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No sign of vintage form as Ponting falls for four

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There was no fairytale for Ricky Ponting in the first innings of his farewell Test but he has one last chance for a happy ending, writes Chloe Saltau.

Another premature exit … Ricky Ponting leaves.

Another premature exit … Ricky Ponting leaves. Photo: Getty Images

RICKY PONTING made it clear during his blunt retirement announcement that he didn't believe in fairytales - he just wasn't good enough any more, simple as that - and he didn't get one in the first innings of his farewell Test.

Just as Don Bradman could not find the four runs he needed in his last Test to retire with an average of 100, Ponting couldn't reach back in time and recycle his vintage best, as much as the expectant WACA Ground crowd that stood and applauded him on to the field wanted him to, and as much as his team needed him to on the second morning of the Perth Test.

He walked to the middle with an urgency that reflected the situation - 3-34 - but actually was no different to the hustle he has brought to each of his 286 Test innings. But there was an extra tension, and it showed as he chipped his first ball from Dale Steyn just short of the fielder at mid-wicket. His first run, a dab to the off side and a nervous single, released some of the coiled-up energy, and an old-school Ponting pull shot against Vernon Philander gave a glimpse, all too fleeting, of the champion in his pomp.

It was the only shot from Ponting's collection of greatest hits that made an appearance.

Instead, the 37-year-old with a series average of six was thudded on the pad by a swinging ball from Philander. A review was obligatory in the circumstances, but it showed the ball was on track for middle stump, and Ponting had to go. The stunned silence gave way to another ovation as he walked off the field after 17 minutes and seven balls, for four runs. While Ponting's stark set of numbers in this series vindicates his decision to retire, Australia's top-order troubles are bigger than him.

When the ex-captain has left the crease this summer, Australia have been 3-40, 3-55, 4-98 and, on the second morning of the third Test in Perth, 5-43 (including the wicket of nightwatchman Nathan Lyon). The problem is not confined to this summer. For most of 2012, Michael Clarke has obscured the top-order carnage with his brilliance - his 329 not out in the New Year's Test was scored from a position of 3-29 at the SCG.

In the West Indies, Australia were three wickets down for less than 100 in three out of six innings, and in this series against South Africa, Clarke has frequently stepped into the rubble to put the innings together again. Not this time, for the captain was conquered cheaply by a pearler from Steyn.

Still, the argument for Clarke - the captain and best batsman - to move up to No.4 in the post-Ponting era is becoming harder to resist. There is an argument against, too. Clarke averages 20.93 in 28 innings at four, and given his sparkling form at No.5, it might be foolish to change the part of the batting order that is working best. The only consolation for Ponting, and for the crowd, was that the rapid tumble of wickets meant he would have one last hit.

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