Ricky Ponting opens up about life after cricket.
Ricky Ponting opens up about life after cricket.

‘Numb, helpless’: Moment Ponting thought he’d lost his son

Ricky Ponting is one of the greatest cricketers to have ever played the game. One of the most superb batsmen, and successful captains of any country, in any era.

Ricky grew up in Tasmania and made the most of the talent he was blessed with.

In part two of a two part interview, we spoke about his life after announcing retirement from cricket, meeting his wife Rianna, his charity work, the harrowing experience that changed his life and the scary reality of having a seriously ill child.

HAMISH McLACHLAN: You met Rianna, as a result of her grandfather being a cricket tragic, in Melbourne?

RICKY PONTING: It was on Boxing Day night. All the team members' families would come to Melbourne for Christmas and the Test. I was the only single guy in the team at that stage. Andy Bichel and I headed out for dinner to a restaurant in Crown. Rianna's grandfather was the biggest cricket lover of all time, and his dream was to get all of his family down for a Boxing Day test match together.

HM: Did they do that often?

RP: It was the first and only time they ever did it. Rianna had never watched a game of cricket in her life, she had no interest. She had no idea who any of the players were, but her brother did. He spotted us and he came over to say g'day. She came over to the table to drag her brother away, and that's when I met her.

HM: Lucky her brother was a fan, and had some front!

RP: Exactly. I didn't want to let this opportunity get away, so I went over and talked to her family later on. I then took them into the casino and had a fun night all together.

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Ricky Ponting and his wife Rianna. Picture: Getty
Ricky Ponting and his wife Rianna. Picture: Getty


HM: You knew at first sight.

RP: As soon as I woke up the next morning, I rang her and asked her out for dinner. She said yes and I took her to the Waterfront Restaurant that night.

HM: And engaged eight months later.

RP: Yes. We'd been together for about 8 weeks, and then I went on a tour to India for nine weeks. If there was ever a sign that a relationship could possibly work, that was a pretty strong one. And here we are nearly 20 years later.

HM: Three kids now, but before you had children, you and Rianna both felt compelled to form the Ponting Foundation to help young Aussie families battle cancer. That was stimulated from a Phil Kearns lunch?

RP: I sat next to Phil at a business lunch. It was a group that used to get together in Sydney, and I was invited along. I sat next to Kearnsy and got chatting about what he did in the charity circles, because I was an up and coming Australian player, and I was getting charity requests every other day.

HM: Were you enjoying giving back?

RP: I was, absolutely, but I knew I wasn't doing enough. My only involvement in any charitable work at that point was simply donating items for auctions. I sat down with Kearnsy, and he and I just started talking about his role on the board of the Children's Cancer Institute of Australia.

HM: Did it resonate?

RP: It really did. He asked if I wanted to go and have a look at what he was doing, and to see first hand, how these kids' lives are pulled apart, and how brave they are. Now, I'll do anything for kids full stop, but if it's sick kids that are going through cancer, and it's helping them, or helping their families, I'm all in.


Ponting visits cancer patient David Johnson and his mum Katherine during a tour of the Royal Children's Hospital cancer ward.
Ponting visits cancer patient David Johnson and his mum Katherine during a tour of the Royal Children's Hospital cancer ward.


HM: How did the trip to the hospital go?

RP: It was pretty harrowing. Phil organised a visit to the hospital the next week, and Rianna and I went together. It was a moment that changed my life and turned me into a different person, a better person.

HM: How?

RP: We walked in, and the first ward we went into, we saw a six-month-old baby boy that had just been diagnosed with leukaemia. He was in his dads' arms, and their whole world had just been turned upside down. You could see the agony they were all in. They had been forced given up their jobs, they'd moved in from the country to be with their son and do as much as they could around the hospital. Their lives in chaos, and their little ones life uncertain.

HM: Horrific.

RP: Unthinkable. Then, we went further through the hospital, and into the chemotherapy area where it's a totally sterile environment. All the rooms were essentially four big glass windows. There was a 15-year-old boy that had just had his chemo for the day, so he was feeling like hell, and he was lying on his bed. He looked over to the window and he saw us, and he must have been a cricket fan because his eyes just lit up. He used all his strength to sit himself up in bed, but knowing that I couldn't go in, and he couldn't come out. You could see that he wanted to walk over to the window to just get a little closer. He dragged himself up and put his feet on the ground, but he was so ill and he must have been in that much pain that he just vomited all over his front. He was willing to put himself through that just to try and get closer. Kids shouldn't be forced to feel like that …



Ponting at the launch of the Ponting Foundation at the Royal Hobart Hospital.
Ponting at the launch of the Ponting Foundation at the Royal Hobart Hospital.


HM: And too many are …

RP: … too many … we both walked out with tears streaming down our faces. What we saw that day had a profound impact on us. We put our heads together and thought we could do something to make a difference, especially with my career on the rise and with some great corporate support behind me. With the help of some very generous and caring people, we have raised more than $10 million over the years now.

HM: There is a research laboratory named after you guys?

RP: Yes there is, at the Children's Cancer Institute in Sydney. All the funds we raised early on went into finding cures for children with cancer. Then in 2008 we launched the Ponting Foundation to not only look after children battling cancer but also their families.

HM: That was pre-kids for you wasn't it?

RP: Yes, and it has given us an appreciation of how lucky we are to have healthy ones.

HM: Fletcher is your youngest. He was six weeks old when he had meningitis, and then had a huge scare.

RP: He was just six weeks old when he had meningitis, which was terrifying for us.

I was actually playing golf, and Rianna rang me and said, "You better come home quickly. Fletcher's just screaming out of control. We've got to go hospital". By the time we got to Emergency it was like he was unconscious, all the life had completely gone out of his body. The doctors asked if he had hit his head which we knew he hadn't and then they took him away for a CT scan fearing he'd had a stroke.


Ponting’s son Fletcher was seriously ill when he was eight months old. Ponting feared he’d lost him.
Ponting’s son Fletcher was seriously ill when he was eight months old. Ponting feared he’d lost him.


HM: Because he looked unconscious?

RP: Yes, we were in hospital for three weeks the first time. The doctors told us they thought he had meningitis but were unable to tell us categorically even after several lumbar punctures There was a lot of uncertainty about the diagnosis, there were no clear answers. Even though he seemed to be getting better after being treated with antibiotics, the day before we were meant to go home they performed another MRI and found a small spot on his brain. We feared brain damage and other lifelong effects but further tests down the track were all clear. We got very lucky.

HM: There is nothing worse than that uncertainty with the health of your child. All your praying for is an answer from the doctor that has a positive outcome.

RP: You've been there … as you know, it's the most horrific time. And families are going through what you and Soph have been, and Rianna and I have been, every day.

HM: And when he was eight months old?

RP: The second huge scare came about because he required a minor hernia operation, just a day procedure. It was difficult for us to be back at the hospital even though it was nothing serious. He woke up fine from the operation and we took him home thinking everything was OK.

HM: But it wasn't?

RP: No, we got him home, and the next day, he was just screaming out of control, but the cry was different, it was a cry of real pain and he had a high fever. We couldn't pick him up, we couldn't touch him, so we rushed him back into the hospital again.


Ponting with his wife Rianna, and their children (L-R) Emmy, Matisse and Fletcher.
Ponting with his wife Rianna, and their children (L-R) Emmy, Matisse and Fletcher.


HM: And you noticed something odd?

RP: Yeah, where he had his little cut, about six or eight inches further up onto his stomach, it looked like there was a bruise, or blemish on his skin. We pointed it out to the nurses but they couldn't work out what was wrong. "It looks like a bruise, it can't be connected with the surgery", but we both just had a feeling it was though and kept monitoring it. They did endless tests on him and finally found his kidneys were working at only about 15 per cent. His body then suddenly started shutting down.

HM: And it got worse?

RP: Within a day, it had turned into a huge infection in his stomach, and all down his side. He'd picked up a hospital born MRSA infection. It was growing so rapidly that it was just about to start eating all the flesh away in his stomach, and down his right side. This infection had effectively taken over his whole body. He was in there for three and a half weeks, and he had to be sedated. They basically shut him down, his eyes were closed, and he was unresponsive in the ICU for two and a half weeks. He wasn't breathing properly, and there were no guarantees …

HM: … and your life gets put on hold, with only one focus.

RP: Doesn't it. We never left the hospital during the day and Rianna and I would alternate nights. I was in the room with him one night when he was moved out of ICU, and his breathing wasn't right. They set the monitors so if the heart rate dropped below a certain rate, an alarm went off. I was in there with him and all these alarms on his monitor went off. I got up and went and looked at the monitor, and his heart rate was 30bpm. Normally I'd stand over him, and he'd feel my presence and open his eyes a little bit. This night, I stood over him, with all the noise of the machines going off and grabbed him, and was shaking him, trying to get him to respond, but there was nothing. No movement. Nothing. He was just limp. I thought to myself, "He's gone!" Every nurse and doctor from the level rushed into the room at the same time - it was like a code red. There must have been 15 nurses and doctors standing over him.


Ponting with his wife Rianna, and their children (L-R) Fletcher, Matisse and Emmy in Mexico.
Ponting with his wife Rianna, and their children (L-R) Fletcher, Matisse and Emmy in Mexico.


HM: And you stood there - helpless, thinking "I'm about to lose a child".

RP: It's where your mind goes. Your body goes numb. You are helpless. Luckily Rianna wasn't there, because if she was, it would still be haunting her to this day. There's nothing scarier.

HM: What happened?

RP: This infection had shut his whole body down. They had to put him under and make a cut under his rib cage on his right-hand side, open up the other little wound, and flush the infection back out. They said, by the look of how bad the infection was, if it had started to eat into his flesh, they would have had to cut all of his flesh out from that side of his body that had been touched and infected by it. When he went in, I thought he was going to come out with his whole right side cut out. Luckily, they got it before it got into his flesh and took over his body.

HM: Unbelievable - how lucky. Thank you for talking about it.

RP: It's OK mate. We were very lucky. I think about it a lot.

HM: Cricket and wine to finish. The quickest bowler you've ever faced?

RP: Shoaib Akhtar, hands down, no question, was the fastest I played against. And Brett Lee was the fastest I played with. No one can bowl faster than those two! I don't care what Jeff Thomson says about how fast he was, or who says Jeff was the quickest, no one was faster than Shoaib and Brett. There were a couple of spells I faced from Shoaib, one in Perth in particular, when I was batting with Justin Langer which was frighteningly quick. We trained for fast bowling every day and faced lots of guys in the nets who would bowl 140km/h, 145km/h all the time, but when it gets up to 160km/h, it's like the pace has gone up by 50 km/h. I fancied myself on the short ball, but on this day in Perth, I couldn't get anywhere near it. I'm was on strike for about an hour and a half, because even if I dropped one in on the off-side for a single, Justin's got his hand up as if to say, "No, no. I'll stay down here!". That spell was lightning quick.


Ponting is one of the most accomplished cricketers to play the game.
Ponting is one of the most accomplished cricketers to play the game.



HM: Cricketer … to winemaker. And I hear you love it and are really involved?

RP: I love it Hame. I grew up as a BBQ and beer lover. Dad would never have had a sip of wine in his life - he's always been a beer drinker. Mum was pretty much the same, and after a long hot day of cricket, a beer was always my drink after day five. But as things do, your pallet changes and your interests do to over the years as your lifestyle changes. I've enjoyed wine for a long time now, but certainly since I've retired, I've got into wanting to learn and understand more about it. Rianna's the same, and that's where this whole adventure of ours has been a lot of fun.

HM: There's a big difference between enjoying a wine with Rianna, and having your own label - Ponting.

RP: There is. We've both learnt so much about making wine, creating a brand, product design, launching a new business, marketing etc. It's been good timing actually launching during COVID as it's been a great distraction and given us something to focus on. Despite a few arguments, we've loved being able to work together and create something we're really proud of.

HM: Is Ben Riggs still your wine maker?

RP: He sure is, and he is a genius. I'm sure you know a lot about him being a South Australian. I spent a fair bit of time over in McLaren Vale with him at his vineyard and also some fun trips down to Tassie working on our Pinot and Chardonnay.

HM: They're all well named too. You've got The Pioneer, The Pinnacle, Close of Play, Mowbray Boy …

RP: Yes I think so. We've got a pinot noir, shiraz, cabernet sauvignon, chardonnay, and the sauvignon blanc has just been bottled. I am enjoying the winemaking a lot. It's like golf - you'll never perfect it, but you can have a lot of fun trying.

HM: Really great to chat. I loved it.

RP: Same, thanks Hame.




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Originally published as 'Numb, helpless': Moment Ponting thought he'd lost his son

Ricky Ponting now has his own wine.
Ricky Ponting now has his own wine.