THE long ovation for Ricky Ponting conveyed how much he will be missed, but his short farewell innings confirmed the extent of his decline.
Ponting stood for a moment in disbelief when an attempt to carve the modest left-arm orthodox spin of Robin Peterson off the back foot ended with a thick edge to Jacques Kallis at slip.
Cricket farewells one of the greats
Cricket legend Ricky Ponting's Test career comes to an end.
The ball that defeated Ponting for the last time, three balls before lunch, didn't turn much, but got big on him. It was hard to watch a champion and former captain finish like this, with the last of a succession of bad shots.
Peterson will be the answer to a trivia question - who dismissed Ricky Ponting in his last Test innings? - but he also delivered the ultimate validation of Ponting's decision to retire before the call was made for him, as it would have been after a series in which he managed just 32 runs at an average of 6.40.
The numbers take some digesting in the context of a decorated career that has spanned 17 years and produced 13,378 runs at 51.85 - his average dipped below 52 in his final Test - but they also tell the story of a faded champion who has admitted the selectors could easily have ended his career last summer.
That did not diminish the poignancy of the farewell for Ponting, from his South African opponents and from the WACA Ground crowd that witnessed a couple of classic shots from his pomp before the champ was gone.
He pounced on a short ball from Morne Morkel, pulling it regally from in front of his eyes, and drove Dale Steyn through the on side for four, with the help of a Morkel misfield. When it was over, the words ''Thanks Ricky'' flashed on the scoreboard as Ponting stopped in the outfield and raised both arms, turning to all parts of the WACA Ground as if he, too, was saying thanks.
Michael Clarke, moved to tears by Ponting's retirement announcement and probably by the Vernon Philander ball that broke his protective box on Monday afternoon, patted his friend on the shoulder as they crossed on the stairs to the dressing room.
The captain provided some immediate perspective, charging at Peterson and hitting the last two balls before lunch for four. As Ponting said his last goodbyes, here was a batsman in his prime.
The tributes flowed, and will continue with Cricket Australia expected to honour Ponting at the next Test - against Sri Lanka - in Hobart.
On Monday, Shane Warne led the tributes. The great leg-spinner finished his international career on the ultimate high of a five-nil Ashes victory when most felt he could have kept going. There was no such fairytale for Ponting, but Warne was pleased that a fellow champion was able to depart before he was pushed.
''I gave him his nickname, 'Punter', because he liked to back greyhound dogs,'' said Warne. ''As far as his skill goes as a batsman he's one of the top few Australian batsmen ever and he'll be well regarded worldwide. He's going to be missed.
''I suppose it's great he didn't have to get put in any position [to be dropped] whether it was the next Test or the one after or whatever … When you have one of the great players it's always nice when he goes out on his terms. He went out on his terms today, and that's really nice that he had that chance.''