he used to do in his sleep are getting him out and that tends to happen, once you get to 37 or 38. But he has been a superstar in the game.

"I spoke to him [during the rain-ruined tussle] at The Grange in 2005 and he came across as a nice guy, with a decent sense of humour, somebody who has done a lot for charity, but who didn't want to make a big song and dance about it. Basically, he is a down-to-earth guy, who was happiest at the crease."

As legacies go, it isn't a bad one.

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