Nothing is more fascinating in cricket than an exhilarating and equal contest between a batsman and a bowler.
Duels between two players at the top of their games always makes for a fascinating rivalry, and cricket has been blessed to witness several of these over the course of its history. From Sachin Tendulkar against Glenn McGrath to Sir Viv Richards versus Jeff Thompson, the sport has seen legendary battles played out across the 22 yards.
However, there are some duels which sound exciting in theory, but shall never materialise. These are between players divided by eras, with their respective playing careers failing to intertwine.
In this series, we play out a few such hypothetical match-ups by closely examining the statistics of the players involved. Below, we pit former Australia skipper Ricky Ponting against Afghanistan star Rashid Khan in the ODI format.
RICKY PONTING STATS
ODI innings: 365
Highest score: 164
With the illustrious distinction of being the most successful captain in the history of the sport, Ricky Ponting’s legacy is an enviable one. Two World Cups and as many ICC Champions Trophy titles as skipper of Australia are just some of the many accolades he has collected over a glittering career.
While his captaincy achievements are monumental, Ponting remains one of the most gifted batsman to have graced the game. For a large part of his career, the Aussie was going toe to toe with Sachin in a race for the title of greatest batsman of their generation.
An equally brilliant batsman in the Test and ODI formats, Ponting’s natural attacking instincts made for a delightful watch whenever the right-hander got going at the crease. Armed with a fierce pull and a flourishing cover drive, Ponting romped his way to 71 international tons and more than 27,000 runs across all formats.
The Australian had a knack of saving his best for the biggest occasions, and his whirlwind century against India in the 2003 World Cup final is a prime example of that trait.
RASHID KHAN STATS
Economy rate: 4.16
In an era which has come to be defined by the proliferation of T20 cricket, Rashid’s emergence as Afghanistan cricket’s first superstar has been a riveting story. Afghanistan’s meteoric leap towards Test status has collided with Rashid’s rapid rise as one of the most sought after bowlers in T20 franchise leagues around the world.
The leg-spinner is not the biggest turner of the ball, but he possesses every tool required to be a success in the shorter formats. It is easy to see why Rashid has grown up idolising Shahid Afridi, with the Nangarhar native’s bowling style eerily similar to that of the Pakistan icon.
He is accurate when it comes to targeting the batsman’s stumps, and his bowling speeds mirror that of a gentle medium pacer. The fact that he is armed with a lethally deceptive googly and flipper makes him the complete spinner for the shorter formats of the game.
While he is a wicket-taker to the core, it is Rashid’s miserly economy rates that make him such a big hit in the world of franchise cricket. It is no wonder then, that he is the first Afghan player to become a millionaire in the Indian Premier League.
Ponting vs Rashid – The stats
To score over 27,000 runs in international cricket means there weren’t many apparent weaknesses in Ponting’s armoury. Contrary to the stereotype of an Australian batsman, the Tasmanian was actually a better player of spin than he was of pace.
While his average runs per dismissal against pace bowling stands at nearly 32, it climbs up significantly to 40.52 when taking guard against spinners. Against right-arm spin in particular, Ponting’s average per dismissal is just a shade over 41 after 58 meetings.
His proficiency against spin is highlighted by the fact that he has five ODI tons on Indian soil. Twelve of his 41 ODI centuries have come against the spin-heavy teams from the subcontinent.
In fact, Ponting performed better overseas than he did in Australia. His ODI average in home conditions stands at 39.17, while it climbs to an impressive 45.01 when batting abroad.
Before attempting to pit Ponting against Rashid, it is important to see how the Aussie fared against bowlers of similar styles to the Afghan. Therefore, Ponting’s past battles against Rashid’s idol Afridi can provide significant clues.
Notably, no other bowler has dismissed Ponting more frequently in the ODI format than Afridi. In the 33 ODI clashes between the two players, Afridi has grabbed Ponting’s wicket on as many as nine occasions. Four of those dismissals has seen the Australian caught behind by the wicketkeeper, while he also been pinned lbw in one instance.
On the other hand, it is still early doors for Rashid’s ODI career with the Afghan star’s appearance tally in the format currently standing at just 71. Most of these clashes have come against the likes of Ireland, Zimbabwe and the West Indies due to Afghanistan’s lack of fixtures against the top sides in cricket.
Although his record is impressive indeed, it is hard to judge Rashid’s credentials against the top batsmen in the world. He has earned notable ODI scalps against batsmen of some pedigree, including three dismissals of Shai Hope and two of Mushfiqur Rahim. Both of these players are good players of spin, and that does boost Rashid’s chances against someone of Ponting’s calibre.
With Afghanistan barely playing the big sides of international cricket, their World Cup 2019 campaign in England is a strong indicator of Rashid’s prowess against the best in the business.
It was a dismal campaign for both the Afghans and Rashid individually, with the side going on to lose all nine clashes. Spinners, as a group, had a tough time in the tournament and it showed in Rashid’s performances. In the nine appearances he made in the competition, the leg-spinner was able to pick just six wickets with a bowling average which touched nearly 70.
He wasn’t even able to control the flow of runs like he usually does, with his economy-rate in the tournament extending to a disappointing 5.80.
The Afghanistan leggie’s track record so far is better against left-handed batsmen than it is against right-handers. He averages 18.11 runs per dismissal against southpaw and it rises to 24.52 when facing up to right-handed batsmen.
Rashid might be the in-demand spinner in limited-overs cricket right now, but Ponting’s excellent record against spin edges this hypothetical duel in the Aussie’s favour.
Although Afridi dismissed him nine times in ODIs, Ponting still managed to average a healthy 44 runs per dismissal. Hence, a peak Ponting would likely handle Rashid’s spin with similar aplomb.
Rashid’s poor World Cup campaign has thrown some question marks over his ability to perform against the best, and that further tilts the scales in Ponting’s favour.
The Afghanistan spinner is at his best when batsmen are forced to go after him due to run-rate pressure. Ponting’s batting intelligence suggests he would not take the bait and instead show a calm front against the Afghan man.
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