Ricky was flirting with disaster outside the very off-stump.
The black eye had faded.
But the fine line between career disaster and wondrous acclaim was still distinct, flickering along with Wrest Point’s gaudy metronomic invitation to the pleasures of the casino punt.
And the Punter was partial to a punt. He loved the game of chance. It seemed to light his immense, burning, sometimes irresistible fire; it was an enticing invitation, one, on this benighted night, he appeared to relish …
The details are indistinct, unproven, lost in the mists of the time. But the Punter was fighting desperately to keep his career alive.
He had recently confessed to trouble with the drink. Trouble that saw him emerge from a Kings Cross nightclub — had he really been attempting to dance with Carlotta? — in the very late hours of an early morning in January 1999.
He was dancing on the edge of chaos and disaster. And, despite George Soros’ observation that creativity is found at the edge of chaos, Ricky was on thin ice, already cracking.
So he wouldn’t have appreciated the late-night call as I was putting The Sunday Tasmanian to bed that Saturday night not all that long later in 1999.
An anonymous caller rang the news desk of the ST and was put through to me. Ricky Ponting has just been evicted from Wrest Point, said the excited caller. He’s pissed. Yuh gotta put it in the paper.
He would give no other details, despite brief intense questioning from me, as I called a halt to the just-starting print run. This was Rupert’s far southern outpost, even then staffed by one man and his lame dog. There were at that point no reporters or photogs to put out into this perhaps dark night for Ricky’s soul.
So, a snap decision … I wrote a three-par, front-page story for the first edition, saying an international cricketer was reported to have been evicted from Wrest Point. (There was no international match in Hobart. It was a Shield match).
Details would follow in the second edition.
But, there were no details. There was no confirmation, and decided against sending this most superficial of stories around the grasping tabloid maws of the News Ltd group.
There was, however, a sequel a few weeks later.
It was the Test match dinner at the Grand Chancellor. Ricky was there with the Aussie team.
It had been a great night. Like Ricky (then) I had a irresistible attraction (still) to the wondrous mysteries of shiraz (fine shiraz and the beauty and wonder of womankind are, after all, two of the final proofs of the existence of a beneficent creator).
So fuelled by rather good conversation and significant quantities of the ’96, I rocked up to Ricky (who was drinking orange juice) introduced myself — talked about THAT evening at Wrest Point — and proceeded to lecture him on good behavior.
Do that again, I said, and you will be all over every News Ltd paper in the country.
He said nothing.
He confirmed nothing.
He stared back.
But there was a glint and menace in the eye, which would stare down a career pitch to reveal him as one of Australia’s greatest batsmen, Ashes and World Cup winning (and losing) skipper.
Carlotta would have melted at the offer of a dance.
Lindsay Tuffin is a former news editor of The Sunday Tasmanian. He is founder and editor of www.tasmaniantimes.com.