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Ponting declares

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Chief sports columnist and associate editor with The Age

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Prolific Ponting announces his retirement

Australian cricketer Ricky Ponting fronts a media conference to declare he is calling it a day, with this being his last Test match.

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RICKY Ponting always talked like he made runs, in torrents. Then the runs dried up, and on Thursday so did the words, almost. First when addressing the team, then at a media conference a few hours later, Ponting had to force himself as he rarely did in his strokeplay.

But the import was plain: for one of Australia's very greatest batsmen, it would be over as soon as the Perth Test was. Ponting barely held back a flow of tears. Michael Clarke, his successor and protege, did not bother to try.

Three times in the past two years Ponting's cataract of runs had contracted to a trickle. The first time, coinciding with a heavy Ashes defeat, it was shell-shock and it led to renouncement of the captaincy. The second time, it was because of a technical kink, blinding him on leg stump. By sheer hard work, a motif in his career, he corrected it.

Ricky Ponting.

Ricky Ponting. Photo: Getty Images

This time, exemplified more by his second-innings dismissal in Adelaide than the first, it is because he is seeing the ball late. ''Played on'' is the symptom. There is no cure and no comeback, only a hope that the nation's adrenalin, telepathically infused, can obviate it one last time on Friday.

This much, Ponting said on Thursday, he had come to see clearly. Even on his own exacting terms, he could not have been better prepared for this series, and still the runs would not come. In Adelaide, he admitted to himself they never would again, not at the rate he wanted and Australia needed.

If Ponting did his decline harder than most, it was understandable. Effectively, he was giving up the job that he, uniquely in Australia's annals, was trained for from birth. As a child he would study the Mowbray first XI and try on their batting gloves. At 14, he had a bat contract and was almost picked for Tasmania. At 17, he was.

After making his Test debut against Sri Lanka in Perth, Ricky Ponting smashes a six during day two of the second Test of the series in Melbourne in December 1995. Click for more photos

The life and times of Ricky Ponting

Ricky Ponting has built a reputation as one of the best batsmen ever. Photo: Vince Caligiuri

At 18, cricket academy coach Rod Marsh said he was the best teenage batsman he had seen, better even than Doug Walters. By then, blessedly, Australia had given up on ''next Bradmans''. At 20, he played for Australia. At all but 38, he still is.

But Ponting never took his privilege for granted. His work ethic is legendary. He has always been as lean as the greyhounds he once raced for a hobby. As a fieldsman, he had Jonty Rhodes' athleticism and Mark Taylor's hands.

He was not without blemish; which public figure is? He was sometimes immature off the field in his early years, and sometimes indecorous on it later. But his career average for good grace stands up. Unusually for one so long-lived, never to my knowledge did he divide the Australian dressing room, nor find himself unwelcome in another's.

Ricky Ponting pulls for four to bring up his double century in a Test match against India in Adelaide.

Ricky Ponting pulls for four to bring up his double century in a Test match against India in Adelaide. Photo: Getty Images

None of this would matter if he was not, simply, Australia's supreme batsman in a supreme era, and with Neil Harvey and Greg Chappell one of the best three since Bradman (there, Pandora's box is open).

All great batsmen have their own styles. Ponting's was to pounce on the ball like a cat on a hapless mouse. So would he force through cover, or drive down the ground, or pull imperiously for four deliveries that looked to have not much wrong with them. In his pomp, he would do this for days at a time, as Clarke does now, tipping the scales in Test after Test.

Ponting asked yesterday that we stay the toasts while he negotiated one last Test, but for the best-of list, here's a starting point: back-to-back double centuries against India in 2003. In the fullness of time, it is this regal Ponting who will live on in the mind's eye, not the toiler of the last month, and justly so.

Born to cricket, Ponting loved everything about it: the net sessions, the touring life, the brotherhood, the talk, the joining and re-joining of battle. In this team, he is, as well as a batsman, mentor to Clarke, de facto coach to off-spinner Nathan Lyon, consultant to all the batsmen.

As he will miss them, so they will miss him, Clarke particularly. For one thing, almost certainly Clarke will have to move up to No.4, so robbing Peter. For another, he is on his own now. Though already a better intuitive captain than Ponting, still he defers to his predecessor. His sorrow yesterday was heartfelt.

Sportsmen say you know when your time has come, but not all do. To watch Ponting in the nets was to know that his satisfaction in hitting a cricket ball well has not dulled, nor his belief that he might hit it better yet. Briefly perhaps, this undying love blinded him.

But not many great sportspeople are sentimental in their time, because sentimentality tends to fog the mind. At the end, Ponting was clear-eyed. Asked if it had been tough to forsake a previously stated ambition to make one last Ashes tour next year, Ponting was again his old direct, unhesitating, peremptory self.

No, he said, because he knows now he is no longer good enough.

37 comments

  • Punter you are a legend. You will be missed. Although your last couple of years weren't the best. You papered over the cracks of a declining team so well no one noticed the decline.
    Best bat I have seen play. The ultimate team man who batted and played for the team not for his average.

    Commenter
    Mick
    Location
    Melbourne
    Date and time
    November 30, 2012, 7:56AM
    • Would have been nice to see Punter have the luxury of batting at five or six for the last few years of his career (the luxury afforded to so many of Australia's recent "Greats"), but alas our fearless captain Michael Clarke felt he himself needed to occupy one of these spots.

      Anyhow you have been a true great taking on all comers in all conditions and always coming out on top in the end.

      Commenter
      Gaz
      Location
      Yarrawonga
      Date and time
      November 30, 2012, 9:14AM
  • An absolute champion! A fantastic bat, handy bowler, and the best all-round fielder i've ever seen.
    Thanks Punter!

    Commenter
    liklik
    Location
    sydney
    Date and time
    November 30, 2012, 7:57AM
    • Hopefully its the positives that are talked about in the next week. A great career for Australia.

      Commenter
      theescapegoat
      Location
      Yarraville
      Date and time
      November 30, 2012, 8:07AM
      • Thanks Punter!

        Commenter
        J
        Location
        WACA
        Date and time
        November 30, 2012, 8:33AM
        • So after telling him since he was 32 that he's too old and needs to retire and constantly building pressure on him, the media now rant and rave about what a legend he is. Now he's likely to be replaced by Phil Hughes. Watch the same media jump all over him the first sign of caught behind for a low score. The way we treat our sporting guns in the country is disgusting

          Commenter
          Mick
          Location
          Melb
          Date and time
          November 30, 2012, 8:45AM
          • Today's media leaves a lot to be desired in many many areas Mick and sport is certainly one of them. I started watching The Insiders for a while this year then realised one thing, there is only one thing worse than watching a smug pollie, and that's watching a smug journo.

            Commenter
            Roj Blake
            Date and time
            November 30, 2012, 9:13AM
          • Yet Roj you continue to read their articles - something doesn't make sense

            Commenter
            Johnny
            Location
            Albury
            Date and time
            November 30, 2012, 9:34AM
          • Rubbish... the way we fawn over and pedestal our sporting 'greats' is the embarrassment... People who effect real meaningful change and makes our lives healthier and longer, who cast light on the darkness of unknowns, the scientists, medics, faceless charity workers, selfless heroes, the people who enlighten us the environmental perils we have created must inevitably confront and address- these are the people who should be appearing on our postage stamps and paid multimillion dollar wages. Sport is great, it keeps us healthy and is an outlet for competitive and aggressive tendencies we all have- however its revered out of all proportion in this country (and most others) to the things that actually matter- and is used an distraction and anesthetic by the media to divert hearts and minds from the issues that actually matter...

            Commenter
            Dale
            Location
            Eltham
            Date and time
            November 30, 2012, 10:14AM
          • Nice rant their Dale, but I fear you've stumbled into the sport section by mistake. Feel free to worship those who cast light on darkness (electricians I assume you mean?) but I'm watching the Cricket when I get home tonight

            Commenter
            Mick
            Location
            Melb
            Date and time
            November 30, 2012, 10:49AM

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