Well done Mr Tasmania

THE son of a late schoolmate of mine, who is a pretty useful grade cricketer in northern Tasmania, is a regular source of passionate text messages on matters of sport.

First thing Friday morning, he sent a reaction to the news of the previous day, expressing an eloquent island-state tribute: ''Nobody will represent Tasmania better than Ricky … and I dare say we will never produce another cricketer like him. A few tears were had yesterday arvo. I was 7yo when he started in Perth. He's been around forever.''

As much as Ponting's achievements were appreciated by all Australian cricket lovers, the magnitude of what he means to his state is inestimable. Tasmania wasn't in the Sheffield Shield when he was born. Each year, back then, it would be subjected to a ritual massacre by whichever national touring team was in the country or, if there was no visiting team, by one of the mainland states.

Change arrived in the late '70s. By the time Ponting arrived on the first-class scene as a much-vaunted child prodigy, his state had been in cricket's mainstream for 15 years but was still in its adolescence.

Its figurehead was David Boon, who had become arguably Australia's most reliable batsman and had risen to the rank of national vice-captain. If anyone had offered the option of Ponting being another Boon, Tasmanians would gleefully have grabbed it.

But what they got was better still. For all the hopes his precocious talent fed, Ponting exceeded the wildest expectations. A little story to illustrate this: In those days, one of my ABC cricket broadcasting colleagues was Neville ''Big Red'' Oliver. Neville is a proud - and loud - Tasmanian, and an even prouder Launcestonian. When it came to advocacy of the island state, and particularly its north, he - and some will imagine this to be a wild extravagance but it is absolutely true - left me for dead.

As Ponting cut his teeth in the Tasmanian team, Nev took to furnishing us with every detail of young ''Ponny's'' latest achievement. The ''Ponny'' sobriquet was used deliberately and with a sense of mischief. Inimitably provocative, Big Red was already making a comparison between the teenaged wonder-boy and the legendary Bill Ponsford.

It was a laughable proposition and I doubt, although you couldn't be absolutely sure, even Neville took it seriously. Such a run-machine was Ponsford in the 1920s and '30s that he would soon be among the 10 inaugural inductees to the Australian Cricket Hall of Fame when they were chosen in 1996. His fame even extended to the turf via the colourful calls of the late Bert Bryant: ''Oh, he's made more runs than Ponsford!''

It's a paradox that while deeds witnessed first-hand are inclined to obscure modern fans' view of the broad sweep of history, the subjects of the sepia images of earlier times remain hallowed. To suggest Ponting may have been better than Ponsford, who once plundered Tasmanian bowlers to the tune of a then world record score of 429, on one hand sounds sacrilegious.

Yet it's not to be too blinded by the recent past, nor to draw too long a bow upon the retirement of Ponny Mark II, to state that he eclipsed the original. Even if the records are viewed through aged and misty eyes, it's clear who compiled the greater statistical record at the highest level. Big Red, whether he meant it or not, got it right.

And just as legends bob up across the generations, so do they emerge from all points of the compass. Bradman was from Bowral via Cootamundra, while the wily Warne was of Melbourne's bayside. Lillee hailed from Subiaco, the Chappell clan was of Adelaide's Unley, and Ian Healy spent most of his school years in Biloela, 600 kilometres north of Brisbane.

Ponting, along with his guiding light, Boon, came from Launceston. But whereas Boon went to Launceston Grammar, ''Punter'' was of Brooks High in the blue-collar north of town. Famously, he came from, and played his club cricket for, Mowbray, often pronounced by the locals as Mo'-bree.

These days, Tasmania is a reliable source of world-class sports performers. Its oarsmen have won gold medals at recent Olympic Games, and it has long produced an extraordinary number of world-class cyclists.

But for the people of the island, as with those of mainland Australia, cricket and football are the sports deeply etched in the collective psyche. To have produced a national cricket captain, the highest run-scorer in Australian history, and a figure - by the general reckoning - to command a place in the top 10 among those to have represented this country, is a source of pride that goes beyond words.

And while my texting mate might be right in saying Tasmania will never produce another cricketer like him, regeneration is a wonderful thing. As Ponting struggled on Saturday, a product of southern Tasmania, Matthew Wade, emerged in a way to suggest he will be a formidable Australian test cricketer for years to come.


Discuss "Well done Mr Tasmania"

Please note: All comments made or shown here are bound by the Online Discussion Terms & Conditions.