His final innings was ushered in with a guard of honour by the South African players as he strode to the crease, and his last departure from the arena as a Test player was on the shoulders of his Australian team-mates.
Those were the unforgettable moments for Ricky Ponting from his 168th and last Test. One thing he’d like to forget – his scores. He was out for 8 in his last innings yesterday and Australia were comprehensively outplayed in a 309-run defeat by Graeme Smith’s South Africans, who extended their lead in the Test rankings with the victory.
“I just felt there was one last push from me. The game and the day was set up for it, but it didn’t last long enough,” said Ponting, who equalled Steve Waugh’s Australian record for most Test caps and finished as the second-highest scorer behind Sachin Tendulkar in Test cricket. “I was comfortable with the decision (to retire) before this game anyway. I just had a bit more of a fairytale ending in my own eyes than what’s happened this week.”
Ponting made his Test debut on the same ground at the WACA against Sri Lanka in 1995 and, in the 17 intervening years, played with and against some of the greatest cricketers of all time. He was the most successful ever captain in win-loss ratios with 48 Test wins before standing down last year, handing the reins over to Michael Clarke. His 108 wins in Test matches are more than any other player.
Ponting finished with 13,378 Test runs, including 41 centuries, at an average of just under 52 in 287 innings. He shares the mark with Waugh for guiding Australia to 16 consecutive Test wins, and he guided the Australians to back-to-back World Cup titles in 2003 and 2007 during a record unbeaten run.
Ponting has silenced his critics so many times in the past that it almost became second nature, ending a year without a century to blast a hundred in a losing cause in the World Cup quarter-final against India in 2011, and following that up with a double-century at the start of 2012 against India to prolong his Test career.
But only weeks away from his 38th birthday, he finally conceded that his run of low scores in the series with top-ranked South Africa was enough evidence that it was time to go.
“I’ve really put a lot of pressure on myself to perform. It’s always been about big games and big series for me,” he said. “I haven’t been able to deal with it as well of late as I would have liked to. Normally for me when those big moments come around or I’ve been under pressure, I’ve been able to find something within and go out and score runs and make it all go away. But I haven’t been able to do it this time.”
Ponting went to the crease at 11:37 am, acknowledging a guard of honour by the South African players, clearly determined to do something special for Australia in his last innings in international cricket. He faced five balls before getting off the mark with a trademark pull shot to the boundary from Morne Morkel. Seven balls later he hit a drive to the boundary, moving to 8 from two scoring shots and showing that his footwork hadn’t entirely deserted him. But by 12:27 pm it was all over when he edged left-arm spinner Robin Peterson to Jacques Kallis at first slip.
Ponting accepted the sporting gestures from the South Africans that bookended his innings, stopping to shake hands with Proteas skipper Graeme Smith on his way to the crease, and holding himself together to shake hands with every fielder who ran up to him to acknowledge his contribution to the sport before he left the WACA. “That caught me by surprise. Graeme’s gesture,” Ponting said. “That sort of stuff will remain with me forever.”
Smith said the special attention for a rival he considered as the most competitive cricketer he’d ever played against was “just a sign of respect for someone who has given the game so much.” After the match, Clarke and David Warner hoisted Ponting onto their shoulders and carried him off like a champion.
Seconds later, the reality started sinking in as he nursed his daughter and thanked his wife, family and supporters, in one last news conference. Ponting choked back tears as he prepared to take his tattered and torn baggy green cap off for the last time.