AS HIS friends, all of them champions, vacated the dressing room, Ricky Ponting carried the candle for Australia's dominant generation.
He seized the moment, which would not have lasted long on current form, to leave the game that is all he has known, on his own terms
Now he is gone, too, leaving memories of imperious straight drives and commanding pull shots that, along with his record as Australia's most prolific runscorer, make him the nation's best batsman since Bradman.
Memorable century ... Ricky Ponting celebrates his ton on the fifth day of the third Test Match of the Ashes at Old Trafford in 2005. Photo: AP
Ponting has plenty of experience with retirements. He watched Shane Warne and Glenn McGrath fashion their own exits together, taking the aura of his bowling attack with them, and at the same time - after the 2006-07 Ashes - saw the lights go out on the career of his great friend, Justin Langer. For Adam Gilchrist, the penny dropped with a dropped catch in Adelaide the very next summer.
All of them told him that when it was time, he would know.
Ponting's end could have been messy, but in the end it was professional and businesslike, a bit like one of his interviews with the press.
Last of the old guard ... Ricky Ponting, centre, pictured here with Glenn McGrath , left, and Shane Warne after Australia sealed a 5-0 Ashes victory in January 2007. Photo: Getty Images
Honest, direct, but with no time for small talk afterwards. Not for him a summer of farewells like the one that became a circus for his predecessor as captain, Steve Waugh, and with whom he will share the honour of being Australia's most capped Test cricketer.
Ponting was never going to be wheeled out for a farewell Test in his home state of Tasmania. That's not his style. He seized the moment to leave the game on his own terms.
Previously, the bloody-mindedness in Ponting has given the impression that he would push on until the selectors ended it all, unceremoniously, as they did his one-day career earlier this year.
The life and times of Ricky Ponting
Ricky Ponting has built a reputation as one of the best batsmen ever. Photo: Vince Caligiuri
As his Indian contemporary Rahul Dravid said last summer, few players care about legacies until it's over. They play for the pure joy of the contest; in Ponting's case to being the first player on the bus before training and the last one to leave the nets - every time.
That passion, along with some technical adjustments, is what allowed him to survive this time last year when his career was last on the line. As he mentioned in announcing his retirement, he could easily have been punted then, but he came out the other side and plundered back-to-back hundreds - one of them a glorious double against India.
Ponting retires as one of the great batsmen of his generation, alongside Sachin Tendulkar, Dravid, Brian Lara and Jacques Kallis. For me, Lara is the only one who could take the breath away like Ponting, and the Tasmanian's street-fighting innings - like his 156 to save the third Test at Old Trafford in 2005 - were every bit as compelling.
When Brett Lee retired this year, Ponting spoke of his sadness at seeing empty spaces in the dressing room where his mates used to be. None will leave a bigger space than Ricky Ponting. His generation of Australian cricketers is gone. It's Michael Clarke's time to bring on a new one.