Back in 1999, Ricky Ponting was one of Australia’s most highly rated young players, but he had yet to turn into the world-dominating force some thought he was destined to become.
It took a night-club brawl, which resulted in a three-match ban for the player, to turn his career around, despite the incident putting question marks over his Australia future.
While Ponting was seen as a special talent and even touted to be the next Australia captain at a very young age, he had his share of run-ins in his first few years. There was the 1998 incident in Kolkata where he was fined for trying to crash into a party and getting into a scuffle with the security guards.
Things were to get worse the next year. After a torrid run in the Ashes, averaging 11.75 in three Tests, he was dropped from the side. Things turned around somewhat in the following Carlton and United series featuring Australia, England, and Sri Lanka but the batter hit a new low after flopping against England in a close loss in Sydney.
After the game, Ponting went for a night out. Late at night he was seen in the Bourbon & Beefsteak Bar, where he entered into a fight with the barman, apparently taking exception to the fact that he had been refused a drink. The story isn’t clear after that but the Tasmanian ended up with a black eye, something which might have gone unnoticed but for a Sun Herald photographer who clicked Ponting in this state.
Reports at the time stated that Ponting had been knocked out, with the Australian seeking counselling for his drinking problem in the aftermath.
“I just want to get back and play cricket for Australia,” Ponting said. “I am seeking counselling and I’ve already gone ahead and arranged that. It’s just going to be how I get over the problem. I’ve certainly got to make sure that it doesn’t happen again.”
Then ACB (as Cricket Australia was known then) took immediate action and banned the youngster for three games. Ponting was repentant, admitting that he had a drinking problem. “I’m very, very embarrassed about this whole situation and it’s certainly something I’m going to work very hard on to make sure it doesn’t happen again. On occasions I’ve drunk too much and got myself into situations I don’t intend to be in, but I’ve ended up in them.”
He got the backing of the ACB Chief Executive Malcolm Speed who called Ponting “an amazing talent”. “Let’s not overstate the problem, he doesn’t drink very often but when he drinks too much he gets into trouble.”
He was also backed by then Australia Test captain, Mark Taylor.
“It’s something he’ll have to live with but I’m sure he’ll get over it. The best thing now is to go away, learn from it, and come back a better person.”, said Taylor before adding, “We all make mistakes and you don’t want it to go on and on, … I’m pretty sure he won’t let it happen again.”
Ponting resolved to see the incident as a “turning point” in his career. “I think it will be a huge turning point in both my life as a cricketer and as Ricky Ponting as well, it’s certainly made me more aware of what I can and can’t do,” he said. “I’ll come back a better person from it and hopefully a better cricketer.”
Ponting was true to his word. Until that point, Ponting had averaged 36.63 in 22 Tests. But he made a century in his comeback Test against West Indies and barely looked back. His next 100 Tests saw him average 62.92 in an extraordinary purple patch, with Ponting establishing himself as arguably Australia’s greatest batter since Don Bradman. Perhaps it took a knockout blow to turn him into a knockout cricketer.