Right around the time Ricky Ponting became Australian captain, Inside Cricket took up the mantle of national cricket magazine, hiring me as editor to relaunch from Inside Edge, a publication which had, in the early days of the new century become increasingly devoted to long retired players. Trying to break the mag's cult of Keith Miller (how many times could you publish that quote "pressure? pressure is a Messerschmidt up the arse"?) , and launching at the end of Steve Waugh's steely-eyed reign, the idea was to celebrate the bright new things - the power of Gilly, run machine Ricky, Leapin' Brett Lee and Warney, of course.
Yet one of the first things I did as an editor almost ended our magazine before it got into double figures. Footballers have always been prepared to have a giggle at themselves. The culture is one of good natured banter. In cricket sledging is a weapon and even the mildest taunts are enough to forge long running hatred. I know this now, almost too late.
In late 2004 the most popular show on TV, the MasterChef du jour, was Queer Eye for The Straight Guy. Clearly rubbbish, epically trashy but great TV. I brought it to the pages of Inside Cricket's first season in a feature called Clear Eye For the Cricket Guy. In it we took those notoriously daggy images of cricketers on tour, wearing bum bags and old polos and XXX sun visors as they walked around the Taj Mahal, and using the combined powers of photoshop and the piercing wit of then Men's Style editor Peter Holder, we gave the stars a new look. Gilly as G-Love, complete with massive 10 gallon hat, rhinestones and enough bling to buy an IPL team was a personal favourite.
Ricky? We dressed him up in a hot yellow pant suit wth matching man bag. Heck, we lacerated Justin Langer at the same time. We were funny, geddit? Except we weren't. The abusive letters and emails started coming in, but they were easy to shrug off. What happened next wasn't.
We had a big interview agreed and lined up with Ricky the day the edition was released. His manager, not the same one as now, rang to cancel, and to do a bit more besides. The message: Ricky had the second most respected job in the country (after, presumably, John Howard) and we had gravely insulted him. He. Will. Never. Talk. To. You. Again... Worse was to follow. They denied it but we found out elsewhere - Ricky told the Australian team not to talk to us. And they didn't. Not Brett Lee. Not Jason Gillespie. Not anyone until Peter Young, one of the country's best sports adminstrators, made everything ok between us. For a while I was helming a mag where the only 11 people in the country you could put on a cover wouldn't talk to us. Even now, when I'm struggling for ideas, the other guys on the mag suggest I bring back Clear Eye and I shudder.
I think Ricky came into the job unsure and unsecure, after a line of strong leaders before him, and despite some painful losses he has slowly but certainly lost that insecurity to become a fine leader. The defeats have made him stronger.
Maybe he just got used to petty attempts at so called humour, or maybe he realised respect is not something you can jump up and down and demand through your manager, rather something bestowed upon you by others based on your body of work. And what a body of work it is, especially with the bat and often under staggering Messerschmidt up your arse type pressure.
Ricky Ponting started talking to us again soon after Peter's intervention. They all did. Dizzy went back to being funny and Brett the gentleman he'd always been before. Ponting has always been helpful and giving of his time and energy to Australia's only regular cricket magazine, regardless of our early misjudgment. We've grown up together.
You get the feeling that the Australian captaincy is mask he'll be happy to remove. Last year we had some images of him at a sponsors' launch, kicking back with a gaming console, his face free of the tension of today's announcement at the SCG or the closing stages of the World Cup disappointment. He looked 17 again. If he can bring that face back to the cricket field, who can say how long he will go on.