Let me start off by saying that over the last decade, probably noone has abused you more than I have.
I was a young lad in Bahrain, still not knowing what a Hell-Volhard-Zelinsky reaction was, when I first read of your black eye. "Ha, what a little punk", I said to myself. "He'd better shape up, otherwise a good career could very well go to waste", I would say, before heading back to Lakhmir Singh and Manjit Kaur's treatises on biology for Class X.
We cheered the loudest when Harbhajan got you out in the 2001 series. Steve was always welcome to make centuries, of course. Adam Gilchrist was the wicketkeeper we all wanted to be. But you were the temperamental genius, the spoilt young kid from a land which we only identified with the Tasmanian Devil (the cartoon character, to be sure). We hated you. We loved getting you out and the fact that you were clueless on Indian soil and helped build the confidence of our second most important spinner ever.
Then, you started to make a lot of runs. You started making runs in bucketloads. We weren't too concerned. We had Saurav, Rahul, VVS and Sachin (in that order of importance) who made us a better team.
In the meantime, you suddenly became captain. We laughed. Border, Taylor, Waugh. Huge shoes. Respected all over the world. And they give the guy who was involved in a pub fight the captaincy? Good day, Australian domination!
And then, you had the sheer impudence to win. Again and again. Not just that, you had the audacity to make runs. More runs than Tendulkar! What, is that even ALLOWED in this BCCI-dominated era?
And then, your 100th Test. The form of your fucking little life. Two centuries. I remember that image, Ricky. You were in the air, pumping your fist. You were a dominator. It was clear.
Ricky Thomas Ponting was not just a flash in the pan or a supremely talented batsman. He was a legend. It was clear that he'd end the decade as the leading run scorer, by a mile.
Which, Ricky, you did.
Along the way, Australia became the most hated team in the world. Why was that, again? Was it because you 'cheated' in 2008 in Sydney? Perhaps. We Indian fans would like to mollify ourselves by saying that. But then again, we've been beneficiaries of many a poor decision ourselves, surely? And if Michael Clarke hadn't taken those three wickets in the last over, surely, Sydney would have been just a blip instead of S&M for Indian cricket fans? Yeah, you probably shouldn't have told the umpire that you had, indeed, caught the ball, after refusing to walk. That wasn't very nice.
But yeah, it's not like we haven't all sinned at some point of time in our lives. I'm willing to bet my 450 GB collection of pirated music on that.
The world amplified events like these. We loved hating you. Do you realise that the entire world celebrated Ashes 2005 and 2009? We weren't celebrating England winning - we don't care two hoots about them - we were celebrating you losing. Yes, we hated you.
I clearly remember 12 March 2006. The greatest ODI ever (all you '99 fanboys and your talk of even bat-and-ball contest, shut up). In my hostel, there were tears of joy. We were jumping up and down, crazy. Think about it, Ricky. A bunch of Mallu to-be engineers. Celebrating an Aussie loss in a faraway land. Note: Aussie loss, not a South African win. We hated you, boy, did we.
But then, that nasty thing happened to us. Well, atleast to me. Age. And with it, a questionable amount of maturity. It wasn't cool to diss music 'below' rock and metal anymore. We started worrying about our girth and started exercising. We quietly Googled how to invest in mutual funds.
And, most shockingly, we developed a sense of respect for you.
Yes. We did.
It had to be acknowledged. Some of us even said you were a better batsman than Sachin. Which in the noughties, you were.
You won three World Cups.
You captained your team to victory in two of them.
You didn't exactly cheat to get there. Sure, mental disintegration and all that, sure. But if a player can't take a few abuses, what's he doing in top-flight international cricket anyway? Right?
You don't get three winners' medals by not having a little bit of talent. Neither do you do it totally by subterfuge. We quietly, grudgingly, admired you and your team. We'd turn our screens away from public gaze and watch your innings on YouTube. Alongside making investments in mutual funds as our roomies ordered pizza.
Mind you, to appear cool, we'd still mock you and make fun of you. Which is why Pontingface is the revolution that it was. But heck, we don't make a Smithface or a Jayasuriyaface or a Flowerface, even though they're amazing players who've had excellent runs against India. We loved hating you. And your arrogant team.
We haters only remember the Ashes victory, but conveniently tend to brush under the carpet the 6-1 walloping you gave the Poms after that (only Test cricket is real cricket, no?)
But oh, Ricky, we all loved you. Secretly. When a team would rack up 400/2 on Day One, we'd say "YEAAAH! Play like the Australians... Errr... Ah.", ending in a self-realising stutter.
On Thursday, I think for the first time in my life, I felt a pang of pity for you. You were now leading a bunch of guys who couldn't hold a candle to the legends you were used to playing with, and still made something out of them. And as good as we Indians were, it was anything but a convincing victory and I'm still not convinced we're a World Cup deserving team. Neither were you, but like us, you were trying. You never gave up. Wotta catch, that Clarkie. Good talent, that. He could be the next you, Ricky. Amazing talent. Lots of it. Importantly, we all hate him. The 2010s could be his. Train him well. We already have a Clarkface, don't we?
You knew your time was up, during the presentation ceremony. Must have been hard. And I really felt sorry for you, mate. Really did. Here was a legend, being boo-ed by an obviously immature audience. Would Bradman have been boo-ed in England?
I can't bring myself to apologize for abusing you over the years.
But somehow, I don't think it makes an iota of difference to you.
A tweet someone put out yesterday summed it up perfectly. "All you buggers who're abusing Ponting are silently celebrating because you all have him in your fantasy team."
Thanks for all the entertainment over the years, Ricky. You're a fucking legend. You know it, the world knows it.
A grudgingly converted 'fan' (and I use that term loosely).
PS: You're still an asshole. But like James Hetfield sang - So fucking what?
Note 1: This post is dedicated to a dear friend, V, who passed away a couple of years back in a bike crash. He was an amazing buddy and a hardcore Australia supporter. I admired him for having the courage to choose when most of us stuck to the option we'd been born with. When he left this world, Australia's position in the world was unquestioned. I'm sure he'd have liked it that way. Rest in Peace, man. I miss the Boggle sessions.
Note 2: Hooboy, it doesn't take much to outrage people, does it? Show them stats that Ponting's been a better batsman than Tendulkar in the 2000s and they still refuse to believe. Anyhow, for anyone who questioned where my ACTUAL loyalties lie, please see this.