How I took immediate shine to Australian legend Ponting

RICKY PONTING’S involvement with the Surrey club currently taking on Yorkshire in the County Championship at Headingley brings to mind a conversation I had with him in 2004.

As readers of this esteemed organ will know, we carry extensive previews of Yorkshire’s Championship fixtures and, back then, before I successfully persuaded the sports editor that it was more trouble than it was worth, this used to include a short interview with someone from the opposition camp – usually that county’s director of cricket.

On this occasion, Yorkshire were due to be playing Somerset at Scarborough and, as you may remember, Ponting, the then captain of Australia, was about to make his County Championship debut for Somerset after signing for the club on a short-term contract.

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I rang the Somerset club office and asked to have a word with Kevin Shine, who was then the Somerset head coach, with a view to eliciting his thoughts on the upcoming match at North Marine Road.

“I’m sorry, but Kevin’s just set off for Scarborough,” came the reply. “Is there anyone else who could help at all?”

“Er, what about the assistant coach?” I enquired. “Is he around? Or what about the captain?”

“Sorry, they’ve set off, too,” came the response.

It was then that the helpful bloke on the other end of the line had a brainwave.

“Oh, er, Ricky Ponting’s standing next to me at the moment in the club office. Could you make do with having a quick chat with him?”

Er, not ’arf, I thought to myself, trying to sound as blase as possible.

No sooner was the phone passed over than a cheerful voice exploded in my ear.

“G’day, mate, Ricky Ponting here.”

“Oh, er, hello Mr Ponting,” I stuttered.

“Er, er, thanks for sparing the time to have a word. Er, er, we haven’t spoken before but it’s, er, it’s, er, really kind of you to say a few words.”

And so on...

What followed was the captain of the greatest cricket team in the world talking to a journalist he did not know from Adam as though he was chatting to a long-lost friend.

During the course of five memorable minutes of typically rapid chat, Ponting not only gave me plenty of stuff for my Championship preview, but a back page lead as well.

Who needs Kevin Shine, I thought, when you can get Ricky Ponting?

Ponting went on to score a wonderful century at Scarborough.

He hit 112 to help his team to a 10-wicket win and then made 113 in the one-day game that followed.

Yet my overriding memory was of his kindness and affability during that pre-match interview.

Nowadays, you would have to jump through so many hoops to interview a player of Ponting’s stature that you might as well give up.

The world is awash with press officers who should really be called press control officers seeing as their job is not really to serve the press but to control and monitor the flow of information.

The idea of a journalist simply ringing up a player is anathema.

But perhaps Ponting’s attitude also said something about Australians in general.

In my experience, they are among the best and most helpful of cricketers to deal with.

I have been lucky enough to interview a good many Australians in my time – from the likes of Shane Warne and current Yorkshire first-team coach Jason Gillespie right back to such legends of yesteryear as Neil Harvey.

One of my favourites to deal with was Stuart MacGill, the irrepressible leg-spinner forever riddled with the tag of being the man who would have played many more Tests but for the presence of Warne.

I used to ghost MacGill’s column for the Nottingham Evening Post and found him the most affable and articulate of characters.

Once, I rang him by mistake when he was still in the Australian dressing room, celebrating another victory, and yet he happily talked away in front of his team-mates.

Yes, smashing fella, ‘Stuey’... just like Ricky.